Alexa Stevenson | November 27, 2012
Shawn Green, the vice president of design and product marketing at KI, is responsible for the design, development and marketing of the Green Bay, WI-based company's impressive product portfolio of furniture solutions for education, healthcare, government and corporate markets. To say that's a big job is an understatement. Here, Green explains why gray is no longer the standard and why contract design is anything but boring.
Interior Design: You spent several years at Knoll. What’s the most important lesson you learned there?
Shawn Green: Good design never requires an apology and you must think holistically. I also developed a strong appreciation for midcentury modernism and an eye for distilling complex objects to more simple forms.
ID: What are you working on at the moment?
SG: We are focusing less on discrete products and more on holistic solutions that are visually related. For decades, KI has been known for marketing exceptionally comfortable stack seating and flexible tables. However, we have not necessarily been seen as a company that can deliver systemic solutions, nor have we been viewed as a design leader. Our team has been working to change this perception through the introduction of products that are much further reaching in scope, function, materiality and aesthetics. A good example is our new Lightline Movable Wall system, which provides an architectural look and feel within the context of a product that can be reconfigured quickly and easily.
ID: I’ll be honest, a lot of people hear corporate or healthcare design and think, “boring.” Tell me why it’s not.
SG: Good design is never boring, regardless of the intended application or market. This is especially true when you are seeking to drive innovation on multiple fronts, including material innovations, manufacturing processes and the employment of technology. At KI we have a very deep understanding of the functional and visual requirements for healthcare, business, education and other markets. We live in a world that values the aesthetic more highly than function. We as consumers also value brand more than price. With this in mind, market sectors that were more institutional like healthcare are advancing the design of spaces that are much more sophisticated as they leverage space as a brand tool. Gray is no longer the standard. Companies are leveraging design to attract and retain employees and to convey an expression of their culture, as well as to compete with their competition. In truth, what we are seeing is anything but boring.
ID: What are some other misconceptions about corporate, government and healthcare design?
SG: There are definitely preconceived notions about what these environments should look like. For the most part, one would view government and healthcare along with education as more institutional, which is, in most cases, the furthest from reality. Categorically, spaces are becoming less about supporting tasks and actions and more about accommodating the user as a human within the context of space. People want their spaces to be functional, but more importantly they want spaces that are visually compelling, too. I think that when most people from outside the contract furniture industry think of an office space, they think of Dilbert cubes. We recognize the stigma attached with this thinking and are constantly crafting new ways of responding the complex needs of our clients without appearing contrived, or worse yet, predictable.
ID: How has business changed since you started?
SG: We have seen the functional and visual criteria between various markets, including healthcare and education, merge toward a path that is clearly more residential. Successful designs are those that rise above a discrete market need to deliver a more universal response. Products have become less visually complex. Technical aspects of products and design have been relegated to the background while visual considerations, including color, pattern and form, take precedence. Our customers expect their products to work and are not that interested in why or how they work.
ID: What is the biggest challenge your industry is facing?
SG: Accommodating and responding to the revolutionary changes in technology and the impact on work, learning and healing.
ID: What’s the most important thing to consider when doing office, hospitality, and institutional design?
SG: Key to any successful design within any of markets is an understanding of the application drivers. For the most part, products are fairly universal. However, in certain markets there are user specific needs that must be addressed. Patient room solutions like recliners, sleepers and patient chairs have very specific features that are not easily translatable into other applications within other markets. The same is true for classroom seating. So, what is the most important consideration when designing a successful space? I believe it is how the product will be used within the context of the space in concert with the visual goals of the environment.
ID: Is there any particular moment that stands out in your career?
SG: In 2011, KI won the best large showroom design award during NeoCon. This was a significant milestone for KI and a major point of validation that we are moving in the right direction. It is really exciting to see KI incrementally moving from “Robust Durable Designs” to a company that produces “Simple, Long Lasting Forms.”
ID: What’s the most satisfying moment of any project?
SG: Sharing the concept with customers during that period of time when the product is brand new and everyone is excited. I love this period, as there is so much optimism surrounding every aspect of the launch.
ID: What is next for you?
SG: I am pretty happy right now doing what I love, namely leading the Design and Marketing efforts for KI as we continue to evolve our brand within the industry. I would like to have a patent, though…