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Herman Miller: Intelligent Design

The future of the workspace is all about intelligent designs that adapt to our needs – and the smartphone is the tool to take it there. Tamsin Bradshaw speaks to Herman Miller about how the brand is responding to trends in technology.

Herman Miller: Intelligent Design


December 14th, 2015

Like it or not, the smartphone is an integral part of our lives – something Herman Miller is capitalising on with its exciting new developments in the office space. “It’s about being smarter – about doing everything smarter,” says Marc Fong, Director of Research, Design & Development APAC for the contemporary interior furnishings brand.

For Herman Miller, getting smarter means exploring the ways in which technology, furniture and spaces can connect, in order to quantify how people behave and then be able to respond to it. Part of Herman Miller’s drive is a new technology service, Passport, which uses real-time data to accurately measure how people work in an office space.

smartphone workspace utilisation
Passport connects with an app on your smartphone to track data on workspace usage

“Passport really looks at space utilisation,” says Samantha Giam, Director of Living Office – APAC. Using iBeacon technology, Passport functions via an app on the user’s smartphone, delivering information on which areas of an office they spend their time in, how they work within those spaces, and which areas are under-utilised.

“Our clients definitely have the need for this information, and they want to quantify the design of their workspace,” says Giam. “But with the other, current methodologies available for assessing that situation, it generally takes at least a month to get that kind of information. With Passport, we’re getting real-time information for very busy executives who want the answers now.”

Passport lets those same busy executives look at the big picture, with usage trends quantifiable on a daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly basis. “Or we can look at quite minute details,” says Giam.

smartwatch workspace utilisation tracking
Herman Miller is scoping for Passport to be available with the Apple iWatch

As well as considering the overall space, Herman Miller is looking at the individual products within it, launching its first intelligent piece of furniture early next year. Called T2, this new addition to the brand’s portfolio connects the digital experience with the concept of a height-adjustable desk.

Sidle up to the desk and tag your smartphone to it via T2’s app, and it will automatically adjust itself to the preferences listed in your profile. Thanks to a built-in microchip, the desk will then remember your habits; it can even send you notifications on the ideal ergonomic settings for your height, as well as letting you know when you need to take a break.

“It will learn by itself and it will improve by itself, with the microchip receiving automatic updates through your phone, like phoneware updates,” explains Fong, who drove development of T2.

adjustable T2 desk
“The technology is invisible,” says Fong of T2’s digital capabilities. There are no loose cables – it’s all about sleek good looks

Employers get data on how their desks are being used, and there are also benefits for employees. For one, they are getting a desk that adapts to their needs. And secondly, “it really enables users to take control of their work environment. Once you have T2, you’re empowered,” says Giam.

Both Giam and Fong believe this is the beginning of a fascinating journey; one that will likely lead to objects that respond to your body via special recognition technology – but don’t get too excited just yet. “It’s definitely on the cards, but it’s 10 or 20 years down the track,” says Fong, who in the meantime is enthusiastic about T2’s innovative approach. “We’re adding life to an inanimate object,” he says.

With Passport and T2, it looks like Herman Miller is entering a whole new era – one that Giam and Fong say the furniture industry needs to tap into, and fast. “If you’re not taking advantage of all the new infrastructure, you’re just behind the game,” says Giam. “This will drive out all the copycats and trend followers. By designing smart furniture, the big boys and the really small operations will be able to change the game.”

Pre-register for Hong Kong Indesign and you will go in the draw to win an exclusive, return trip to Milan Design Week in 2016, sponsored by Herman Miller. The prize includes accommodation for four nights. For enquiries about Passport or T2, contact 

Herman Miller

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