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.

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.

How color & materials inspire: Behind the scenes with izzy+ flavors

Allison Roon and Kerry Rowe, above, created izzy+ flavors, the new color and materials program being introduced this month at NeoCon. Recently, izzy+’s writer, Kristin Tennant, sat down with Allison (wearing white and blue in the photo above) to talk about this foundational element of the izzy+ brand—why it’s important, what inspired the palette, and how, in turn, these tools will inspire designs and spaces.

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What sparked the creation of a new color and materials program?

We started developing the program more than two years ago, because we wanted to bring the izzy+ Better Together story to life through surface materials. We also wanted a color and materials program that reflects izzy+’s brand and design philosophy. It’s a very design-driven company, in a foundational way. For izzy+, that focus has never been just about product design, it also about color and materials.

What were your sources of inspiration?

Fashion was huge for us, not just in terms of trend-forward color, but also in how different elements can be put together. We love the layering aspect of fashion, and all the opportunities it brings to mix different colors and materials in unexpected, fresh ways. Fashion gives us a model for mixing timeless classic—those practical, core parts of your wardrobe—with splashes of more trendy color and accessories. The goal is to provide that perfect balance between timeless and trendy. This approach applies to a very izzy+ way of designing spaces, too.

What do you mean by that “very izzy+” approach?

Well, one of the biggest sources of inspiration for flavors was the feel and personality of the izzy+ brand itself. From its start at NeoCon in 2001, with it’s Mini Cooper parked outside the Merchandise Mart with the convoy of big tractor trailors, the izzy+ brand has been a little quirky and off-center. It possesses a strong human element that doesn’t take itself too seriously—a youthful spirit that’s easy to be around.

How would you characterize the palette you ended up with?

In terms of color, Kerry really felt izzy+ was in a position to move the [contract furniture] industry forward. We started with 15 core plastic seating colors—eight Evolving, trend-forward colors with lots of bold energy, and seven Classic colors—and then we built the rest of the program out from there.

Being a young company means we have the opportunity to start fresh and to conceptualize around color and materials. We don’t have to worry about a legacy, so we can take risks. That’s why you won’t find traditional colors like navy, hunter green or burgundy in our palette. It’s time to move on, and we think izzy+ is the company to make that move. Chuck (Saylor) and everyone at izzy+ really feels passionate and excited about bringing a relevant palette to the market. People appreciate the honesty and authenticity, as well as the quirky personality.

What does it mean for colors and materials to be “authentic”?

Authentic materials are materials that are very approachable both in how they feel and how they look. They’re enticing and demand to be touched—they invite human-to-product engagement. They’re also not stuffy or too high-end, just simple, natural and clean.

So is the colors and materials program bigger than it used to be?

Well, it’s definitely broader and more fresh, but all of the redundancies and dull, old colors were eliminated, so it’s more efficient. As Kerry and I were doing our research, we listened to several focus groups and learned that the A&D community really looks to izzy+ to provide lots of options and personality, unique, fresh colors, and something different. Many other companies in the industry are paring down their materials program right now, but designers were begging us not to do that. We decided to broaden our program, but do it responsibly, in a trend-forward way that gives the A&D market more options for expression.

Specifiers have also been telling us they need all the izzy+ brands and products to work together, and to also coordinate with other competitive environments. That was part of our thought process, as we eliminated redundancies, filled in voids, and made the whole program consistent and easier to use across the different brands.

Do you have an example?

Our laminates are a great example. We went from a total of 75 laminates being offered across the various izzy+ brands to 35, 27 of which are new. We overhauled all of the finishes—there isn’t a single area we didn’t take this thorough approach with.

Designers will definitely be happy about that!

It’s definitely going to be easier to use. Everything is consistent and works together, across the different palettes and brands. But flavors isn’t just designed to be easier to use. We also created it as a tool for designers—one that really inspires them in new ways, providing plenty of options and ideas for creating more inspiring spaces. We did all the work when we curated the program, so designers can come to us for a fantastic collection of ingredients.

When you look back at the past two years, what were your favorite aspects of the process?

I really loved the way Kerry and I came together and created the perfect team. Kerry’s background is in textile design and color, and my background is in applying color and materials to spaces. Our collaboration is a perfect example of izzy+’s Better Together mantra.

We also met with lots of materials industry people along the way, especially at the Color Marketing Group conference in Portland. There was lots of sharing and input, in both directions. Some really important collaborations and partnerships formed, and we were able to align ourselves with great companies that put the same level of importance on design, like Formica, Maharam, Camira, Greenhides, Momentum, Knoll Textiles, and 3Form.

What’s next?

This is just the beginning of the journey. We’ve included some Core and Classic offerings that will be there as a foundational platform, but the Evolving colors and materials will keep changing. We’ll always be introducing new things that keep designers excited and engaged with our product. The whole flavors brand was designed to be an innovative, evolving platform that sets the stage for the future.

Ta-da! The 15 foundational colors of izzy+ flavors. The entire flavors program was built around this core.

Why NeoCon needs more “concept cars”

Every June, over 40,000 architecture and design professionals converge on the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, ready to network and see what’s new in the more than 700 showrooms and booths. The experience can be as overwhelming as it is exciting. When it’s all said it done, what products, of the thousands displayed, stand out?

For many who were commenting on Twitter during the show, the izzy+ Nemo concept pieces made an impression—in part, perhaps, because they are different, but also because they engage people and spark imaginations.

“I’ve always felt that the industry needs to do a better job of showing off what is possible instead of just what is,” says Rob Kirkbride, associate editor of MMQB, the weekly publication that covers the contract furniture industry. “We could learn a lot from the auto industry. Auto companies build concepts to show off what they can do, get customers excited about what’s coming and build brand awareness.”

izzy+’s founder and CEO, Chuck Saylor, has collaborated on designing the izzy+ concept pieces shown in showrooms 1150 and 11-100 during NeoCon. He says he loves exploring what is possible and watching how people react.

“If you really, truly want to gain knowledge and get non-filtered input around ideas, you have to be confident enough to stand in front of the bus and share your ideas,” Saylor says. “You have to be willing to hear all the feedback—the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Showing concept pieces at NeoCon is particularly important, Saylor says, because there are so many people in one place, ready to engage in ideas and conversation. “It’s a thought leadership issue,” Saylor says. “We need to be having a broader conversation in the industry about what it really means to change the nature of work, from an isolated setting to a more communal and collaborative one.”

While “collaboration” is a hot topic in the industry—one that was referenced extensively at NeoCon and explored to some extent through certain products, like benching—Saylor says providing something physical for people to experience takes the conversation to a different level.

“It’s one thing to say ‘We believe in collaboration,’ but it’s another thing entirely to say ‘This is what we think it might look like’—to put something out there as a reference point. The more real and meaningful the experience that’s offered in the showroom, the richer the discussion.”

Designer Joey Ruiter, who has collaborated with Saylor on the Nemo concept pieces displayed in the izzy+ showrooms at NeoCon and also designed izzy+’s Dewey line for the next generation of teaching and learning, loves the collaborative, future-focused nature of putting new ideas out there.

“Concept pieces aren’t meant to be perfect, finished ideas. They’re thought-starters that help other people start imagining and envisioning what’s possible,” Ruiter says. “That’s what the best concept pieces do—they should get you thinking about how you see yourself using it and moving the ideas forward.”

Secrecy often keeps companies from sharing concepts, but Saylor and Kirkbride both believe less secrecy will help energize future NeoCon shows.

“Concepts add excitement,” Kirkbride says. “Office furniture makers in Europe do a much better job of showing concepts at shows like Orgatec and iSalone. And that makes going to those shows exciting. In many booths, furniture concepts are placed front and center at these shows. The companies want feedback, and they get it. They don’t hide the concept behind closed doors.

“I think companies that show at NeoCon are missing a great opportunity to build excitement and brand recognition by keeping concepts hidden away…. It is time to pull back the curtain and build a little buzz in the industry again.”


Chuck Saylor and Joey Ruiter, two generations of designers collaborating on Nemo concepts for izzy+

The Nemo Lounge concept, designed by Joey Ruiter

The Lotus Chair concept, designed by Chuck Saylor

This post was written by izzy+ writer Kristin Tennant

A NeoCon countdown (in tandem with a birthday)

It’s almost NeoCon-time! There are many things we love about being in Chicago each June (and we’re going to share several of them here), but this year is extra special because we’re celebrating our 10th birthday!

Every birthday celebration should last more than one day (right?), so we’ll be counting down the 10 days to NeoCon, sharing the things we love about Chicago and asking you to chime in with your favorites. When you do—either here, or on Twitter or Facebook—you will be entered into a drawing to win the Schwinn Tango tandem bicycle that will be on our Mini Cooper in front of the Merchandise Mart during the show.

There are more details about the drawing at the bottom of this post, but now it’s time for the fun! The #izzy10 countdown begins…

10 favorite places for dinner in Chicago:

Adobo Grill
Big Bowl
Coco Pazzo
Crust
Frontera Grill
Gibson’s Steakhouse
Giordano’s
Piccolo Sogno
Shaw’s Crab House
The Publican

9 favorite shopping excursions beyond the Mart:

– Anthropologie (111 E. Chicago Ave. at Michigan)
– Apple Store (679 N. Michigan)
– Crate & Barrel (646 N. Michigan)
– Mark Shale (900 N. Michigan)
– Marshalls (600 N. Michigan)
– Nordstrom (55 E. Grand)
– Trader Joe’s (44 E. Ontario)
– Room & Board (55 E. Ohio)
– Vosges Chocolate Boutique (520 N. Michigan)

8 favorite things about NeoCon:

– Chicago
– Cool new products
– Drinks
– Fresh ideas & innovation
– Friends—old & new
– Learning from each other
– Monday morning—game on!
– Wednesday afternoon—collapse!

7 lunch spots (if you can find time for lunch!):

– Ed Debevics (640 North Wells)
– English Bar & Restaurant (444 North LaSalle)
– Kinzie Chophouse (400 North Wells)
– Monk’s Pub (205 West Lake)
– Potbelly (in the Merchandise Mart)
– Star of Siam (11 East Illinois)
– Steve’s Deli (354 West Hubbard)

6 favorite examples of Chicago architecture:

– Frank Llyod Wright home and studio, 1889, 1898 (951 Chicago Ave.)
– Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, 2004 (53 East Randolph St.)
– Tribune Tower, 1925 (435 N. Michigan Ave.)
– Water Tower Place, 1975 (835 N. Michigan Ave.)
– Wrigley Building, 1920 (410 N Michigan Ave.)
– Wrigley Field, 1914 (1060 W. Addison St.)

5 favorite places for drinks:

– Billy Goat Tavern (222 Merchandise Mart)
– Hub 51 (51 W. Hubbard)
– Japonais (600 W. Chicago)
– Mercadito (108 W. Kinzie)
– Rockit Bar & Grill (22 W. Hubbard)

4 best photo backdrops:

– Coastline/skyline from the water (or from Navy Pier)
– Buckingham Fountain
– Millenium Park (especially by the Bean sculpture!)
– Sears Tower clear balcony

**Bonus backdrop during NeoCon: In front of the izzy+ Mini

3 favorite breakfast spots:

– Original Pancake House, 22 East Bellevue Place
– West Egg Café, 620 North Fairbanks Court
– Yolk, 355 East Ohio Street

2 places we like to stay

– The James Hotel (55 E. Ontario)
– The Sutton Place Hotel (21 E. Bellevue)

1 party you don’t want to miss at NeoCon

– Our 10th birthday party, of course!

The party is from 3:30-5:30 on Monday, in showroom 1150. We’ll announce a winner for the tandem drawing at 5 pm, so make sure you share your Chicago favorites here, on Twitter or Facebook today!

What are your Chicago favorites? Share them and be entered in our tandem drawing!

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Now for those nitty-gritty tandem-drawing details:

You can be entered into the tandem drawing once a day—up to 10 times total. Just choose your social medium and follow these instructions:

– On the blog: Respond to this post, adding some of your Chicago favorites to our growing lists; or…

– On Twitter: Either a) tweet a favorite for that day’s category (be sure to include the #izzy10 hashtag), or b) RT one of our #izzy10 tweets; or…

– On Facebook: Make sure you’ve “liked” our page, then leave a comment on one of our countdown status updates, sharing your favorite for the category of the day.

The drawing for the Schwinn Tango tandem will take place at our birthday party, on Monday, June 13 from 3:30-5:30 in showroom 1150. You must be in the showroom at 5 pm—the time of the drawing—to win. (And even if you don’t win there will be cupcakes!)