Who makes our cool products look so hot? 5 minutes with photographer Dean Van Dis

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The start of DVDP (Dean Van Dis Photography): When I finished college, I worked freelance in other studios as a shooter. That was the process. Essentially I worked for myself. I like the freedom, the diversity of work, meeting different people all the time (including furniture designer Patricia Urquiola) and working in different settings.

Working with izzy+: When I moved back from Portland (Oregon) to Grand Rapids, I started an izzy project working out of a studio through a local creative firm. When I quoted an 8-day project for izzy, I rented my own space. That was the first 100% Dean Van Dis Photo (DVDP) project.

Long-term relationships: It’s cool I still work with izzy. Some of my success is based on that kind of repeat client business. DVDP has an easy way of doing things. It’s honest. It’s a good experience. It’s our West Michigan work ethic.

I wanted to be… An architect. I am completely inspired by architecture and furniture design. It’s amazing to be in my hometown and be in these amazing places and take photos of these amazing products.

What I don’t want to do: Not be active. Not be stimulated. Not be inspired.

Seeing the world: Photography has allowed me to travel and experience different cultures. When I went to China, I was able to do the normal tourist things like see the Great Wall. I also went to rural areas, where we met local people. I saw that the joy of a child is the same no matter where they live in the world.

Photography has… Changed my life. I’m excited because it started from nothing and it’s so successful now. I love that I’m quoting and billing projects, shooting in studio and on location, and mentoring talented people. Every aspect of it is awesome. Photography allows me to work with so many people. It’s a natural thing. It’s what I am.

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Rich experiences for the izzy+ team in Nicaragua

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Editor’s note: The following is a post from Brandon Reame, izzy+’s Market Development Strategist. Brandon is leading our second annual “giving back through design” trip to Nicaragua, November 8-13, 2013. The designers on the trip with him won the opportunity during the 2013 Valentine’s Day promotion. Look for another post about the trip soon, and read about last year’s inaugural trip here!

Many people join a company to do a job. One of the things that’s exciting about izzy+,  is that our employees and collaborators are interested in more than just a job. They’re eager to make a difference, both within the company as well as the outside world.

During the next few days, Melissa Huff (from our Chicago team) and I, along with the help of Grand Valley State University, have the pleasure of hosting six interior designers from around the country as we work together to improve elementary schools in one of the poorest corners of the world.

We are in Ometepe, Nicaragua, a pair of volcanic islands found in the heart of freshwater Lake Nicaragua. Ometepe is the largest volcanic island inside a fresh water lake in the world. Additionally, Lake Nicaragua is the 19th largest freshwater lake in the world, and 9th largest within the Americas. The climate is tropical, and several varieties of monkeys are found throughout the area.

During our flight, I asked our participants what they are most excited about. Here’s what they said:

“I am really looking forward to being inspired and helping people through design.” Eda Muco, Dyer Brown Architects, Boston

“I can’t wait to experience a new culture and have the opportunity to work on such a unique project!” Katie McCarthy, Perkins+Will, Minneapolis

“To be able to make a difference in one school that could turn into so much more is a legacy I wish everyone could experience. I am grateful for izzy+ for allowing me to be a part of this wonderful opportunity with a great group of people.”  Carrie Estock, Little Diversified, Charlotte

“I’m looking forward to experiencing a brand new culture and having the opportunity to share the joy of design with people across the globe—working hands on with them, in their environment.” Will Jenkins, HOK, New York City

“I’m most excited about how this trip will empower others, as well as myself, to continue to help people in need. Not only do we need to use our resources at hand, but we also need to provide new resources for the overlooked.” Justin Martinez, OZ, Denver

“I am excited about another opportunity to work with talented young people on a project that thinks about and does something for education and children. It gives me energy and motivation. And to do it all in a culture and surroundings that are so very different than the US is most stimulating. I’m excited that younger people show an interest in other cultures and in wanting to contribute in helping others less fortunate.” Waltraud, GVSU/AGII, Holland

“I’m excited about new ideas, new puzzles, and new ways of viewing the world learned from new friends in two languages. This is a dream to work on projects that impact educational change from the formative years. The can-do spirit of izzy+ is always exciting to be around. Thank you Chuck [Saylor] and all at izzy+ who help!” Dr. Lane, GVSU/AGII, Holland

“I am most excited about this trip offering me the opportunity to experience a culture and place of the world I have never been, and more importantly, to make a positive impact on a community of people. To be able to put our knowledge and creativity to use to bring learning and socialization tools to children is definitely the most rewarding part of this trip. I’m truly grateful to izzy+ for taking this on and believing that people matter most.” Melissa Huff, izzy+, Chicago

It’s always fun exploring a new country and culture, especially with a new group of travel companions and collaborators. While on paper the country can be described as poor, the opportunity to live and work side by side with the local Nicaraguans is a very rich experience. This beautiful country is rich in culture, history, and its people are dedicated to improving the lives of their future generations through education.

We will be sending updates throughout the trip via izzy+ social media. Be sure to add, like, bookmark, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook!

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Two companies learning & growing together, across the miles

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What does dog sledding have to do with seating ergonomics?

Or what does a manufacturing plant have in common with a herd of reindeer?

And why would two furniture companies based more than 4,000 miles apart decide that a partnership is a great idea?

For more than eight years, izzy+ has been making treks to visit the Norwegian side of its family and uncover answers to those questions and more, firsthand.

Most recently, in March, it was a group of 11 izzy+ sales representatives who traveled to Norway, where HAG has been based since it began designing and making workplace seating in 1943. izzy+ founder Chuck Saylor met HAG leaders in early 2004, when izzy+ was just three years old, and the two companies announced alliance at NeoCon that June.

“The corporate culture and beliefs at izzy+ and HAG are so much alike,” says seating product manager Nick Fernandez, who has visited HAG twice since starting at izzy+ in 2012. “When you’re at HAG you hear the same types of stories, and see the same passion for the same things. It’s also laid back like izzy+—they don’t take themselves too seriously on a day-to-day basis, but they take what they do really seriously, just like izzy+ does.”

While the commonalities of the two companies sparked the partnership, it’s their differences that inspire such a vibrant collaboration—and make these regular treks to Norway so important—according to Rune Akselberg, a native of Norway and Vice President of Sales and Market Development at izzy+.

“The culture in Norway is quite different than in the U.S., especially when it comes to caring for the environment and general health and wellbeing,” says Akselberg. “It’s a much stronger lesson when you can experience it for yourself—when you see the elk and the reindeer drinking from the stream right outside the HAG plant, you understand that everything is connected. The choices a company makes have a broad impact, well outside its doors.”

The Norway trips, which include time in Oslo, where HAG is headquartered, and Roros, the small mountain village where HAG’s main plant is located, are all about learning through active participation in the culture, not passive observation.

For instance, at the Oslo Opera House, izzy+ groups see another type of Scandinavian design, experiencing how form, function, and people come together. When they visit a dog sled camp, they learn basic dog sledding techniques, then harness the dogs on sleds and go on a thrilling ride into the mountains. After dog sledding, the group convenes around a big fire in a teepee, where they eat, drink, and share stories—perfect object lessons in HAG’s focus on movement and izzy+’s Better Together philosophy.

“Dog sledding is an experience like no other, and it perfectly demonstrates the HAG philosophy around balance, movement, and the environment,” says Akselberg.

Laura Connell, who is based at the Chicago izzy+ showroom, says immersing yourself in Norwegian culture really makes a difference. She uses the word “profound” to describe her experience in Norway this past March.

“Norway is the healthiest country I’ve ever been to. The culture is all about balance and movement, and how our bodies are supposed to function,” says Connell. “Everything we did on the trip tied into something we were learning about HAG. At HAG they have a very holistic approach to everything—the environment, corporate responsibility, ergonomics, design—it’s all there in every chair. It was great to see it all in action, both in how they work and how they live.”

Seeing HAG’s beliefs in action has really stuck with Fernandez, who says, “No decisions are made randomly or by accident at HAG. Every decision is held up against their brand standards. It doesn’t matter how cool something is or how easy it would be to sell. If it’s not up to all their standards, they won’t make it.”

More than anything, Akselberg loves seeing groups of izzy+ travelers return home with stories to tell and a deeper, more passionate understanding of HAG, their Norwegian family.

“I think this relationship with HAG has played a huge role in how we understand and talk about important issues like the environment, and health and wellbeing at izzy+,” Akselberg says. “Learning together, experiencing something new together, is a really powerful experience. izzy+ and HAG have so much in common, but also so much to learn from each other because of our different perspectives and cultures.”

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Pictured at the top of the post is the izzy+ group that traveled to Norway in March (photo by Stacy Marcus). Below are photos of the izzy+ group preparing to go dog sledding; people congregating and walking on the new Oslo Opera House (both photos also by Stacy Marcus); and a recent outcome of the izzy+-HAG collaboration: HAG Capisco Puls seating, pictured with Dewey 6-Top tables.

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Moving away from one-size-fits-all learning, technology & spaces

What does the future of learning look like?

In the minds of many, it looks high tech and new—a complex array of technology and apps waiting to be woven into traditional curricula and classrooms.

Others believe the future of learning should more closely mimic the ways people learned long ago—more collaboration, more Socratic dialogue, and more opportunities for hands-on discovery.

At izzy+, we think the key is balancing the two—utilizing time-tested person-to-person learning approaches, along with the best advances technology has to offer.

Brandon Reame, izzy+’s Market Development Strategist and education research guru, says schools and colleges just need to ensure that two critical components exist: a focus on people, and plenty of flexibility inherent in the learning spaces.

“The important thing is that learning needs to move away from a one-size-fits-all model,” says Reame. “The most effective learning happens when the students, along with their lives and circumstances, are taken into account. Sure, there are lots of trends in education, but if you just apply them across the board you’re not going to get great results. At the end of the day, it has to be about the students and their engagement. How do you leverage technology, pedagogy, and the learning environment to create a more engaging learning experience?”

Over the past few generations, a move toward one-size-fits-all education has gradually become a system that some compare to a factory, as a recent Fast Company article, “Replacing The Classroom-As-Factory With Collaborative Learning,” suggests.

Reame says technology provides a variety of tools to help move teaching and learning away from a factory model. Technology, after all, allows people to learn anywhere at any time, at their own pace and in their own way, accessing more information and connecting with more people than ever. The challenge, however, is to make sure these new approaches are applied in meaningful ways and in tech-friendly, flexible learning spaces.

“Technology is more mobile than ever, and students are more tech-savvy than ever,” Ream says. “Those changes generate a greater need for new, inspiring learning spaces that offer lots of flexibility. There needs to be a mix of formal and informal learning spaces, with opportunities for small groups to gather, professors to guide discussions, and people to relax and catch up on reading and thinking on their own. Integrating technology isn’t just about having places to plug in. It’s about how people learn and interact.”

Because learning, at the end of the day, is about people, just like izzy+ has always been about people first, not furniture. That’s why we think this sentiment from the post “Are Kids Really Motivated By Technology?” is a great one for designers, teachers, parents and everyone to keep in mind as students across the country head back to school:

…finding ways to motivate students in our classrooms shouldn’t start with conversations about technology. Instead, it should start with conversations about our kids. What are they deeply moved by? What are they most interested in? What would surprise them? Challenge them? Leave them wondering? Once you have the answers to these questions — only after you have the answers to these questions — are you ready to make choices about the kinds of digital tools that are worth embracing.

The Dewey Connection Cart and 6-Top Table help instructors integrate technology into the classroom while ensuring students are able to easily converse and collaborate.

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Several Dewey 6-Top Tables can be pushed together for flexible, collaborative set ups. Dewey Connection Carts and Lecterns help instructors integrate technology.

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Comfortable third spaces, like this one featuring Harter Forum lounge seating, are critical in learning environments because they accommodate both informal gatherings and solo study time.

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.

Workplace design: Happy mediums for happy people

Everyone seems to have an opinion when it comes to workplace design. Some are big fans of the open plan, while others long to carve out their own space (ideally with a door they can close!). Some love the creative buzz and serendipitous collaboration that’s a result of everyone being in the mix together, but others fight against the distractions in desperate attempts to protect their productivity.

Not surprisingly, much has been written about today’s workplace design, and its impact on everything from innovation and collaboration to productivity. One recent study suggests that “ambient background noise or buzz of conversation in public places”—like coffee shops—”can fuel creativity.” Other articles, like this one about brainstorming, say that the unplanned conversations and debates that happen when people randomly cross paths are more effective than scheduled sessions (which means architecture and office layout play an important role). At izzy+, we have always believed that people are “Better Together,” and that workplace design plays an important role in the Better Together equation.

But what about when “ambient background noise” becomes overly distracting noise, that stunts productivity? And then there’s the reality of introverts in the workplace. Many people need alone-time and a focused space more than they need buzz and impromptu encounters. (The new book Quiet: The Power of Introverts addresses in great depth the needs and value of introverts in the workplace.)

With so many needs, pushing and pulling from all directions, it’s easy to wonder if a work environment that’s ideal for everyone is even possible.

Luckily, many workplace psychologists and designers (including izzy+!) believe it is! One recent New York Times article suggests that the best workplace design incorporates something for everyone. That doesn’t mean some people get cubicles, others get private offices and others get desks in open-plan spaces, according to their set-in-stone preferences. Rather, it’s design that assumes each individual has different needs at different times, depending on their project, task, and mood. It’s design that’s flexible, adaptable, and offers a variety of options.

“There is such a thing as a workspace that allows you to easily work near your team one moment, to shift into a cross-disciplinary space, and then later to unplug and find a solitary, quiet spot for some focused, kick-butt work,” says Brandon Reame, Market Development Strategist at izzy+. “The key is making sure your people have the technology and tools they need to be mobile, and then incorporating ‘third spaces’ into the workspace design. Make sure all of the things that are appealing about working in the buzz of a Starbucks are available for people who want it at work, where ideas can cross pollinate in important ways.”

What do you think? Which design elements and social factors make for a perfect work environment? Is it possible for workspaces to incorporate “something for everyone?”

Pictured above: The Nemo Enclave—a ‘third space’ for impromptu meetings or solo work that calls for a change of scene

From house building to music recording: How active learning is shaping the classroom

Most students in traditional classrooms have no problem identifying the difference between “learning” and “doing,” or “teacher” and “student.”

But on Habitat for Humanity work sites, those lines are blurred. Volunteers don’t learn a skill and then do it, they learn as they do it. Similarly, someone who is a “learner” in the morning might be a “teacher” after lunch.

“Every day there’s all kinds of teaching and learning going on at our work sites,” says Chris Hall, Director of Construction Operations at Habitat for Humanity Kent County, in West Michigan. “Every site is staffed by a professional builder with all the skills, but it’s really an organic learning process. Sometimes you’re the teacher, sometimes you’re the student.

When People and Disciplines Collaborate, More Learning Happens

The teaching and learning takes on a slightly more formal bent through the Habitat chapter’s collaborations with local schools. Students who take the “New Construction” course at Grand Rapids Community College apply their knowledge about sustainable building to Habitat homes; a Grand Rapids Public School magnet called the Academy of Design and Construction also extends its classrooms to Habitat building sites (pictured above).

“These days, with green building practices, you have to see the home as a living, breathing organism,” says Hall. “Everything is interconnected—it’s not just about physics, or just about geography or math. When the students work on these projects they can see how everything ties together.”

And at the end of the day, they can also point to what their knowledge helped them make.

“There’s something special that happens on a Habitat site, with everyone learning and working together,” Hall says.

Engaging Students with Hands-on Learning

This level of engagement and concrete accomplishment are also at the heart of a new Youth Recording Arts Academy—a joint project of the Grand Rapids Community Media Center and the Mackinaw Harvest professional recording studio. The intense, 12-week program focuses on hands-on work and experimentation in the recording studio, as well as developing “soft skills” like reliability and teamwork.

Laurie Cirivello of the Community Media Center has witnessed the benefits of active learning, both in the at-risk teens at the Academy, and as a parent to two non-traditional learners.

“Hands-on learning is so important—at the end of the day to be able to point to something and say, ‘I did this.’ My kids thrived on that,” Cirivello says. “With these kids, if we just keep saying, ‘Stay in school, stay in school’ with only the promise of ‘Someday you’ll get to do something that will rock your world,’ it isn’t going to work. They need to be engaged now.”

How the Shift Toward Active, Social Learning is Impacting Classrooms

Allison Roon, an interior designer, adjunct professor and long-time izzy+ consultant, says there’s an entire field of study backing up why learning is more effective when it’s more active. Roon, who has a Master’s degree in Adult and Higher Education, says “active learning” is all about students creating meaning through experiences and reflection (she cites scholar and professional consultant L. Dee Fink).

“Adult students, in particular, need to feel a personal connection to the learning that is happening for it to be meaningful,” Roon says. “And we’re not only moving away from teacher-centered education, but today’s student-centered models are also being joined by more informal, social, collaborative styles of learning outside classrooms.”

Not surprisingly, all of these shifts in teaching and learning ultimately impact built learning environments—whether you’re looking at more flexible and collaborative ways to design classrooms or you’re creating cafes and lounges that encourage informal learning and conversation. Roon says universities across the country are starting to minimize their number of traditional classroom spaces to allow for greater informal learning spaces. Some schools in Europe have even hit a 60 to 40 ratio of formal to informal spaces.

“The future of learning involves figuring out how to turn all of these experiences into meaningful learning,” says Roon. “izzy+ focuses a lot of time and thought on this—not just in classrooms, but also when it comes to creating informal, inspiring places that encourage people to come together to share ideas, be creative and learn.”

For more on our learning products and research, be sure to check out the Learning section of our website.

Students learn and share in an izzy+-designed “third space” at the Borough of Manhattan Community College

Students at Atlanta Technical College collaborate around Dewey tables by izzy+