Can design really make a difference to the international problem of attracting, retaining and building talent?
26 July, 2017
Almost two decades ago the world’s brightest managerial minds detected the beginnings of a commercial famine. In the years that would lie ahead, it was rightly believed that for organisations to remain solvent, continued success would depend upon how well they could attract, develop, and retain talented employees.
And for almost twenty years, we all fidgeted as wide-eyed executives – under the guise of whacky titles like Chief Energy Officers and Happiness Co-ordination Managers – dismantled, rebuilt and redecorated our places of work thinking, and perhaps rightly, that an employee’s surroundings loom large in their estimation of professional and personal self-worth (not to mention productivity).
So, for twenty years, we survived skirmishes in the cubicle-filled trenches, we bunkered down in boardrooms as offices were raided of their internal fortifications. We became open plan and, consequently, open prey. Brief guerrilla attacks sprung up all over the place as AstroTurf-clad-lunchrooms with hammocks or (in a rather infamous example) as noisome miniature basketball courts replete with whiteboards. Apparently we were all meant to feel our minds expand, the groundbreaking thoughts would flow freely … and yet, all we achieved was a migraine.
Then, the reparations began. We realised the virtues of simple design principles of function coalescing with form. We realised, too, that natural light was good for us (!). And finally, we realised that talent, at the end of the day, was the only thing that was going to win its own war.
Well, never has the rapid connectivity of global markets been more immense; never has it been so difficult to locate proficient successors in the pipelines for succession planning; and never has it been more impossible to cushion ‘development practices’ … or at least make development something both achievable and sustainable.
Though many believe we are at the tail end of the most lopsided period in global economic history, it is becoming clear that we are merely at its brink. Corporations’ necessity for talented individuals has exponentially increased, while the pool of possible candidates continues to diminish – or, at least diminish demographically. Meanwhile, whether through age or specialised knowledge, today’s workers become more and more obsolete each day, their half-life decreasing as rapidly as the many pieces of technology at their disposal.
But though it may sound very doomsday, some of us are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. While everyone continues to experiment with ways to attract and then retain that all-important talent, the A+D community is uniquely positioned to help.
A new demand for intelligent design systems that are purpose-driven to empower their varied and numerous end-users speak volumes – and especially so in the commercial sector – about a shift in where we place the value of design. Where previously the A+D community was sought after to add the polish of prominence to organisations, current interest lies in design’s potential to elevate the status of the individual and their particular needs.
Here, collaboration is key. Rightfully recognising that in this knowledge sharing economy talent is absolutely transferrable, collaboration has become an important weapon in the corporate arsenal of competitive difference. Calling upon the design world to create systems of efficiency, communication and interrelation in the workspace, organisations seek to enter a balance between group and individual needs – the fundamentals of collaboration and identity for teams. In our increasingly agile workspaces based on habitual flexibility and change, efficient design systems that can empower each individual end-user while still providing the collective identity and tools for teams suggests that, perhaps, talent isn’t merely a question of luck and investment but, rather, of re-investment.
Essential, modular, multi-functional and highly versatile, democratic furniture that seeks not to label workers and delineate the specified areas or facilities for tasks highlights that companies intend – and will continue to do so – prize talent over status. This is precisely where Zenith Design Studio’s latest offering to the commercial sector enters the fray.
Through collaborating intimately with multiple corporations for years, Zenith Design Studio understand that a user-centred approach is the only avenue of design-thinking that can elevate the end-user and forge systems for the creation of talent. With a new portfolio of intelligent design solutions for the contemporary workplace, this suite of mobile, modular and reconfigurable designs – SOL-MIX – celebrates the talent and not status of each individual, the unity and not the difference of each team.
According to Zenith Design Studio’s Bob Stewart, “Australia really is at the cutting-edge of workplace change. Working with leading companies here has given us valuable insights into the current and continually changing needs of the working world of tomorrow.”
Suited to spaces that frequently change to accommodate mutable needs – of desk sharers, mobile workers, agile teams – SOL-MIX allows end-users to freely collaborate and connect. Bringing people, process, technology and design systems into direct conversation, the furniture in situ promotes dynamic and idiosyncratic work patters, the happiness of the individual, and creates a space for employees to understand and access the material and extensive totality of ‘their work’. It bestows, that is, the individual’s own custodianship of their output.
Designed around these four rudimentary styles of approaching work – focus, collaboration, sociability and community – the entire SOL-MIX range can carry workers through formal meeting situations, social aspects of their daily routines, creative collisions for knowledge sharing, and moments requiring retreat and focus.
SOL-Think is a single chair with a high back and sides that embraces its end-user in a visual and quieter realm of privacy and focus. Coupled with the SOL-Sit seating modules in various dimensions, straight or curved sculptural forms, the configuration now welcomes informal gatherings for quick tête-à-têtes that can increase in informality and congregation with artfully arranged SOL-Dash mobile stools. Whether donning waiting rooms or working areas, the SOL-Bench’s accommodating height and generous straight or curvaceous form can be infinitely reconfigured in arrangement and space that, when combined with SOL-Rest’s armchair with a sweeping arm or SOL-Lap’s tablet-friendly tables, means that waiting no longer means simply killing time or working no longer means sitting down. Applied for either strict or flowing think-tanking sessions, SOL-Sketch’s mobile whiteboard acts as the fulcrum for meetings, presentations, or is modular enough to simply act as an efficient way to temporarily divide open-plan spaces. And, to accommodate larger teams, SOL-Pavilion is a semi-private booth that has proven popular for facilitating quick meetings that require a degree of privacy or intimacy due to its exceptional acoustic attenuation.
Throughout the entire integrated system, a formal design language of bold contoured and organic forms prevails. Sweeping vital lines, anodyne and essential sculptural silhouettes, and intelligently selected acoustic upholstery or light and tech-friendly componentry achieves the universality of our working requirements: spaces that can motivate focus, systems that allow collaboration, moments for touchdown and socialising, and furniture for any type of meeting along the formal-informal spectrum.
SOL-MIX represents a much-needed response to the psychosocial potential harboured within design. The potential, that is, to view design as a mode to facilitate certain behaviours, empower end-users’ latent capacities, answer to the needs of the many and the one in a single, reconfigurable furnishing system. From the brains of Zenith Design Studio – a research and development department of Zenith Interiors – the range anticipates what many believe will determine the future of our working environments. Thanks to the visionary responsiveness of a team of industrial designers, product engineers, trend forecasters and experts in the productivity, change management and wellbeing of workers, SOL-MIX is an inspired curation of design frameworks that are comprehensive and user-centric.
Having just celebrated the launch of their full-scale operation in Singapore last year, and with a similar feat on the cards for Shanghai soon, Zenith Interiors’ 12 showrooms across the Asia Pacific region in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington and Hong Kong, hotly anticipate the arrival of SOL-MIX to an already staggering portfolio of local and international brands.
Though sixty years on, time still fails to weary Zenith. Thanks to SOL-MIX’s arrival, the team prove they are once again at the vanguard of the evolving nature of the international working world.
“Working with leading companies in Asia Pacific,” says Zenith Design Studio’s R&D Manager Bob Stewart, “has allowed us to gain valuable insights into users’ needs in the emerging workplace. Mobility and the need to be user-reconfigurable is becoming increasingly important in our design intent for the contemporary workforce.”
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