Variety is the spice of life—and work

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Nemo Bar and Trellis interpretation by Chuck Saylor, in the lobby of the Merchandise Mart

We’ve all been there, whether we’re studying for an exam, creating a presentation, or brainstorming for a big project: Gradually our minds become stuck circling around a single thought, or they begin wandering off entirely, into unrelated territory.

Clearly it’s time for a getaway.

“So often, great ideas and profound beliefs and actions seem to be fueled and found when we take the time to reflect in an inspiring place,” says Chuck Saylor, founder and CEO of izzy+. “It’s why people go to off-site retreats in the woods, or by the sea. It’s why they take sabbaticals in the mountains to free up their thinking and recharge the batteries.”

Of course, some real travel to the Alps or the Caribbean would be nice (as we wrote about in Part I of this series), but Saylor is actually referring to less drastic methods of getting away—without leaving the building.

“Culturally, we are losing that ability to go offsite and reflect,” Saylor adds. “So we need to create inspiring spaces within the work environment that allow us to have that revelation, to relax our minds, to achieve those ‘aha’ moments.”

Research shows that just getting some geographic distance from your desk can yield refreshing results. They key is having a destination that makes you want to get up and move. This year’s izzy+ NeoCon showroom is designed around a variety of “inspired destinations.”

“A variety of inspired destinations in the workplace naturally encourages movement, and that contributes to a healthier, more social and more productive work environment,” explains Rick Glasser, Vice President of Marketing and Product Management for izzy+.

The Nemo Trellis embodies the idea of inspired destinations—places that make you want to get up and head for a change of scene, whether to have a casual meeting or refresh your sense of focus.

Of the three Nemo Trellis installations in this year’s showroom, two (pictured below) are concept designs created by young designers who won the izzy+ design challenge that was introduced as part of the Valentine’s Day promotion. Lindsey Salazar of Archideas in Chicago created a Trellis that blurs the boundaries between outdoor and indoor environments, while Eda Muco of Dyer Brown & Associates in Boston used a translucent material to play with the idea of boundaries without walls.

Another, more whimsical Nemo Bar and Trellis concept (pictured at the top of this post) is installed in the Merchandise Mart lobby, where weary NeoCon guests can take a few moments to sit down and refresh. This interpretation of the Trellis has a wheatgrass roof and reclaimed barnwood panels, while a massive cross-section of polished maple serves as the Bar’s surface.

“When people encounter the izzy+ spaces, I hope they will smile, I hope they will be surprised, and I hope that it will provoke some inspiring thoughts within them,” says Saylor. “There is a time for work and a time for leisure and reflection, a time to be introverted and a time to be extroverted and collaborate. It’s all about a healthy balance, and izzy+ will always be on that journey to find the right balance and to create the products and designs that support and inspire people.”

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Above: izzy+ sales reps and the Nemo Trellis design contest winners, beneath the Trellis concept created by Eda Muco (from left to right Marty Smith and Eda Muco of Boston, and Melissa Huff and Lindsey Salazar of Chicago).
Below: The Nemo Trellis concept designed by Lindsey Salazar, creating a cozy cove for the newest version of the Lotus concept chair by Chuck Saylor.

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Distance makes the mind grow broader

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Photo by lindyi

It’s summer—the time of year most synonymous with travel. As soon as the weather begins warming up, we start feeling that itch to get away. Travel is something most of us crave so much that we set aside precious time and money for it, and we often enjoy the planning and anticipation almost as much as journey itself.

There are obvious, almost universal benefits of travel, like the freedom of leaving our inbox, yard work, and the daily grind behind. Other benefits are more personal, depending on whether we’re seeking relaxation or adventure, natural beauty or urban stimulation, a complete change of scene or a chance to revisit a family tradition.

But no matter what kind of getaway you prefer, scientists confirm what people have innately known for hundreds of years: The psychological benefits of setting out for a new destination are multiple and impactful. In fact, “getting away” is essential to effective thinking—it actually opens up neuropathways in the brain, because it puts distance between us and all the problems that feel “close” when we’re at work and home.

When we get geographic distance from our own problems + feel more relaxed due to being on vacation, we’re more likely to see new ways of dealing with problems at home,” writes Psychology Today reporter Alice Boyes in “5 Reasons Why Travel is Good For You: The Positive Psychology of Travel.”

Yep. The first benefit of travel, according to Boyes, is that “Geographic distance leads to improved problem solving” that’s “more creative and expansive.” Brandon Reame, Market Development Strategist at izzy+, has seen that happen first hand—not just as a result of his own travels, but also when he led a group of interior designers on an izzy+ trip to Nicaragua last fall.

“There’s something about a change of scene that gives you a different perspective,” says Reame. “It’s almost like at home you’ve been stuck attacking problems from the same angle, over and over again, and as soon as you get away you can see the whole situation differently. I loved watching how being in Nicaragua opened up the minds of the designers we took on our trip.”

Joy Eling, izzy+ Product and Brand Manager, agrees: Travel is inspiring—even when it’s just a family vacation to the beach.

“What I love most about travel is stepping outside the norm of daily life, and the flexibility and experiences that come with it,” says Eling. “That comes from creating my own schedule, which is usually no schedule at all, and being able to explore new places and experiences. It all helps me feel relaxed and inspired.”

In the “5 Reason Why Travel is Good for You” article, Boyes shares four other key benefits of travel: being more open to new experiences, which builds new skills to take home with us; developing a more expanded sense of self and what we’re capable of; being able to fully relax (a given benefit!); and returning home with more curiosity and a broader sense of meaning in life.

Reame adds another benefit: Travel impacts how we see others, which in turn impacts our ability to be Better Together.

“There are really great people everywhere in this world, from Abu Dhabi, to Cologne, to Birmingham. Traveling has allowed me meet and form great relationships in many corners of the country and world,” Reame says. “Getting out of the office is also the best way to really see what other people are dealing with. It’s hard to create a relevant brand without spending time out in the world.”

While all those benefits of travel sound wonderful, the reality is that we have to stay home and take care of business before we can afford the time and money travel requires. So does that mean our problem-solving, creativity, and relationships are destined to remain stuck when we’re stuck in the office?

Not necessarily. Especially if you’re in an environment that’s been designed with multiple “inspired destinations”—places that compel you to get away from your desk, interact with different people, and enjoy a change of scene. The impact won’t be as powerful as traveling with izzy+ to Nicaragua or Norway, but even these mini “getaways” can do you plenty of good (and you don’t have to worry about airport delays!). We’ll explore how in Part II of this blog series, as well as in our NeoCon 2013 showroom. (Now there’s an inspired destination—hope to see you there!)

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The group of designers that traveled to Nicaragua with izzy+ in November 2012.

Making space(s) for inspiration

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“Inspiration”—it’s one of those words most of us are drawn to but can’t easily define.

Of course, if you look up the word in a dictionary or on the Internet, you will find definitions, but they might prompt more questions than answers.

For instance, is inspiration rooted internally or externally? Is it a pull or a push?

Can you impact inspiration, or only be open and wait for it?

And does inspiration work the same way for all of us, or is it an individualized experience?

Dictionaries don’t answer these questions, yet somehow when we encounter inspiration we know it—without a doubt. And the effects of being inspired seem mostly universal: Our minds start buzzing, energy levels spike, and time seems to stand still. We’re able to be more creative, more productive, and more focused.

In other words, the feeling is great, and so is the outcome. We’d all love to be under inspiration’s magic spell every day. So what can we do to get more of it?

An informal survey around the izzy+ office and on Twitter revealed two factors that seem to consistently impact how inspired we are: people and places. Our interactions with others, and the spaces we live, work and relax in, play important roles in how inspired we are.

Since all our interactions with others happen in spaces (and since we at izzy+ happen know a thing or two about spaces), it seems safe to boil it down to this truth: Our environments play an important role in inspiration.

Just think about the spaces you gravitated to as a child: A nook under the stairs, a window seat in an alcove, a fort in the branches of a tree. As adults, we might have a favorite table at a coffee shop, a chair on a porch, or a bar in the kitchen where everyone seems to gather at every party. Each favorite space may be somewhat unique to us, but the characteristics often overlap: People are drawn to spaces that are cozy, intriguing, out of the ordinary and fresh, yet familiar. We want alternatives to our typical office-and-desk settings.

“Even as adults, you still need a space to get away and change your point of view in,” says interior designer and izzy+ consultant, Allison Roon. “Different scenery and different people can inspire you, and help you stay engaged in whatever you’re doing.”

The recent article “Purpose: A Discussion on the Future of Office Design” also links creativity and inspiration directly to the design of spaces:

“Instead of seeking space to simply house workers, companies are now seeking spaces capable of serving and fostering communities of creative problem solvers.… In place of a generic working environment the new workforce is looking for spaces that are authentic and personal.”

Today’s workers and learners clearly want spaces that go beyond utilitarian purposes.

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This year’s annual Valentine’s promotion at izzy+ is all about inspiration—finding and sharing more of it as a key way to be Better Together. And the new products we’re featuring, the Nemo Bar and Trellis, are all about creating spaces that inspire, much like the tree fort of our childhood did—spaces that are cozy, intriguing, out of the ordinary
and fresh, yet familiar.

“When I was a kid, we built a fort in a stand of big trees and kept expanding it,” says izzy+ founder and CEO, Chuck Saylor. “All the guys in the neighborhood hung out there—it was a gathering place.”

That favorite childhood space definitely played a role in inspiring the idea of the Nemo Trellis, Saylor says.

“Trellis gives you that sense of going outdoors while you’re indoors, this space within a space. And when you see it, in the midst of this sea of sameness, all of the sudden you’re attracted to it and your tendency is to immediately go and explore—and hopefully to be inspired.”

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What spaces inspire you? What design elements make spaces more inspiring? We love hearing what YOU think!

Be sure to visit our Valentine’s mini-site to hear more stories about what inspires izzy+ designers, to find out more about the Nemo Bar & Trellis, and to enter our Trellis design competition. There’s also information about registering to win gift cards or a giving-back adventure to Nicaragua.

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The Nemo Bar and Trellis set up as a recharge/refresh station on the first floor of the Merchandise Mart at NeoCon 2012.

Concept designs need air & light to flourish

Every idea has to start somewhere. In that sense, every furniture and product design begins its life as a “concept piece.”

But Joey Ruiter of Jruiter + Studio, an izzy+ product design partner, says there’s a big difference between working on concepts behind closed doors and getting them out where they can get some air and stir up a response.

“When I design there’s always going to be a concept stage of some sort, but something great happens when you get a chance to show the concepts to the public,” Ruiter says. “People are more likely to share their input and opinions when they know something hasn’t been finalized yet. They have a stake in it and know they can impact the final product. For a designer, that’s open-source learning at its best.

That’s exactly the process Ruiter and izzy+ founder Chuck Saylor decided to follow when they set out to design the Nemo Bar and Trellis. The design team was able to absorb and process two years’ worth of feedback before finalizing the design for production: First, the concept pieces were introduced at NeoCon 2010, then tweaked and brought back for more feedback in 2011. The polished form was presented at NeoCon 2012, where it took a NeoCon Gold Award.

“It all goes back to my belief that being transparent about idea-sharing—especially in a very spontaneous setting rather than a controlled one—is an incredibly important part of the creative process,” says Saylor. “The broader the feedback is and the more viewpoints you get, the better your final design ends up being.”

Ruiter agrees. Transparency in the design process can feel risky, but true creativity and innovation require going out on some limbs.

“If you know you’re going to take a design and make it into a product right away, it’s a lot harder to do something really new and innovative,” says Ruiter. “You end up playing it too safe and take fewer risks when you know exactly what someone wants you to design, and you’re on a deadline to get it into production.”

In the case of the izzy+ Nemo line of concept products, Saylor’s challenge to Ruiter was to imagine and help shape the future of work, at a moment when workers are rapidly becoming more mobile and collaborative than ever. To really get out in front of trends requires a sense of creative freedom as well as engagement in a broader conversation. Ruiter says that’s because people usually only think they know what they want or need. Often there’s a better, more forward-thinking solution out there, if designers are given the freedom to dream and explore.

“As humans, our imaginations tend to be so limited unless we really push them,” Ruiter says. “To see a company like izzy+ let designers like me and Chuck (Saylor) and Allison (Roon) experiment with concepts is great.”

And sometimes, bringing new ideas from concept-to-market means breaking out of existing industry grooves and expectations. It might even mean a clear category doesn’t yet exist for this new thing you’ve made.

“I think it’s great that [the Nemo Bar and Trellis] got a [NeoCon] Gold [Award] in the Systems category,” Ruiter says. “It’s funny and ironic, because it’s so different from a furniture system, but there wasn’t really a category for it. What the award says to me is that interior designers are ready for something different.”

Clearly they are. The feedback Saylor and Ruiter heard most often about the Nemo Bar and Trellis was along these lines: “We want these—how fast can you produce them?” Well, how about now? izzy+ began taking orders for the Nemo Bar in September 2012, and the Trellis is in development for a fourth quarter launch. In other words, the time to start working and learning in new ways is now. Thanks for being a part of the conversation as we design the future!

The Nemo Bar & Trellis as a touchdown/charge up station in the Merchandise Mart lobby, NeoCon 2012.

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Chuck Saylor and Joey Ruiter chat under the wall-mounted Nemo arbor concept at NeoCon 2011.

Technology and human interaction: better blended together

It happens every day: We’re working through a problem or wondering about a fact, and mere seconds later we have answers. Learning today is easier than ever. Information is at your fingertips when you’re holding nothing more than a smart phone in your hand, and even university classes (like the new offerings recently announced through MIT and Harvard) are readily available.

But as some things about learning become more simple, other aspects become more complex. What do we lose when we replace face-to-face interactions with face-to-computer-screen time? Is information valuable on its own, or are conversation and collaboration required to fully leverage it? How can we make the most of all that technology offers without losing the important interactions that have always shaped working and learning experiences?

“Blended Learning” is an educational approach that strives to answer those very questions—it’s all about finding the right balance between human interaction and technology. In education, the Blended Learning equation looks like this: Face-to-Face + Synchronous Conversations + Asynchronous Interactions = Strong Online Learning Environment (see the Edutopia link at the end of the post for more on that). In other words, online and face-to-face interactions are stronger when blended together than they are apart.

Not surprisingly, many Blended Learning principles apply to the workplace and to life in general (after all, we never stop learning). At izzy+, we care a lot about this because we’re big fans of learning and technology, and even bigger fans of people. Finding the right balance—one that makes the most of available tech innovations and also makes the most of what it means for people to be Better Together—plays a big part in how we think about designing for the future of work and learning.

izzy+ founder Chuck Saylor says that making the most of available technology and knowledge requires making the time and space to interact with people.

“I love all the ways technology helps us enrich our learning experiences, but I’m not sure the transfer of knowledge and information on the Internet can ever be as powerful as two people sitting down together,” Saylor says. “When people are interacting, they’re compounding all that knowledge by layering in their own experiences and life stories.”

And even though technology makes it possible for us to work and learn anywhere—we are no longer confined to desks, offices and classrooms—at the same time we need to be somewhere. Saylor says we should be more concerned than ever about our spaces. They should inspire creativity, learning, and connection with others, as well as support technology.

“The right spaces are so important when it comes to reaching this Blended Learning balance,” Saylor says. “Spaces that support both technology and dialogue help you maintain that balance—the ability to layer and enrich information and ideas. It’s a powerful learning combination.”

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Want to learn more? Of course you do! (And then you’ll want to sit down with someone to talk about it over coffee, right?)

– For a great overview of Blended Learning in the education environment, check out this Edutopia post.

– For more about the recent announcement of edX, the new nonprofit partnership to offer free online courses from M.I.T. and Harvard, read this New York Times article.

– Here’s a great book to read about how places and spaces affect us: The Power of Place: How Our Surroundings Shape Our Thoughts, Emotions and Actions, by Winifred Gallagher.

– And if you want to learn more about our line of Dewey products (pictured above), visit the “learning” section of our website. Dewey was designed specifically to support human connection and technology in all types of learning environments.

Two key ingredients for innovation in the new year

Photo by mckaysavage

Some thoughts from izzy+ founder, Chuck Saylor, as we enter a new year…

As I look back at the close of 2011, it’s impossible to not think of Steve Jobs, whose life inspired so many of us and whose death in 2011 impacted me in many ways. Steve Jobs once said, “Everything around you that you call ‘life’ was made up by people (who) are no smarter than you—and you can change it, you can influence it…And once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

A college dropout, the founder of Apple changed our world in so many significant ways, reminding us that we have the potential to make a difference in the world, and to inspire others. How can we not be inspired by that truth?

But inspiration without diligence is ineffective. I remember being in Palo Alto on a visit in the late 1970s when I first ran into Steve Jobs’ incredible group of young, creative entrepreneurs who were striving to change the way we all communicated with each other. Their intellectual curiosity and personal drive were amazing, but it would take the next decade for the vision to become reality.

When I learned about Jobs’ death on October 5, 2011, I was reminded that inspiration is an historical event. To do inspiring things takes something special that too often we forget about—it takes diligence, perseverance and a lot of hard work. These are powerful attitudes capable of bridging the past and the future, and this is the perfect season to be reflecting on their importance in our work and lives.

As izzy+ looks ahead to 2012, we are both excited and grateful. Our excitement is rooted in continuing our exploration of concept projects like Nemo—design ideas that are truly founded upon human-centered needs and behavior. And our gratitude is rooted in relationships and connections with people like you. You inspire us and motivate us to remain diligent in our work toward better working and learning environments. Let’s all work together in 2012 to make our world a better place.

Have a happy—and inspiring—New Year.

Chuck Saylor
izzy+ founder