Towards design that's human

© Varianti

Twelve years ago here at Orgatec, Arper unveiled a chair that established a new design direction for the Italian company: Catifa—an elegant, gestural chair that was equally well suited for the home as for the office. Today, Arper continues to bridge the worlds of soft contract and residential with an emphasis on making furniture that accommodates how we work today: functional but comfortable, elegant but modern, technologically compatible but designed to meet human needs. While this is not a new direction for Arper, it is one of importance in the contemporary market. At our return to Orgatec twelve years later, Arper’s CEO Claudio Feltrin shares more about Arper’s design direction.

What are the essential elements for a contemporary workspace?
Today, value in the marketplace is determined by innovation (in products, processes, communication). Innovation can only be generated by the conscious and intelligent management of competitive knowledge, which is supported everywhere by information and communication technologies. The use of these technologies has exponentially increased over the last decade making the needs of the current work landscape more dynamic with a demand for adaptable, mixed and shared spaces, and an increasingly imaginative, flexible and responsive ways of using them. Today, the traditional office exists as one model among a flood of new ones. In its place comes the concept of flexibility and adaptability in the contemporary workspace. Our needs are now for comfort (a place to sit), integrated technology (a place to make use of digital technology) and adaptability (the possibility to reconfigure the space).

© Marco Covi

How have consumer expectations of furniture changed since Arper first began? How is Arper responding to those expectations?
Since Arper’s very beginning, we have offered furniture for the spaces between soft contract—all public spaces except the general office—and contemporary home. We have always thought about the public spaces from an open perspective. We believed that the combination of beauty and flexibility traditionally used in residential environments would also work in public contexts. Therefore, from a marketing perspective, we did not communicate our products in a specific context of use. Instead, it was the audience itself that choose Catifa, for example, as a product for a certain kind of office that was emerging at that time. A “soft office” seeking a comfortable balance between form and function instead of an approach focused on technique and function. To respond to this evolution, we then approached the common areas inside the offices, developing seating systems for lounging and waiting, and tables, but still we had no interest in the aesthetic and technical approach of the traditional task chairs and their mechanical look.In the last few years, the perception of the technical objects has changed, fostered by the development of the aesthetics of the ICT: now people discovered that a functional object could also be a beautiful object. The social evolutions in the workplaces together with the humanization and the research of beauty in technology made us think about a different approach to the task chair and other furnishings specifically meant for the office.

© Marco Covi

How have changing work patterns (wireless technology, working from home, from a café, from hotel) affected the way Arper designs? Does Arper design for multi-use functionality?
Work supported by new technology has completely changed the scenario of work environments: all the aspects of our lives have become more integrated—including our workspaces. These changes have also pushed people to look for less from their workspaces: less distraction, less noise, less banality.Today, the market looks for products that allow for flexibility and adaptability in both private and common spaces. It is exactly the same for the contemporary workspace. Arper has been focused on flexibility and adaptability since the presentation of Catifa here in Orgatec 12 years ago. Catifa is the manifesto of this concept: when we presented Catifa 53 in 2001, it was already presented with several typologies of bases and options, which made the collection adaptable to a diversity of areas and uses—many of them also for work.Although today this might seem quite common, it was an innovative approach for that time. After Catifa, we continued to develop articulated systems of products to reinforce this idea of “adaptability in consistency”: the Zinta collection is the most recent and more direct example of this attitude.In some ways, the transformation of the traditional office to a wider concept of working environments has opened a lot of opportunities for Arper’s products, but has also pushed us to rethink what innovation means for us. The concept of Soft Tech—technological innovations with a holistic approach, that are in harmony with the real needs of the people—will be concretely represented by the new collections that we present here at Orgatec.

© Marco Covi

What are the new products that Arper is creating to accommodate these contemporary conditions?
The idea behind Soft Tech is to create adaptable products that offer natural comfort through hidden technology so they appear visually lightweight. These ideas have found a concrete application in our new collections Kinesit, Catifa Sensit and Parentesit. All of these products are perfectly fitted to Arper’s DNA. They are aesthetically refined and essential; intelligent—because they are designed to respect regulations without been driven by them; functional—because they include many versions which are further extendable by customization—and, overall, they consider people from a holistic perspective, because people want work spaces that are sympathetic and beautiful, softer, less formal. We are convinced that these products extend the technical boundaries of Arper, being just a logical next step within Arper’s spirit. Take Kinesit, for example. The task chair features both lumbar support and height-adjustment, the armrest can be regulated and there is a weight sensitive mechanism that allows for a synchronized reclining movement—everything that is necessary for effective comfort. But, with Kinesit, it is the chair that responds to the natural movement of the body, not the body that adapts to the regulations provided by many traditional office chairs. And, above all: the mecha- nisms that allow for this freedom and comfort are integrated and hidden in an elegant and organic shape. Looking at it—especially in the upholstered version—it is hard to imagine which kind of functional performances are hidden in its beautiful profile.We think this collection will work well in a part of the market that today is still minor but has the potential to become very extended—from the contemporary work to the residential spaces.

How important are aesthetics to working spaces? Have the roles of beauty and functionality changed in interior design? How do the aesthetics of an office space affect the work that is done within it?
I am convinced that the environment affects the actions done within. Arper is an Italian company and in Italy we are surrounded of beauty in the landscape, the architecture, the food... all this shapes our perception and values.When a company’s success is based on talented and innovative people, it has to provide an environment that allows for efficiency, but even more that, identification. Beautiful and inspiring environments are necessary both for the people who work within a company but also for attracting visitors and talented people you would like to collaborate with. But, to work well, a perfect environment alone is not enough. A company also needs to meet the needs and expectation of today’s knowledge workers and skilled employees: good organization, with just the minimum of bureaucracy and a “flat organization,” a system that supports work done both autonomously and in collaboration with others and one that is driven by vision and goals, not by rules. With these factors in place, employees can find both sense and pleasure in work.

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