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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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.

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.

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+