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 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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Wellness: working its way into our lives

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Photo by SyncHealth

This post is the first 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), our environments and interactions (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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When Jill Horning graduated from the University of Michigan and moved to West Michigan to work for izzy+, she adopted an approach to wellness that was culturally common—especially a decade or two ago.

“I drove to work, stayed at my desk all day, then drove home,” says Jill, now izzy+’s E-marketing specialist.

Jill has always been health-conscious, so she did have a membership at the YMCA and says she tried to fit in a workout whenever she could. But exercise definitely wasn’t a natural, daily activity.

It was in 2012, when Jill moved to Chicago to work at the izzy+ showroom, that her approach to wellness shifted.

“Once I moved to the city I started walking everywhere,” Jill says. “I should have just sold my car then and there!”

Jill now walks 25 minutes to and from work each day, in addition to her periodic runs and more structured workouts.

“When I started walking to work I honestly didn’t know if it would last, but after two weeks I noticed how great I felt and I didn’t want to think about taking the bus,” she says. “Now when I go work in the Michigan office for a week, I notice how lethargic I am. I really need that fresh air and exercise at the beginning and end of each day.”

This approach to wellness—weaving physical activity into the fabric of each day rather than taking it in sporadic bursts—is definitely a trend experts are observing. Today, physical fitness is thought of less as focus just for athletes and fitness fanatics, and more as something that’s for everyone.

Michelle Maloney (MS, MBA, CPT), an acquisitions editor at Human Kinetics, a publisher specializing in the physical activity field, says this trend comes partly out of a broadened awareness of health issues and the many lifestyle choices that have led to them.

“I think there is more awareness than ever of the need for people to improve their health and change their lifestyle,” Michelle says, pointing to news stories about obesity and related health risks, and also the rising costs of healthcare. She says 60 percent of the adult U.S. population is considered sedentary.

“It’s kind of snowballed, until it’s reached a point where obesity rates are so high, we have to pay attention.”

The shift away from complicated diets and exercise regimes toward what Michelle calls “behavior change” is key to success for most people, as research done at the Cooper Institute indicates.

“It’s a matter of getting back to basics with nutrition and activity,” Michelle says. “It’s hard to do, because these things have been engineered out of what we do every day.”

During the past 50 years, everything from the invention of office technology and the design of cubicles to the development of automobile-reliant suburbs has played a part in engineering physical activity out of our lives. But the tide is shifting as cities work to become more walkable and bikeable, and as workplaces move toward open, collaborative spaces that encourage movement throughout the day.

“Everywhere you look there’s more of a focus on well-rounded wellness and happiness, with more realistic expectations,” Michelle says.

Not only has Jill, a twenty-something, seen that trend play out in her life, but her mom, Amey Horning, recognizes a shift in her perspective, too.

“I used to be on and off about exercise,” says Amey. “What I’m learning now is that it’s all about balancing mind, body and spirit. My approach changed when my life changed due to divorce. I decided I needed to get back to me, to quiet my mind and focus on being well.”

Whether she’s getting outdoors for cross-training, meditating on her own at home, or going to yoga class at the Lakeshore Yoga Center in Grand Haven, Michigan, Amey says the combination leads to feeling less stressed and more healthy, in every way.

“My parents are 80 and 82, but they weren’t as active later in their life, so their bodies seem older than they are,” Amey says. “It puts a little fear in me, and inspires me to make the positive changes I can make in my own life. Our choices really matter.”

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What changes have you noticed in your own approach to wellness? If you need some inspiration, read more about recent research and tips to KEEP MOVING:

Low Intensity Activity Can Have Health Benefits looks at the health risks associated with men who spend five or more hours a day sitting, and why regular movement throughout the day is important in addition to exercise.

Sitting is the new smoking—even for runners explores similar research that points to how regular daily exercise—even up to 60 minutes a day—does not alone negate the adverse effects of sitting.

A guide to assessing and improving your posture—understand better ways of sitting and standing, and learn yoga poses that will help you strengthen and refine.

5 yoga poses to boost the immune system by increasing the circulation of blood cells, decreasing stress hormones, and stimulating the lymphatic system.

Below: Amey Horning manages to keep moving during a long Michigan winter, and Amey and Jill Horning, on the move together in Cambodia.

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5 gifts of wellness to give yourself

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It’s that time of year—when the length of your to-do list meets the width of the holiday treat table in the break room, and the only gift you end up giving yourself falls somewhere under the category “stress” (which isn’t, of course, a gift at all).

Thinking about your health can  just add to the stress, but that’s because we tend to raise the bar too high, adopting an all-or-nothing mentality that’s tough to conquer. But take heart—giving yourself the gift of wellness doesn’t have to look like a six-mile daily run or cutting every last sweet treat out of your diet. There are many ways to insert small, good-for-you actions into your day, and there are many reasons it’s worth making it happen, from increasing productivity and creativity to decreasing aches and pains and irritability.

Consider these ideas a holiday gift from us, which will help you give a gift to yourself. Try several of them or just pick one or two that seem especially manageable.

1. Check your posture

No, your mother didn’t tell us to say this—our friend Barbara Hoogenboom did. Barbara, a physical therapy professor at Grand Valley State University who specializes in movement and posture, says our sitting and standing postures are key to our overall wellness. While sitting, aim for 90 degree angles at the hips, knees and elbows, and keep your shoulders at ease. Your head and torso should be in line with one another, and balanced over your center of gravity. Good posture doesn’t just make your mother proud, Barbara says it helps relieve back and neck tension and improves circulatory, respiratory, and digestive function (which can improve the workings of everything else—even your brain!). Read more about basic posture principles

2. Keep moving

You may have heard that sitting is the new smoking. You may have also heard that we make chairs, but we’ve always been big fans of movement—both moving while sitting and getting up to move about your workspace. While sitting, a correctly balanced seating posture (see above) allows for maximum healthy movement, according to Barbara Hoogenboom, EdD, PT, SCS, ATC. When it comes to getting up and moving around, research shows that getting away from your usual location (like your desk) is critical to effective thinking—it not only gets the blood flowing, but it  opens up neuropathways in the brain, allowing us to look at problems and projects from a fresh perspective. Read more about how “getting away” affects your brain.

3. Sleep well

Everyone knows that getting a good night’s sleep helps our immune system fight off viruses (and helps us fight off the grumpies). But research shows that adequate sleep can also boost creativity, by increasing levels of serotonin. To achieve the deep sleep required to reduce cortisol levels and boost serotonin, start winding down an hour before bed by putting away your electronic devices and reading a book or a magazine rather than Facebook or your email. A hot bath or shower also helps, as does limiting food and alcohol for two hours before bed. Sweet dreams!

4. Stretch yourself

You don’t have to go to the gym to do something good for your health. Simple stretches can be done right at your desk, boosting energy, releasing and lengthening tight muscles, and moving more oxygen through your system. Try a couple of these work-friendly stretches every hour or so. (And if you’re taking time off work for the holidays, these yoga poses can be practiced without leaving your bed!)

5. Laugh a little

Of all the gifts of wellness we’ve offered, laughter is probably our favorite at izzy+—especially during a holiday season focused on joyful times spent doing your favorite things with your favorite people. Not only does approaching life with a sense of humor bring many personal benefits, laughing with others creates and sustains interpersonal bonds (something we care a lot about at izzy+—being Better Together). Laughter also results in multiple health benefits, from decreasing stress and managing pain to energizing organs, boosting the immune system, and improving blood pressure and flow. Read more about the benefits of laughter—and be sure to practice laughter as much as possible this holiday season!

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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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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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