I have attended every biennial Orgatec since 1994 and the most obvious difference between then and now is how much smaller the exhibition has become. Conspicuously, the fact that only 8 halls were in use meant that the Piazza and parts of the Central Boulevard were closed. As a result, walking between the South and North Entrances involved some rather circuitous routes through halls, reminding me of Las Vegas casino design.
Despite the size reduction, there was still more than a million square feet of exhibition space and more than 600 organisations displaying their wares. My visit this year was somewhat disrupted by a cancelled flight and resultant delay. However, with dogged determination, I managed to visit all 8 halls, covering about 35,000 steps or nearly 24 km according to my FitBit! This article is therefore my own view of what I saw and makes no attempt to provide a comprehensive review of the entire event.
Sit-stand continues to be a topical issue in the UK but exhibitors i Cologne fell into very distinct categories: European office furniture manufacturers now treat sit-stand as ‘business as usual’ so sit-stand variants were displayed alongside more traditional seated-height options. By contrast, frame manufacturers, especially the substantial number of exhibitors from the Far East, displayed all the variants of their frame designs without tops, focussing on function rather than appearance. Interestingly, neither of these approaches recognises the culture change issues surrounding sit-stand or the need to manage their introduction with a Change Management approach rather than a simple case of desk replacement.
A wide variety of perching stools also reflected the interest in sit-stand desks. As well as the established specialists like the Aeris Muvman and Hag Capisco, there were many cheap copies and a variety of saddle stools. Again, the majority were displayed simply as products. Only a very small number came with a story.
Some manufacturers of seating and desks are starting to introduce apps and electronic tools to encourage movement. However, most of these look like an afterthought, many are just branded versions of someone else’s software and I think it still seems sensible to look to third parties for good furniture/app integration.
Moving away from workstation furniture, designs for soft seating and other breakout areas were well represented but most ideas here seem to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. A key factor is the integration of acoustic benefits into the larger pieces. The importance of reducing noise distraction to improve productivity is now well recognised and many manufacturers reference this. One of the more interesting concepts was the Team Up Study which offered easily movable breakout seating with magnetically linking side panels.
Also in evidence were many examples of multi-function chairs. Commonly, these are based around a single seat and back moulding with multiple leg and upholstery options. This creates a single family that suits breakout, canteen, training, breakfast bar, meeting room and other applications.
On the accessories front, fully configurable monitor arms to provide instant adjustment for two large monitors in an elegant manner are now widely available and a handful of monitor arm manufacturers also offer some sort of IT integration in the form of a multi-adaptor hub built around the arm mounting.
If you need to improve acoustics, retro-fit pads are available in every conceivable shape and size. The days of concealing such products are long gone and the common approach now is to make the acoustic provision into a design feature in its own right.
Continuing the acoustics theme, pod manufacturers continue to explore the ‘office within the office’ concept with units varying from single telephone boxes to pop-up boardrooms. This office-meets-study-meets-garden-shed concept particularly appealed to me as a short-term breakout area.
In summary, therefore, I found nothing revolutionary and some of my favourite items lacked practicality for everyday use. However, the world’s furniture manufacturers continue to evolve their designs to meet the rapidly changing needs of today’s market.
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