City planning for the work space.

We commissioned a research and ideation project to explore the correlation between city planning and the design of work environments. The findings from this study supported our premise that any work environment is a landscape of unique environments and spaces designed to meet different types of activities and work styles. This connection is a powerful concept that can be leveraged on space planning and furniture design. Collaborative partnerships with the customer, A+D firms and product designers from diverse backgrounds will drive new thinking and dramatic improvements in the work place.

The work space continues to evolve and the next several years will be a challenging time for many furniture brands. The overall market is flat and there are simply a lot of companies competing for market share. Ongoing uncertainty in the market will require agility and responsiveness to customer demands for new thinking and solutions.

A recent day trip to Neocon in Chicago highlighted the trends that will shape the furniture market over the next several years and beyond.

Millennials want it their way.

Companies are starting to sharpen their focus on the growing demands of a younger workforce with different work styles and demands. Millennials want and will demand collaborative and inspirational spaces. Lessons learned in higher education spaces can be adapted and applied to design collaborative environments. The Art Institute and Millennial Park in Chicago represent the best of urban planning. This vibrant area of the city is alive with curious people, culture, art, and positive energy. Spread across the museum and park campus are areas for quiet reflection, learning and exploration, small group collaboration, intimate conversations, and large group events. This sounds like an ideal workplace, no?

Collaborative and creative spaces will be key to talent recruitment and retention.

The war for the best talent will continue and the work space will be key to recruitment and retention of talent. Specials and customization of products will continue to be strategic differentiators for leading brands. This trend will continue to open opportunities for small and nimble innovators.

Modularity and flexibility are key attributes.

Customization will require smart thinking about modularity and the application of tooling across different product categories. The business case will be built on lower units and increased pressures on pricing and investments to develop products. Methods and processes applied in different industries, e.g. automotive, can be applied to furniture. The Mini (BMW owned) car lineup is a wonderful example of leveraging a flexible platform to provide the buyer almost unlimited choices based on customer feedback and a smart business case.

Open offices are problematic.

The trend of open office spaces has created a growing demand for acoustical and personal privacy. There is, indeed, a place for open spaces in the work environment, but people also need privacy and a quiet place to think, create and make a quick phone call. Check out this post, Beanbags and Phonebooths, from 2014 for a bit more detail on this insight.

Technology is everywhere.

Emerging technologies will require future development to package and apply technologies into the built environment in smart and useful ways.

It’s time for a dramatic and brave shift in thinking around work styles and the future of the office environment. The furniture industry is at an inflection point. The industry will continue to be challenged over the next several years. Ongoing uncertainty in the market will require agility and responsiveness to customer demands for new thinking and solutions.

“Together, Steelcase and Microsoft believe that a thoughtfully designed workplace that brings together the right mix of Technology and Space design- can unlock the creative potential of individuals and teams, stimulate ideas and accelerate business transformation.” Jim Keane, CEO Steelcase

The partnership between Steelcase and Microsoft is a great example of fresh thinking and collaboration to solve big problems in the workplace. We’ve experienced this mindset in our work with automotive suppliers where manufacturing companies and technology firms work together to integrate emerging technologies into the physical space. A recent example of this thinking can be experienced in the Adient AI17 demonstrator shown at Autoshow 2017. Dramatic changes in the furniture and mobility industries will require a shift in design thinking about interiors, seating, and systems. No one company will have all the answers and collaborative partnerships will be key to successful execution on strategies.

“I can’t think of a time this industry has gone under the changes it is going through (now.) It’s a great time for strategy,” said Keane. “We think there is a ton of opportunity.”

Timing is everything. This brings us back to the project we commissioned in 2006-07. We recently revisited our concepts to explore how we might leverage our thinking with like-minded creative teams. Please contact us to schedule a review of our study and a discussion about different ways we can work together to reinvent the work, learning and healthcare environments. We look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes for future success!

Maury Fredricks


Fredricks Design, Inc.

Fredricks Design, Inc. is a full-service design and engineering firm based in Grand Haven, Michigan. The firm specializes in working as an extension of the client studio and engineering team to identify the right problems and accelerate development of solutions from early ideation, feasibility, concept development and production of mock-ups, prototypes and show properties. Fredricks works with key Clients in the automotive interiors and seating industries, advanced rides and show action projects for themed attractions, furniture, and consumer products markets.

Share with your friends and colleagues