CHICAGO — Steelcase’s next big product is shaping up to be the Brody WorkLounge. The furniture won two high-profile awards at NeoCon, confirming the buzz generated in media coverage since Brody’s unveiling in April.
“It’s one of the most important products I’ve seen in the industry in years,” said Rob Kirkbride, a Grand Rapids-based journalist who covers the office furniture industry for the trade publication Monday Morning Quarterback. “I think in two to three years everyone will have this product. I think it is really significant.”
The inspiration for Brody came in part from observing students’ study habits at the Mary Idema Pew Library at Grand Valley State University.
Opened in 2013, the $65 million learning and information commons is named after the daughter of Walter D. Idema, a founding officer of Metal Office Furniture Co., which later became Steelcase. Her husband, Robert C. Pew II, was among Grand Valley’s founders and an early board member.
The 150,000-square-foot facility is furnished with products from the Grand Rapids office furniture giant, and a place often visited by Steelcase staff.
“We went into one of these rooms where the furniture was mobile and we were looking at what the students were doing with the furniture,” Steelcase CEO Jim Keane told MLive and The Grand Rapids Press during an interview at the company’s NeoCon showroom last week. “They were creating these settings.”
Students were shifting furniture around to be comfortable and reduce distractions. One behavior that caught Steelcase’s attention was students arranging three chairs together. One to sit in, one for their feet and a third to hold their backpack so they had easy access to books.
Photos of students in their self-made study cocoons were put on an idea wall that provided the inspiration as the Steelcase team began the two-and-half year process that created Brody.
“That was a big inspiration for Brody – it was a micro environment,” said Sean Corcorran, general manager of Education Solutions at Steelcase.
Brody is described more as a private work environment than a chair. At about 4 feet wide and 8 feet long, the office pod is smaller than a cubicle. Brody isn’t intended to be a permanent space for employees like an assigned desk. Rather, it’s a spot they can slip into when they need to focus on individual work with minimal distractions.
“The reason why people like it is because it actually responds to a problem they had that they weren’t able to tell us they had,” Keane said.
The design reminds Keane of a business-class seat on a plane that lets him concentrate for long stretches without being distracted, even as he is sitting next to other passengers.
To create, innovate and do their best work, workers and students need periods of flow when they are immersed in work and time flies by. Getting into that state can be difficult in open work plans intended to foster collaboration.
The purpose of Brody is to help people get into their work flow faster and stay in it longer.
Steelcase points to research that reveals in a typical day, workers and students switch tasks every three minutes, get interrupted every 11 minutes and take 23 minutes to get back on task.
“To be human is to be distracted. We’re not undisciplined or scatter-brained. We’re overwhelmed.” said Markus McKenna, design director for Steelcase.
In creating Brody, the company turned to neuroscience to help better understand how the brain works and sustains attention.
The patented furniture is made up of an ergonomic seat, flexible desk space and a side table with storage, task light and a power outlet encircled by a privacy screen. An ottoman is optional.
The price tag ranges from $2,500 to $5,000, depending on the finishes and options.
It will be available in the fall, but orders have already begun rolling in.
“It was originally designed for universities but it is starting to look like the corporate environment will be bigger,” Keane said. “We developed it for the U.S. market and we’re getting interest from our colleagues in Europe. They are saying we want it now.”
The response has been universally positive, adds Corcorran, who thinks GVSU will be one of the first libraries to receive the work lounges.
It’s not surprising since Steelcase tours educational leaders through the library to show its educational products at work.
“It is one of the most forward-thinking innovative libraries I’ve seen anywhere,” said Corcorran. “It’s a showcase. It’s helping to put Grand Rapids education on the map.”