Turnstone target s small firms with Campfire Collection

March 29, 2010
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Since 1999, there has been a major shift in the workplace, with fewer corporate Goliaths and many more Davids. The way small companies utilize office space can be vastly different than large corporations.

Turnstone, a furniture manufacturing company of Steelcase, has studied behavior patterns outside the office to identify patterns and choices that can be applied to a small business that wants to make the best use of a rented office space without making infrastructure changes.

“If you go to a restaurant, the worst possible place to be seated, we feel, is in the middle of the room. If given a choice, what you’ll find is people that are alone prefer to anchor themselves to a parimeter wall or architectural column, a big plant — anything, because it feels uncomfortable in the middle of the room,” said Kirt Martin, design director at Turnstone.

That is the type of observation that led to Turnstone’s Campfire Collection. The new collection, headed by Martin with significant influence from Tim Stopker, the industrial designer behind the project, includes various tables, seating and a lamp, all inspired by objects outside of the office, such as a park bench, a café umbrella or a bonfire, and why those objects are attractive to people.

The lamp, for example, is not really about a need for light, but more about a feeling of safety and defining a space.

“The Grand Rapids Costco … has umbrella tables in their dining area, and what you’ll find is the umbrella tables fill up first. Those are tables inside of a building, which makes no sense. We looked at those behavioral patterns as a good opportunity to ask, ‘What’s the inside expectation of that for an office, and what are the benefits of that?’” said Martin.

“That’s why we came up with this lamp. It’s not so much about lighting. It’s defining space; it’s providing an anchor point without investing into infrastructure you don’t own.”

Martin said that most small businesses start out by renting a space and may need to differentiate areas in that space for privacy, meetings or whatever. The business could invest in a panel system or even build walls. But this creates a problem as the business grows or shrinks, needs to use its space differently or moves out all together. The Campfire Collection provides solutions for organizing that space without infrastructure changes.

“A small company is not going to invest in the infrastructure of the building that they are leasing. It would be the equivalent of renting our first apartment, then remodeling the kitchen — no one does that,” said Martin. “Small companies rent poorly lit space, poorly shaped space, and they know they’re not going to be in it forever. For one, they might be out of business next year, and two, they know they’ll grow out of it.”

Another facet of the Campfire Collection is keeping its products “low-tech.” Martin said going low-tech is about simplicity. Perhaps the best example is the product called “paper table,” a small round table with tear-off paper on top where workers can doodle their ideas.

“We will not put a product into production unless there are insights baked into the thing. If you’re in a room with people and are asked to go up and write on a whiteboard, people get really nervous — it’s like a form of public speaking,” said Martin. “The minute you put that drawing, communication or surface horizontal on a table top, all (the anxiety) melts away. It’s a low-tech form of communication that we think will never go away.”

“That’s our notion of simplicity,” he said. “Let’s try to find things that are based on behavioral patterns of people that may not change regardless of the technology or environment.”

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