NeoCon buzz: accommodating digital technology


Nucraft's new Agility modular table, which debuts at NeoCon, can be connected in any configuration and still look like one unit. It fills a gap in Nucraft's current product lines, a space between training and modular tables. Its flexibility responds to various needs in the multi-purpose conference rooms in wide use today, said Nucraft President Bob Bockheim.

New office chairs and electronic communications technology is behind much of the buzz at NeoCon this year, ranging from an office chair designed for personal mobile device users to built-in electronics in tables and wall panels.

Just in time for North America’s biggest office furniture trade show, taking place June 10-12 in Chicago, Haworth announced in May its partnership with Obscura Digital to launch Bluescape — “an infinite, collaborative workspace designed to accelerate decision making by enabling anyone to create, communicate, visualize, organize and strategize virtually anything, anywhere, anytime.”  

Meanwhile, Steelcase is displaying front and center its new Gesture chair, “the first chair designed to support interactions with today’s technologies. It was inspired by the movement of the human body and created for the way we work today,” according to the marketing copy.

Herman Miller is introducing Mirra 2, the “latest advance in performance seating.” It was designed by a German firm and “moves as one with the sitter and dynamically supports even a person’s slightest movements, so important as people work more agilely than ever.”

Scott Heagle, manager of global product communications for Steelcase, said NeoCon promises to be a “blockbuster year for Steelcase from a new product perspective.”

Gesture, he said, is Steelcase’s “new flagship seating product” that will get the big spotlight at its showroom in the Merchandise Mart when NeoCon opens today. Gesture was the result of a global study of the posture of 2,000 people at work in offices, said Heagle, “and what we saw was that the new technology devices in workplaces were actually changing the way people were sitting.”

He said office chairs are designed for working on a desktop computer, but things have changed with the proliferation of mobile devices in the last few years. Office workers now are “shifting from device to device — from a laptop to a tablet to a smartphone and back, and our body is following and changing (position) as we change devices,” said Heagle. 

“We found nine new postures that were unsupported due to these new technologies — things like the ‘smart lean,’ when somebody is using a smartphone in a meeting, but they always lean to the left or to the right and that creates some issues from a posture perspective that can cause pain.”

Some of the other newly discovered postures are described as “the trance,” “cocoon” and “texter.”

“We’re going to be capturing that data live in the showroom,” Heagle said. Visitors, using one of the 50 Gesture chairs, can fill out surveys on how they work. Survey results will be displayed on a large media wall in the showroom, “pulling real-life and real-time data.” 

Another big part of NeoCon for Steelcase this year is its new V.I.A. line, which stands for “vertical intelligent architecture.”

“The wall is the new work surface,” said Heagle, and again, it’s all about electronics. V.I.A. incorporates screens where data and images from an individual’s personal mobile device can be presented to others. The technology, which includes audio, was inspired by the use of white boards in meetings, where people may spend as much time at the wall as they do sitting at a conference table, he said.

Bluescape is another high-tech electronic communication platform — “our next platform,” according to Haworth CEO Franco Bianchi. Offering cloud-based software and services accessible on multiple devices, it has 50 million pixels of display on a 24-screen wall, with 32 infrared multi-touch detector cameras in each monitor. Six people in the room can use a Bluescape wall simultaneously, connected to an unlimited number of other users accessing the data in places around the world.

Bluescape is both a product name and a new company, owned jointly by Haworth and Obscura Digital in San Francisco. It will be installed in the Chicago showroom in June and is already in Haworth corporate headquarters in Holland.

Among the slightly more unconventional products to be unveiled at NeoCon is the Haworth’s Hoop table: a molded, standing-height table for impromptu conversations between two to four people. The small footprint enables its use in a wide variety of spaces, including workspace social areas and outdoors. Designed by Ralph Reddig of Haworth Design Studio, Hoop’s light weight makes it easily movable. It is approachable from all sides and has a footrest, somewhat reminiscent of standing at a bar. 

Herman Miller’s Mirra 2 work chair was designed by Studio 7.5 of Berlin, which designed the original Mirra chair produced for years by Herman Miller. The new one is described as a “reincarnation” of Mirra, but “completely redesigned from the casters up” to be leaner and lighter.

“It feels reassuringly familiar because we maintained its soul and essential DNA,” said one of the principals at Studio 7.5.

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