Herman Miller Challenge: Designing for New Office Nomads

Recently, Herman Miller turned to open-source design collaboration to produce a product for the office furniture industry that favors office nomads. Collaborating with Unbranded Designs, Herman Miller created a competition that reached out to the design community to construct ideas and products for individual work in shared work spaces. These designers faced the challenge of constructing design briefs that supported the nomad who works in open, public spaces within the workplace.

In the design community, the results of the abstract competition were very positive. More than 120 designs were submitted in response to Herman Miller’s vague prompt which asked participants to, “Consider the mobile worker and define a concept to facilitate individual work in a shared work environment. Think about all of the stuff’ that mobile workers need to access throughout a workday, the different activities they might perform, and the settings where they might find themselves.” Herman Miller’s Director of Product Design and Exploration, Dave Simon, described the vague brief as a way to eliminate limitations on design submissions. The prompt did not mention furniture in order to expand boundaries and create a breadth of product designs outside furniture.

Unbranded Designs came into play to help Herman Miller connect to the design community. The company’s open-source platform provides designers an opportunity to respond to design challenges from manufacturers. How did the process of submission work? Through Unbranded Designs, designers could view Herman Miller’s prompt to come up with ideas to support individual, nomadic work in shared spaces. Then designers had a period of time to submit design ideas. Once submitted, ideas went into Unbranded Designs’ database which allowed Herman Miller designers to evaluate designs and give feedback. This gave companies and designers time to tweak the design for a final submission. After the final submission period, individual designs were selected by Herman Miller based on their potential.

In a tough decision, the 120 submissions were narrowed down to the top four finalists and the overall winner:

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The Winner: Gustav by Christian Pistauer from Auckland, New Zealand

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 6.35.58 PMIn the end Gustav triumphed, winning $10,000 and potential commercialization by Herman Miller. Designed by Christian Pistauer in partnership with Han Law, Gustav allows nomadic workers to move around the office with essential things that can help them to personalize shared spaces and increase individual productivity. Gustav’s design focuses on supporting activity-based working habits. Dave Simon of Herman Miller said, “The solution addresses the brief head-on, is backed by thoughtful research, and insightfully defines a new product typology for the modern, dynamic workplace. We are excited to take Gustav into our formal development process.”

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