Interior Design recently hosted a custom roundtable sponsored by workplace innovator Poppin at the company’s Santa Monica showroom, gathering together a group of 20 designers, architects, and manufacturers to posit rapidly changing technology and its impact on the future of workplace design.
The conversation, moderated by Interior Design’s EVP of Digital Pamela McNally and Deputy Editor Edie Cohen, kicked off as attendees described Poppin in one word, using terms like creative, lively, playful, and colorful to paint a picture of a manufacturer adept at keeping design fresh. But even the most forward-thinking companies, such as Poppin, face the challenge of staying ahead of unforeseeable disruptions in the design landscape.
As the line between designers and manufacturers blurs, companies grapple with how best to structure their businesses to remain competitive. “It felt like it was a struggle to run and grow a long-term business based off fees alone,” said Matthew Rosenberg, CEO of M-Rad, which, in addition to charging a base fee, negotiates with clients for a share of equity in their companies. This strategy enables M-Rad to diversify its revenue, creating a built-in safety net. “Now we have dividends paying out on top of fees coming in over the course of 30 years,” he adds.
Though product cost inevitably impacts the decision-making process when it comes to specification, transparency is more vital than ever. Attendees agreed clients favor ethically-sourced and sustainable products, often choosing an item with a local connection over a mass-produced one. “I think localness, generally, is something that’s just growing in terms of furniture and design and everything,” said James Merchant, senior designer at AECOM. “We’re having to get a lot more educated.”
And when it comes to product education, sales representatives continue to maintain an edge. Trust and reliability are essential, though. “If things go sour once or twice, then you’re not going to come back again,” said one attendee.
But as technology evolves, how important is human interaction in the design process? A heated debate ensued as some attendees argued that using augmented reality and virtual reality at various stages of a project’s development can diminish the designer’s role, leaving them to function as a mere colorist. Others touted the benefits of implementing these tools, praising the ability to modify a design to suit a client’s needs in real time or create visuals that lock in a deal.
Ultimately, it’s impossible to predict what the future of design will look like. But when it comes to the workplace, attendees seemed confident that companies will continue to seek out adaptable spaces that give people the flexibility to work as they please—whether that’s in a café, a breakout room, or on a couch.
“Anybody can do design today,” said McNally as the 90-minute discussion concluded, referencing fool-proof models found at IKEA. “But what anybody can’t do, is do it well and efficiently… good design is going to be the differentiator.”