What is the purpose of furniture? What makes it good?

In collaboration with AffordancesInsidesource held its first quarterly roundtable discussion of 2019. Inspired by casual conversations at industry trade shows, the Experience Table creates a platform where a diverse group of workplace industry influencers — end users, project managers, brokers, interior designers, industrial designers, art curators, sustainability and tech experts — sit down together and dig into the issues and ideas that transform the quality of the workplace experience.

Held at Insidesource’s 444 Jackson experimental showroom, the event featured an OFS pop-up with several pieces designed by San Francisco-based industrial designer Brian Graham, who helped to lead the discussion. The group gathered to discuss topics surrounding the questions, what is the purpose of furniture? What makes it good? Our conversation considered the variables that affect furniture and workplace design, including the tension between usability and aesthetics, sustainability and obsolescence, as well as balancing craft, workmanship and price. As our conversation progressed, it became clear that technology and sustainability will play key roles in the future of workplace design.

A dealer will often decide which furniture looks aesthetically pleasing and fits into a space. But the conversation between dealers, designers and tech experts is crucial when looking for a result that is not only looks good, but is also functional, technologically relevant, and sustainable. As technology outgrows furniture, much of it becomes obsolete and is replaced by newer designs. Stronger collaboration between tech and sustainability experts throughout the entire designing process will be key in creating long-lasting and efficient furniture and workspaces.

How do we handle technology outpacing furniture, and furniture waste? Some dealerships already have buy-back programs in place, but we need to put more emphasis on tracking their success rates. We discussed the potential of recycling and donation programs, moving towards a future where dealerships play a larger role in the broader community while minimizing our environmental footprint.

Time is of the essence when working in the commercial furniture world. Although we’d like to say we all appreciate a finely crafted piece of furniture, it often boils down to cost and how quickly product can be delivered. Empowering teams with knowledge on how furniture is made or a companies’ story is key in creating selling points for furniture that may take longer to produce or procure. People respond to authenticity – it has longevity. An IKEA desk is cheaper and faster to purchase, but is it still cost-effective in the long run?

It became clear in our discussion that sustainability was the unifying theme of all the topics that arose. There is an opportunity for the entire design industry to make a paradigm shift that not only will improve our working models, but will have broader environmental and social impacts. We are lagging in adopting processes that are technologically, financially, and environmentally sustainable – so what’s missing? Carving out key roles for technology and sustainability experts in the design process, beginning to end, is crucial. Creating furniture that is more adaptable to constant technological change will be more cost-effective, longer lasting, and more sustainable. The future of all industries is in sustainability. Even during economic downturn, companies geared toward sustainability continue to thrive, and consumer demand for sustainable products continues to rise. We started with the question, “what makes furniture good?” But ultimately, we need to question what makes our industry good, and what it will take to get there.

Check out more with Brian Graham in our video profile, 30 Questions with Brian Graham