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Why is it important for brands to invest in R+D?

Our industry now understands the value of data, science, and the importance of supporting the wellbeing and health of the end-user. But what is the value of R+D to the ‘best practice’ of design?

Key characteristics of a company at the vanguard of the corporate design world are a keen eye for emerging obstacles to workplace productivity and the ability to deftly address these with new products. Haworth – a multi-national design juggernaut with one finger constantly on the pulse of research into agile and adaptable workplaces – has these characteristics in spades. Recently, Haworth sent shockwaves through the design industry with the unveiling of Penumbra, its latest “people-oriented” furniture system.

The 2017 winner of Haworth’s Celebrating Great Design Contest, Penumbra taps into Haworth’s “space transformation” strategy as a means of creating productive, attractive workplaces. The launch was aptly timed, coinciding with research published by Forbes that suggests that collaborative and adaptable work environments enable workers to engage with their employer’s goals more meaningfully, to more productive ends. Accordingly, furniture in the Penumbra family can be easily adapted to a variety of environments and collaborative working practices, making it a valuable investment for the future-oriented workplace.

Indeed, in addition to marking a new chapter in workplace furniture design, Penumbra cements Haworth’s position as a global thought leader in designing for healthy, productive workplaces. Evident throughout Haworth’s extensive research undertakings and diverse catalogue of high-performance furniture is a firm grasp of changing workplace habits and needs alongside a whole-hearted embrace of the role of research and data in design. Haworth recognises that no one product – or selection of products – is the complete solution for healthy workplace design. Rather, the company encourages a holistic vision of health that marries knowledge with action. In addition to developing their broad product offering, Haworth is committed to engaging and informing their clients of the direct link between workplace health and productivity, attraction, and retention in the modern workplace.

Haworth’s unflagging focus on the importance of design in building healthy offices taps into a broader movement that recognises the health risks that are rife in many of today’s offices. The dangers of spending most of the workday seated have been clearly established, as has the link between long sedentary periods – such as the workday – and a 40% increase in mortality rates due to cardiovascular complications within a three-year window. What’s more, for those conscientious workers putting in more than 10 hours a day, the chance of heart related disease jumps by 60%.

These statistics have been a source of alarm for many offices, which are now scrambling toward introducing health measures including corporate gym memberships, the provision of healthy lunches, and encouraging people to take more breaks and strike a work-life balance. Yet there are still gaps that need to be bridged when it comes to the basics of healthy workplaces: in order to make today’s offices healthier, we need to first acknowledge that the office themselves – and not just the attitudes and activity within them – can be further improved.

Haworth targets these gaps directly through the publication of their extensive research findings concerning the relationship between design, work habits, and health. Presenting their findings as accessible case studies and longer form white papers, Haworth reaches out to employers and employees alike, clearly demonstrating the benefits that stand to be gained from prioritising health. Far from confining itself specifically to furniture design and ergonomics, Haworth’s research is far reaching, encompassing broad categories including sustainability, organisational culture, change management, and brand strategy.

Beyond providing an invaluable educational resource for Haworth customers, this wealth of information informs the company’s overall design ethos and testing methodology. As much is evident in FERN, Haworth’s latest range of office chairs and the product of five years of R+D into adaptability. Produced in partnership with Swiss- and German-based ITO design, FERN draws heavily from the aesthetic and structural logic of their botanical namesake. A “stem” of strong but flexible acetate supports a series of “fronds” that underlay the seat cradle and is described as “the first new reference point for back support in 25 years”. The first chair to be certified by US Ergonomics, FERN epitomises the Smart Chair, adapting effortlessly to all body types and heights while embodying the notion that more comfort equals less distraction.

FERN‘s “fronds” are individually calibrated to suit the position and stature of the individual user, providing flexibility and support while responding directly to the user’s every movement. A 3D outer shell encases FERN‘s many features, providing smooth, flexible comfort that can be easily moved around the contemporary collaborative and agile office. Levers for a variety of seat adjustments are fully integrated into the base of the chair and control features such as armrest height and position and lumbar support.

Firmly rejecting the normative assumption of “chairs last” and setting a new bar for office chair design, FERN takes a leaf out of Haworth’s playbook of innovative, successful design: placing users and comfort first and letting everything fall into place around this.

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