Max Fraser
Industry insights

The Changing Face of Interiors: Tech-influenced Design

It’s that time of year again. In just over a month, it will be time for the London Design Festival. And this year it’s celebrating its 15th birthday. But don’t worry if you’re not going to be travelling down to the Big Smoke for the festivities. We’ve got four blogs coming your way, each focussing on different aspects of the festival, so you wont miss out.

First up, we’re chatting to Max Fraser, Content Editor for the 100% Design trade show. Max is a design commentator and writer who edits the London Design Guide and has written several books including Designers on Design with Sir Terence Conran and Design UK.  We couldn’t think of anyone better to talk through the changing face of interiors with us.

Have you see our recent Trend Report yet? If so, you’ll know that boundaries between different spaces are blurring. And, in particular, the traditional office appears to be disappearing. Here at eporta, we’ve noticed that we’re sourcing more and more workspace projects, but our platform shows that the number of searches for the word “office” has fallen dramatically. Interior designers are instead exploring products that would be better suited in the home – inserting comfy and cosy décor into the workspace.

Max links this shift to the rise of technology. “This trend’s been gestating for about 10 years – ever since the launch of the iPhone in 2007”, Max tells us. “The arrival of the smartphone has been a game-changer in more ways than one. These small, but incredibly powerful devices have totally disrupted the world of interiors by allowing us to work from pretty much anywhere. Combine this with the links between comfort and productivity and we see that offices no longer need banks of desks as people can work from a cosy armchair or a bench.

“This flexibility allows for different interactions within the workspace, and has proven to be a massive opportunity for designers and producers to play around with interiors – especially when it comes to furniture. Why should people have to lock themselves away in an empty room to take a private call? A high-backed, plush chair cocoons the caller, muffles the sound and there’s no need to remove yourself.”

The Norton Range from James UK
The Norton Range from James UK

Max also sees a correlation between advances in tech with the rise of communal workspaces. “As well as allowing people to work from home more, technology has encouraged a more entrepreneurial spirit – if you can work from anywhere, why not work for yourself?

“More and more people are exploring freelancing or starting their own companies and, if they do want a space to work from, they’re rejecting the massive expense of renting their own offices to go and work somewhere like WeWork or Soho Works. With their networking areas, screening rooms and hospitality, these spaces have created an eco-system that encourages creativity and collaboration.”

One great example of this on a large scale is The Old Vinyl Factory in Hayes. An Art Deco building that used to house EMI in the 30s – hence the name – the original structures are being renovated to house offices as well as retail, leisure and residential spaces. Different sized units will allow a company to move into larger spaces as they grow and, despite not being finished, several well-known brands have already moved in. The Central Research Laboratory, a startup accelerator that supports digital and design business talent, also makes its home there.

Old Vinyl Factory, Hayes
Visuals for the redevelopment of The Old Vinyl Factory, full site completion is scheduled for 2020.
Visuals for the redevelopment of The Old Vinyl Factory, full site completion is scheduled for 2020.

“As well as offering cheaper rent, they offer access to equipment that a new business would never be able to afford: such as 3D printers and prototyping machinery. Plus, being in such close proximity to other creatives means that collaborative opportunities are everywhere.”

The Old Vinyl Factory has made use of a lot of the design features and materials from the original buildings, but the finished result is innovative and modern. Max sees this as another trend that isn’t going anywhere.

“It’s irresponsible to create things just for the sake of it – we already have so much. As mentioned in your Trend Report, we’re definitely seeing an upturn in consumers thinking about where the materials used within their interiors come from. As a result, producers are exploring ways in which technology can influence design by thinking about how the old and new come together and work symbiotically. They also need to think beyond the initial sell and consider a product’s end of life. What happens when it’s finished with?”

Graypants use only recycled cardboard, which can in-turn be recycled at the end of the product's life.
Graypants use only recycled cardboard, which can in-turn be recycled at the end of the product's life.

There are some great examples of this in the world of workspace furniture. Vitra use aluminium in a lot of their chairs – the one material that can be infinitely recycled without the quality degrading. And when thinking of collaboration, a great example is the 111 Navy chair from Emeco and Coke. Made from 111 recycled Coca-Cola bottles, this hardwearing, scratch resistant chair has prevented millions of plastic drink containers being thrown into landfill.

Aluminium Chair EA 104 from Vitra
Aluminium Chair EA 104 from Vitra
The 111 Navy Chair by Emeco and Coke, as used at Bryanston School by Foster + Partners.
The 111 Navy Chair by Emeco and Coke, as used at Bryanston School by Foster + Partners.

So what about the future of interiors and tech? “It’s difficult to predict what’s coming next”, Max says. “The best design responses come from a need, so I’ll guess we’ll see what happens when the next big tech thing lands. However, I think we should be exploring ways to integrate technology into spaces so that it’s invisible and not intrusive. And we need to ensure that we keep our designs as fluid and flexible as we can – the tech world can change incredibly quickly and we need to be able to adapt our spaces in order to accommodate whatever new thing it throws at us.”

Want to find more examples of innovation in the office space? Check out 100% Design's Workplace section. It highlights work to improve productivity and the workplace experience from both emerging brands and industry leaders worldwide. Plus, there are panel discussions about particular trends, including the changes in office spaces - The New Office Experience seminar is on at 13.45 on 23rd September and includes contributors from Herman Miller and Arper UK Ltd.

100% Design 2017 takes place 20-23 September at Olympia London. Trade tickets are free in advance, register here.

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