Evolution of office furniture

Interview

Evolution of office furniture

In the hot seat : Jeremy Hocking, Vice President (Asia Pacific) Herman Miller. Are you planning to expand your presence in India?

We are interested in prompting Indian companies to turn to quality furniture products, which Herman Miller provides. We are now planning to build independent dealers in every key city in the country, which will help strengthen our distribution network. India is an extremely important market for our products.
Take a look at the number of international companies that have based themselves in cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad. We want to target them, apart from local companies. Currently we have our production facilities based in Southeast Asian countries including China, but in the long run, we are going to establish a manufacturing unit in India.

You plan to launch an exclusive workstation in India. Elaborate...
The workstation has been designed in keeping with the Indian work culture. The trend in designing office spaces has changed, especially in India, where cubicles are giving way to more linear workstations — where divisions are disappearing. The work culture here is more open and interactive, which is why our new workstation, ‘Nomad’ has been created keeping the Asian office market in mind and will be launched in May.
The idea is to create designs and services in such a way that they enhance performance at the workplace, make lives more productive, rewarding, delightful and meaningful.  

Do you primarily cater to the office segment?
Designing modern office furniture has been the core of Herman Miller. Although we do plan to concentrate on the same, there are also plans to embark on launching retail outlets that offer premium lifestyle furniture, both for the office and home spaces.
The brand already has retailers in Australia, Japan and very soon, India will be next.

What design trends do you foresee in the office and home furniture segment in India?
I foresee products which exude simplicity — simplicity in design and intensification of products. More and more people want products that are beautiful, sustainable and are priced competitively.

What is sustainable design?
Making products which are basic, made with the minimum resources and are recyclable. Customers today demand products which have credible sustainable design credentials. Many of Herman Miller products have received certification for churning out products with environment friendly designs. This means using environmentally safe and healthy materials; design for material re-utilisation such as recycling or composting; the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency; efficient use of water, maximum water quality associated with production among other factors.  

How different is Herman Miller from other furniture manufacturers?
Simplicity and desirability is important for us. We want to make designs that make people look at them and say, “I want to have this.”  We have the willingness to take a risk by investing in constant innovation of design. This helps us build world-class products. Take the Aeron chair for instance.
It is an iconic design by Don Chadwick and Bill Stumpf (This chair has earned a place in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection) and is still the fastest selling product at Herman Miller as it is regarded by many users as inherently very comfortable due to its wide range of fit and adjustability. This proves that people are ready to buy products which offer comfort and value for money, even at a premium price. Not many furniture manufacturers concentrate on the seat. They only concentrate on the backrest of the chair. Thinking about both these aspects has helped us make products like Aeron.

Robert Propst at Herman Miller gave birth to the office cubicle. Does it still work?
In the 1960s, Propst came up with the concept in the US as he noticed that the then office spaces sapped vitality, blocked talent, and stalled accomplishment among office employees. The cubicle works even today, but the only difference is that earlier, the height of dividing panels was long, discouraging interaction between workers and now it has reduced, making work spaces more interactive environments.  
The good old cubicle is a wonderful way to organise heads-down work and minimise distractions.
The point is that even the most creative and team-oriented people in the world need to work alone sometimes.

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