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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What makes a design NeoCon-Gold-worthy? Joey Ruiter should know.

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What makes remarkable design so clean, simple and straightforward that its discreet, understated nature makes it perfectly elegant, engaging and awesome? For globally acclaimed designer Joey Ruiter, it is design that meets everyday needs in surprising ways.

Take something as iconic as a bicycle, a desk or a chair. Does it have to look like the picture in our brains? Joey relishes the rethinking. How could a classic product be reimagined, reconfigured, with only the most essential elements? Most important, the new design has to be something we like. A lot. The thing you’d grab first or reluctantly part with last.

Working with Joey Ruiter, we know we’ll always end up somewhere entirely, delightfully new.

For all those reasons, we are proud to introduce Sylvi – a new modular lounge collection that Joey designed for izzy+. Today, Sylvi was awarded a 2015 Best of NeoCon Gold award, presented by Contract.

Sylvi is the perfect lounge collection for the way people work today, in different places and in different spaces. She’s smart, affordable – and remarkable in her ability to play well with others.

Here’s a quick behind-the-scenes look at the design process for Sylvi, from Joey’s perspective:

  • Challenging criteria: “The (izzy+) Nemo bar worked well with the trellis. We needed a lounge with it. It’s kind of the garage sale approach. It shouldn’t have to match but it goes together. It should be timeless. It shouldn’t say 1980 or 2015. It had to be and feel modular. It needed to be a light scale and look like you could pick it up.”
  • Sweet spot: “We went back and forth with different iterations, but the sweet spot for Sylvi is being something that you’d want to take home. It’s something covetable that wasn’t prescribed for a specific building or institution, but still works in those spaces. We wanted something that felt like more than just office furniture.”
  • Designer’s delight: “The cleanability for contract furniture is a huge deal. It needs to work for fabrics that are fun for designers. Thick. Thin. Stretchy. Not stretchy. Sylvi uses the best yield for the yardage, like a carton. Designers can use range of fabrics to make the space pop.”
  • No-surprise privacy: “The backers are panels to create spaces. It feels like it’s coming over on you like the hallways in Star Trek. When you’re inside, it wraps around a little bit. Height is key; you know when someone’s behind you. No surprises. We learned that from the trellis concepts for izzy: how open office and privacy worked. Credit to izzy, Chuck Saylor and Allison Roon to accept those as learning opportunities. Many companies don’t take the time to do that.”
  • Comfort trifecta: “We played around with how long it should be comfortable. In the automotive industry, it’s 8 seconds. There’s lots of debate on that and we’ll ask potential customers these questions. Looks comfortable, looks awesome and is comfortable – that’s the trifecta.”

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A Legacy Always On the Move

 

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“The workplace is no longer about sticking people in a cube, adding some lumbar support, and telling them to not move until lunch.”

The man who spoke those words, our founder Chuck Saylor (pictured above), knows a thing or two about the importance of movement. It was, in part, seeing the effects of stasis in cubicle-bound workplaces that inspired him to move out on his own and start a different kind of furniture company in 2001—one focused on human-centered wellbeing and connection.

Thirteen NeoCon shows later for izzy+ (and 40 for Saylor!), he is once again making a significant move—this time toward retirement—but not without first introducing a new pair of chairs, designed and engineered by Sava Cvek to dramatically shift the way people understand sitting at work.

The desire to create Wabi and Nikko, the two chairs being featured in our showroom at NeoCon this year, was sparked by a back injury that radically changed how Saylor felt about sitting down.

“Even after I went through successful physical therapy, I still couldn’t get comfortable in a task chair for any extended period of time,” he says. “It didn’t matter how expensive it was, or how ergonomically sophisticated it was, I could not find a chair that didn’t ultimately produce pain for me.”

That’s when Saylor reached out to Cvek to take the design lead and to physical therapist Barbara Hoogenboom to serve as an expert resource on sitting posture and body mechanics. As the team worked through the anatomical research, it became clear that the design of the chair’s seat pan—not its back—was the key to creating a better way to sit. As a result, Cvek designed Wabi and Nikko from the bottom up. The seat pan, by aligning and balancing the pelvis, allows for the greatest freedom of movement while sitting, relieving pressure points and back pain while improving circulation and brain function.

Now, as he moves toward retirement at the end of July, the legacy Saylor is leaving through Wabi and Nikko is very fitting for a company that has always been about being innovative, agile, and on the move.

“The company that Chuck Saylor founded and inspired is a lively one that just can’t sit still,” says Kevin Kuske, who is marking his first NeoCon as President and CEO of izzy+.  “So, it’s truly appropriate that we introduce to the marketplace this year a pair of chairs that both promote healthy movement and speak volumes about Chuck’s contributions and legacy at izzy+.”

That legacy includes a focus on movement that came long before it became a buzzword in the realms of both design and wellbeing. From the first izzy “catazine” publication (which was called Go!) to the casters on all of our easy-to-move furniture designs and the surfboards and tandems that have topped our iconic NeoCon Mini Coopers, movement has been a theme all along:

2001: On your mark, get set, go! Chuck Saylor launches izzy, a different kind of furniture company, with human-centered products like Hannah that encourage movement.

2004: Ahead of the movement. We formed a partnership with Norwegian seating expert HAG, who has always understood that ergonomics is about movement.

2006: Research that hits the road. We began visiting colleges and universities to learn as much as we could about the future of teaching and learning spaces.

2008: Moving forward, Better Together. Acquiring Jami Inc. and it’s four brands—Harter, Fixtures Furniture, Zoom Seating, and ABCO—allowed us to move into more markets with more solutions.

2010: 3-2-1…blast-off! Our design team developed a new approach to the design of work and learning spaces, with a focus on movement between three key types of spaces.

2012: On the move to Nicaragua. A group of interior designers takes off with us on our first service-learning adventure in Nicaragua.

2014: BAM! Balanced Active Movement—the key to healthy sitting—is articulated in the creation of Wabi and Nikko, designed by Sava Cvek.

And now Chuck Saylor is on the move to his next big adventure. He will be greatly missed, but we will honor his legacy by moving forward in exciting ways, as he has always taught us to do!

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Wellness: Working its way into product design

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Have you recently spent $500 on a blender, or maybe $175 on running shoes or a wristband fitness tracker?

Even if you haven’t, there are plenty of people who have. Market data shows the demand for products that help maintain health and wellness is growing, and that growth, in turn, is driving the product design industry.

“People are more aware of their health than ever, and they’re spending money accordingly—especially young GenY adults,” says izzy+ Founder Chuck Saylor, noting the Vitamix blender as an example.

According to a Business Insider article (December 24, 2013), Vitamix “…has tripled its workforce in the last two years as its popularity among health-conscious consumers has surged, with sales growing 52% last year.” The growth, at least in part, can be traced to the rising number of fitness buffs and health-conscious eaters, who are clearly willing to buy a $300-$650 blender whose brand revolves around health.

“If consumers are investing money in their wellbeing, that means innovators and designers are paying more attention than ever, too,” Saylor says.

Some fitness design niches, like running shoes, have been big business for decades. Nike began producing its innovative, “swoosh”-clad shoes in the 1970s, and they’ve been innovating and pushing the boundaries of running shoe design since. Today, a variety of brands compete, with running shoes that combine functional design and technological advancements (costing $175 and more, and weighing under 7 oz).

A more recent segment of the fitness design industry revolves around technology, such as digital body monitors and fitness trackers like FitBit. (During this year’s izzy+ Valentine’s promotion we even gave away FitBit Flexes, to coordinate with our focus on wellness.) An article about the biggest fitness tech trends predicts continued growth: “The number of companies and amount of competition in the fitness and wellness tech space give me great hope that we’ll continue to see a lot of innovation and integration in this space.”

At izzy+, wellbeing via human-centered design has been a focus since Saylor started the company in 2001. But none of our products has been more health-focused than our most recent product releases, Wabi and Nikko seating. Barbara Hoogenboom, a physical therapist and professor at Grand Valley State University, worked closely with designers Saylor and Sava Cvek, who drew on extensive anatomical research to engineer a chair that promotes “bottom-up sitting.” The seat pan design is engineered to support proper pelvic alignment, tilting the pelvis slightly forward, keeping it balanced from side to side, and reducing pressure points on the “sit bones.”

“Our position on the design of the whole Wabi and Nikko seat system came purely from physical therapy,” says Saylor. “Design, technology, and science all converge in this chair.”

So much research went into the design of these chairs because how we sit clearly matters—not just in terms of reducing back pain, but also for increasing our ability to focus, innovate, and be creative. Adults in office-oriented vocations spend more time sitting each day than they spend doing anything else—we average 9.3 hours of sitting a day, compared to 7.7 hours of sleeping (which leaves just 7 hours for anything else). Saylor says a healthy sitting posture, combined with regular movement throughout the day, is key to maintaining health and wellbeing at desk-based jobs.

In an Office Insight article about Active Design, Joan Blumenfeld of Perkins + Will suggests that every effort to engineer more movement into our days is worthwhile.

“Most of the best principles for design…encourage physical activity through small, incremental steps that help raise consciousness about a more healthy lifestyle in general, and a more active one at work or school, in particular.”

So here’s to your health and wellbeing—bottoms up!

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For more information on how sitting impacts health, check out this recent Washington Post article and infographic, and  to learn more about how Wabi and Nikko can improve your overall wellbeing, head to our website.

Photo at the top of the post by AForestFrolic

Photo below, the stool-height Nikko chair with the NeoCon Gold-winning Nemo Bar

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Wellness: Working its way into our environments

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This post is the second in a three-part series about changing perceptions around health and wellness in the U.S. The series will explore a variety of issues: How changing ideas about wellness are impacting the lifestyle choices of individuals (part 1), the design of our environments (part 2), and the development and design of products (part 3). We hope you’ll return in early February for the rest of the series and share your thoughts and ideas along the way!

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Michelle Maloney heads to work each day prepared to work her body as well as her mind.

That’s not such a surprising thing, considering where Michelle works—at Human Kinetics, the leading publisher of information about physical activity.

“Working at Human Kinetics has had a huge influence on how I think of my health,” says Michelle (MS, MBA, CPT), an acquisitions editor who joined the company a decade ago.

The Human Kinetics headquarters, in Champaign, IL, has a fitness center with locker rooms, a cafeteria that offers healthy meal options, and a Wellness Committee responsible for planning lunch-and-learn sessions, fitness demonstrations, and an annual health fair. When the weather warms up, employees can hit the tennis and basketball courts or the walking trail that circles them.

But even companies that aren’t inherently focused on wellness are becoming more and more likely to do whatever they can to encourage a healthy corporate culture, Michelle says.

“There is definitely more of a focus on the links between behaviors and health. Employers are really starting to drive these changes. They have to—it’s a matter of costs.”

Most employers are well aware of the ways wellness impacts their bottom line. Not only do the expected negative costs of employee sick days and health insurance exist, but there’s a growing awareness of the fact that hiring people who are well in a holistic way can also yield positive results in terms of efficiency and innovation. A body that’s functioning properly—with optimum respiratory, circulatory, and digestive function—leads to a mind that functions at its best, according Barbara Hoogenboom a physical therapist and professor at Grand Valley State University (EdD, PT, SCS, ATC).

While it’s great for workplaces to include fitness facilities (or even climbing walls!) when they’re able, even the general design of work environments can play an essential role in encouraging movement throughout the day, says izzy+ founder Chuck Saylor.

“The workplace is no longer about sticking people in a cube, adding some lumbar support, and telling them to not move until lunch,” says Saylor. “Regular movement throughout the day is essential to wellbeing, and the best workplaces are making changes to encourage more movement.”

For instance, creating appealing second and third spaces—meeting areas and nooks furnished for comfort and productivity—compels people to get up and leave their desks for a refreshing change of scene, rather than staying in one place all day.

This approach to design—thinking about how design can best encourage people to move— has become so pervasive that it even has a name: Active Design. (Joan Blumenfeld of Perkins+Will, perhaps the leading expert in the field, has written extensively about Active Design, such as in this post.)

Designing cities that are more bikeable and walkable, and that offer more appealing public destinations, is also a part of this broad cultural movement. Working, living, and playing in environments that encourage us to move achieves what experts are now saying is essential to wellness: regular movement throughout our days. In other words, even a daily trip to the gym won’t do the trick on its own, as a recent Here & Now public radio report explains:

SACHA PFEIFFER: It seems like the reality here is that you can’t think of a certain part of your day as being your exercise time and then everything else being everything else. It has to be woven in more throughout.

ALLISON AUBREY: That’s right. Sort of a mindset shift, if you will. I mean, if you want to think about the practical advice for building in the daily activity, you’d think about things like, you know, instead of sending an email to that colleague, walk down the hall and talk to them.

As a matter of fact, Allison Aubrey’s example brings to mind yet another benefit to getting up and moving around the workplace: better communication and more collaboration with colleagues.

So are you feeling inspired to get moving? Great! We’d love to hear how you engineer more movement into your day.

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Above: Climbing-wall-meets-coworking-space at Brooklyn Boulders Somerville (photo by aaditya bharadwaj)
Below: Bike-sharing programs in many cities encourage alternatives to the taxi or bus (photo by Jonny Brownbill)

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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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5 lessons from the classroom—for the workplace

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There’s no doubt that today’s school designs are taking many cues from today’s workplaces. But are there also important lessons we can learn from teachers and students, about work? We think there are!

For starters, here are five truths great teachers know that translate to the workplace. Once you get going down this road, you’ll probably think of even more. Share them with us in the comments!

1. Different people are, well, different.

Teachers have long understood that different kids learn in different ways. Most researchers refer to three different learning styles: Visual, kinesthetic, and auditory.

So what makes us think that we outgrow our natural learning styles when we become adults? Or that all adults work best in the same exact way? Workplaces, just like classrooms, need to consider different learners when designing their spaces—especially kinesthetic learners who need movement for their brains to function at their best.

For more teaching tips for all three types of learners, check out this post.

2. Energy is a positive thing—it shouldn’t be squelched.

Teachers know better than anyone that there are certain children who have trouble sitting still. And we all know there are certain times of day when it’s hard for almost anyone to sit still. Just reading the following description of a traditional classroom format is enough to make many (if not most) of us fidget and squirm:

Peek into most American classrooms and you will see desks in rows, teachers pleading with students to stay in their seats and refrain from talking to their neighbors. Marks for good behavior are rewarded to the students who are proficient at sitting still for long periods of time.” (The Atlantic)

But today’s best teachers, like Dawn Casey-Rowe who wrote the Edudemic post “Avoiding Back to School Brainfreeze,” know it’s possible to harness all that that energy rather than fight it:

By planning active classes, the can’t-sit-stills use their energy and add to the class…. Positive energy can be harnessed into learning.” (Or working!)

3. Spaces have the power to promote engagement.

Educational research shows that how the classroom is designed, and how much freedom children have within that space, can make all the difference in student engagement, which can make all the difference in student success.

In fact, according to a FastCoDesign article, research found that “classroom design could be attributed to a 25% impact, positive or negative, on a student’s progress over the course of an academic year.” 

Workplaces should take a cue from the research and consider how the design of our workspaces might be impacting engagement—and success—at work.

4. Offering choices increases ownership.

The link between “ownership” and “learning” is often overlooked, but it’s important, as Annie Murphy Paul explains in her post “Designing the classroom to enhance learning.”

“Design features that allowed pupils to feel a sense of ownership towards their classroom also helped them to learn…. Pupils benefited from a range of activity zones within a single classroom, allowing different types of learning to take place at the same time.”

In workplaces, offering a variety of choices of where to work is becoming increasingly important. That sense of choice and ownership impacts people in a variety of ways, from physical wellness and concentration to collaboration.

Another recent article at the website Edudemic encourages teachers to ask questions like these when they’re arranging furniture and setting up their classrooms:

“Is your management style and space designed to keep students quiet and in their place, or does it give permission and ownership to the students? What choices do students have about where and how they work? Do you want your students to feel free, creative and enabled? Or, structured, restricted and rule-bound?”

Those same questions might be good ones to ask within the workplace, as well—just read the above paragraph again, replacing “students” with “employees.”

5. Movement is the key to health—and learning.

“Give students the chance to get out of their seats. Movement does wonders for the brain!” says a fifth grade teacher in an Edudemic article about engaging students in the classroom. 

“Movement is the key to learning,” another article explains. “Students cannot sit still for very long before the blood and oxygen flow to their brains significantly slows down, thereby slowing down the learning process.”

And a 2008 study found that many children actually need to move to focus during a complicated mental task.

As we grow into adulthood, we definitely get better at sitting still, thanks to cultural norms and our slowing metabolisms. But that doesn’t mean we are completely different creatures than we were as school children. We still think and learn in different ways; we still have energy that can be channeled for good; we still like having options and ownership; and the spaces we spend most of our days in still impact our bodies and minds, for better or worse.

Most importantly, our bodies still function in the same general ways: Movement increases blood flow, which sharpens your mind—whether you’re five or 50, in a classroom or a workplace.

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