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Singular or Collaborative Genius?

Can design still be thought of as the fruit of a singular creative genius? According to Scandinavian Business Seating, today’s complex web of technical and design considerations requires a new mode of intense collaboration.

  • A Scandinavian Business Seating team workshop

  • Christian Lodgaard, SB Seating’s Senior Vice President (Products and Brands)

  • A Scandinavian Business Seating team workshop

  • A Scandinavian Business Seating team workshop

  • A Scandinavian Business Seating team workshop

  • HÅG SoFi Mesh was launched at Orgatec 2016

  • Noor Up is the latest addition to RBM’s Noor family

There’s a longstanding tradition in the world of furniture production in which a design is conceived and developed by a design studio and then industrialised by a brand in two fairly distinct processes. “It’s still this way for many companies,” says Christian Lodgaard, the Senior Vice President, Products & Brands at Scandinavian Business Seating. “Our own brands produced furniture that way in the 1970s, too. It was a strategy that took us far. It even took us into space!” he says, explaining that in TV series ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’, Captain Picard sat in a HÅG chair.

But Lodgaard has a strongly held philosophy about how new products should be developed today. “These days, every discipline has developed. Every challenge has become harder, and the requirements in every aspect have become heightened. So whereas this was a doable approach in the ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s, these days I don’t think it’s realistic.”

He adds, “I think it’s very naive to think that it’s within the reach of one single genius to conceive a complete product – even a product as basic as a simple chair.”

The vast range of developments in medicine, in psychology, in manufacturing technology, in sustainability considerations, in toxicology and in many other areas means that the traditional siloed approach will now result in inferior products, he suggests. “What’s required is a different approach to designer-brand collaboration, where external and internal designers collaborate on an equal footing to bring the necessary competencies to the table,” he says. This, he believes, is the best way to create with access to every piece of relevant knowledge at the right time in the process.

Scandinavian Business Seating, which produces furniture under its four constituent brands – HÅG, RBM, RH and BMA – operates with what Lodgaard refers to as a “complete in-house design environment.” Thirty staff members are dedicated to product development and design. “Eight of us have masters’ degrees or PhDs in industrial design, but we always ask external designers to join us when we develop new products. This isn’t outsourcing; we bring their heads to the table for inspiration, for reference, for their visual design character – and ultimately to join us on a design journey that is fundamentally collaborative.”

The Noor family of chairs, produced under the RBM brand, is a good example of the Scandinavian Business Seating approach. It involved collaboration not with one designer, but with three – all from Scandinavia. StokkeAustad from Norway, Form Us With Love from Sweden, and Grønlund Design from Denmark worked with collaboratively with a team of five from Scandinavian Business Seating in a rigorous week-long process.

“There was manufacturing expertise, textile expertise, and one of our best design managers. We had all the necessary competence available so that we could do this together,” says Lodgaard. The bringing together of external designers from three Scandinavian countries was also purposeful; it was to explore the differences in cultural background and how this could impact a product.

Lodgaard elaborates on the process: “We isolated ourselves on the west coast of Norway and worked for a full week on concept development. We worked in groups on tasks from 8 in the morning until 8 in the evening. We had dinner at 8, and during the night, those of us who facilitated the process reviewed the outcomes and set the directions as well as new combinations of people for the next day. This is how we pushed ourselves forward. Noor is a true-born child of that process.”

Lodgaard believes it was the creation of numerous concepts by a collaborative interdisciplinary team that led to the successful outcome of Noor. “We employ the same thinking for every product development,” he says. For example, the HÅG SoFi chair, which has just been released in a new mesh version, was the result of a collaborative effort by the in-house design team and two studios from Norway – Powerdesign and Frost Produkt.

“For our next product, we will work with designers from other parts of Europe to get an outside perspective on Scandinavian design,” offers Lodgaard. No doubt, the Scandinavian essence of the brand will be rigorously debated in a thoroughly Scandinavian (that is, equitable) fashion.

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