Introductions at the 2006 NeoCon had a common theme. Whether it was adjustable desks, walls or chairs, warm wood tones or mobile components, manufacturers are clearly on a mission to do what they can to help employees feel better about their work environments both physically and psychologically.

A changing seat

The most obvious way to make employees feel comfortable is by improving seating, so naturally several manufacturers offered up new and innovative seating options.

Steelcase Inc. introduced two chairs, Siento and Move. The Siento chair was created in collaboration with designer Jorge Pensi of Barcelona, Spain. It is designed for executive offices, conference rooms and other high-end workspaces.

Siento incorporates Steelcase's Live Back technology, which allows the chair back to change shape and mimic the user's spine as it moves throughout the day. "Siento means to feel' in Spanish, and the idea is that you're really going to feel this back comfort as you're sitting in this chair," says Ken Tameling, seating general manager for Steelcase. Siento caters to high-end office environments and was specifically designed without any hard or exposed materials that could damage surrounding furniture.

The Move chair was designed as a mobile chair for conference rooms, training rooms, classrooms, reception areas, cafes and guest seating. It incorporates flexors under the seat cushion that create a pliable seat pocket, which conforms to each user's unique body characteristics, evenly distributing weight, reducing pressure points and encouraging movements for comfortable sitting and lounging. Move can be stacked five high and can accommodate weight up to 300 pounds.

Flex zones, body conforming

Also in the seating arena, Teknion Corp. previewed its high-performance Metrix task chair designed by German industrial designer Wolfgang Deisig. Metrix encourages movement and good posture through a combination of the seat pan contour, foam density and a unique "flex zones" design that distributes the seated user's weight evenly to relieve pressure, thereby improving circulation. The seat has three arm options, including the "loop arm," which rotates around and fits against the back of the chair.

"In the past, we considered the upright position as the working position, and the reclined position as the relaxed position," Deisig says. "Now, when people are working in a cubicle all day long, the reclined position becomes the working position. When I look at the people in my office, they are in a reclined position working on their computers."

The Metrix chair incorporates a "back rest" concept. When the user leans back, the chair moves to support the back and spine and keeps the user able to continue looking straight ahead while maintaining adequate back support.

Not to be outdone, HON Co. also introduced a new ergonomic chair, the F3, which stands for fit, form and function. "The chair is actually designed to conform to your body," says Kevin Mathis, vice president, operations. "The actual pivot point is in the back, near the lumbar." The F3 line also features matching side chairs.

User-friendly systems

In the systems area, Herman Miller Inc. won NeoCon's Gold Award in the systems category and overall Best of Competition Award for its My Studio collection. My Studio is one of two new systems designed for Herman Miller by Doug Ball. The system uses semi-clear sliding panels in order to make both privacy and collaboration possible. "The user gets to decide how much of that interaction they want to be available for," says Mark Schurman, director, corporate external communications.

My Studio can be used for privacy or collaboration and supports spaces with a reduced footprint. The office layout provides capability for creating, displaying and organizing work. It also incorporates a closet for the storage of personal items. "My Studio can adapt without being moved. It was specifically designed to conform to a variety of work styles without the need for reconfiguration," says Schurman.

The second system, Vivo Interiors, is a frame-and-tile system. Herman Miller has not historically worked much in frame and tile systems, but according to Schurman, it felt the time and the designer were right. "Doug Ball paid a lot of attention to detail in end-caps, the tightness of the fit and in the finishes," Schurman says. Vivo also features a horizontal bead that defines tiles and reflects light.

Flexible and customizable

The Patterns system, introduced by Haworth Inc., was awarded a NeoCon Silver Award in the systems category. The Patterns system is designed so it can be tailored to individual office interiors. It is adjustable in one-inch increments, is flexible for designers and integrates with Haworth's previously released systems, Enclose and Compose. "Patterns can be used at any height, from desk level to 75 inches and up," according to Roslyn Brandt, Haworth spokesperson.

While Patterns has a European look, the design of Patterns, together with Enclose and Compose, were all based on a model which diagnoses and explains different organizational types. In addition, Haworth uses seven design logics that govern the design of its systems. The result is a more custom, architectural appearance.

At KI, this year's introductions for business environments included the Genesis Desking System and StudioWorks. Genesis offers height-adjustable desks and options of overhead storage, modesty panels and privacy screens. StudioWorks includes height-adjustable tables with storage options, lifted panels and tethered screens, storage benches, storage cubbies and tables where two people can work together.

"KI is offering customers the ability to customize furniture to their particular requirements," says Mike Tennity, vice president of design and development.

Based in research

Knoll Inc. previewed wa, a new desk and storage collection by Piero Lissoni with Marc Krusin. "Wa is a planning concept based on the overall simplification of product for the workplace," David Bright, vice president, communications says. "It's really a table and storage collection with a lot of soft parts that have ergonomic attributes to them." The wa collection was created in response to research Knoll recently conducted on how people work and what kind of work spaces they prefer.

Knoll's research revealed that a large number of companies are planning to change the ratio of personal work space and collaborative work space from 80/20 to 60/40. Its research also showed there is a need for more mobile and flexible furniture to support employees working together. In addition, the newest wave of smaller technology is once again making the time-honored rectangular work table a necessary office piece.

Warmth and honesty

Aside from its F3 chair introduction, HON also introduced the laminate version of its Park Avenue Desk and Seating line. Park Avenue offers warm, rich veneers and has been a popular offering for HON. "What customers were telling us is that they loved the features of Park Avenue wood veneer, but they wanted the durability of laminate," Kevin Mathis says. Park Avenue consists of executive, conference and guest seating. Arm and base accents can be matched to the desk's laminate surface or pull finishes.

Nucraft Furniture Co. introduced Equate, an all-wood casegoods collection. Equate was created by Mitchell Bakker, principal at IDa Design in Holland, Mich. Equate is a self-contained, freestanding line that can be arranged in different configurations while still being able to accommodate any number of technology needs. Equate features five distinct edge profiles and two pull options.

"Equate can be specified in modern or conventional set-ups through a smart offering of edges, pulls, shapes and component choices," Bakker says. "Equate's form was derived from a reduction in complexity, coupled with a modest range of aesthetic options an honest, straight-forward desking system."

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