By Rob Kirkbride
A few months ago, in preparation for a story on changing educatonal seating for Chair Culture magazine, I received a KI Learn2 desk to use for photos for the article. For quite some time, it sat there neglected -- a fish out of water in my sea of office chairs and home furnishings.
Then a funny thing happened: I started to use it. Like many of you, I spend much of my day on my iPad and little of my day tethered to my "real" desk and desktop computer. I like the size of the iPad and can write just as easily on it with my Zagg keyboard tray as I can a desktop or laptop computer.
So I found myself using the Learn2 as my main desk. And why not? It is an all-in-one unit with a comfortable chair, expansive and highly movable tray and ample storage underneath, including a pair of cup holders for my coffee. I can roll it into my office to work, the living room when I need a change of scenery and outside on my porch if the Michigan winter ever loosens its grip.
I can park it next to an outlet when I need to plug in and it keeps me honest about the amount of stuff I let collect on the desk. It is small enough that I need to keep it clean if I actually want to use it. In short, it is the perfect desk for my needs -- functional with no bells and whistles, mobile, stylish and cool.
Why should students have all the fun?
I am certainly not the target market for Learn2, but KI's Vice President of Design Shawn Green said I am not alone in finding new uses for products like Learn2. Context equals relevance, he said. "I find myself playing around with a lot of ideas," he said. "There is a fundamental difference between what a product is and what it enables."
And that important distinction is made possible by technology. We have written countless pieces in recent years talking about how technology is changing the way we work by untying us from the office. We no longer need furniture to hold our technology since it now fits in the front pocket of our shirts and a zippered pouch in our purses.
The design of office products for specific purposes is still important, but the freedom from business machines means that design can also support furniture to leverage what workers want (in a corporate, healthcare or educational setting -- it doesn't matter). "To think of a product in a linear way like a desk is a desk and a chair is a chair is erroneous," Green said.
Green's thinking can be seen in KI's product design. One of the company's new products that will be launched at NeoCon is the MyWay lounge chair. MyWay will take some of the company's knowledge it used in creating its Sela Lounge Collection and add a bit of what it used in creating the Learn2 -- a hybrid lounge seat that incorporates a tablet arm. Adding a tablet arm to a lounge chair is nothing new, but recognizing that the way people work is changing radically is definitely an important step in the right direction.
"When you think about it, a product like Learn2 makes a whole lot of sense in a corporate setting," Green said. "How much time are you spending doing heads-down work rather than meeting with peers? Do they need this formal work station? What do you really need to be effective?"
Indeed, I have heard stories of others using Node for other uses outside the classroom. Though I can't prove it, I have heard that Zappos Chief Executive Officer Tony Hsieh uses Nodes as his dining room "table." Guests at his Las Vegas home each have their own Node to use. When it is time for dinner, the guests simply pull them all together, nose-to-nose and create a dining room table out of their own tablets.
An author and often imitated leader, Hsieh is also known for the Downtown Project, his $350 million effort to revitalize Las Vegas, with Zappos moving into the old city hall building as the anchor. This isn't the kind of guy who is going to be told how to sit down and eat dinner or what seat and table to use.
This shift to the stripped down can be seen in the automotive world as well. Cars have gone from having tons of buttons for every conceivable convenience to a simple flat screen information center. It's all about simplicity and creating a cost effective solution. "If want to use a product like Learn2 or Node for a dining room table or use it to watch television in a media room, why not?" Green asked.
It is a fabulous idea and one that the industry should capitalize on. A few weeks ago, we wrote about Concept Furniture going after the Las Vegas gambling market for its heavy-use chairs. Why not create a market that doesn't exist? Who says a dining room table has to be a single table with chairs around it?
Why not use a student desk as an office desk?
It is time for this industry to start thinking differently.