Image of a man sitting at a desk
Scott Star is a global leader of product development for architecture and planning firm Gensler. His team has designed everything from ADA-compliant millwork edge pulls for pba to an office partition system for Dutch manufacturer Maars Living Walls. COURTESY GENSLER

For Gensler’s Scott Star, the Specifier’s Viewpoint is Gold

The global leader of Gensler’s product development practice explains why a specifier’s perspective is valuable for manufacturers of the next hot product.

Global architecture and planning firm Gensler has been a formidable player in the product design space for more than 15 years, collaborating with companies that have let it steer new products to market ranging from desks and seating to lighting and flooring. Scott Star, a veteran of industrial design who joined Gensler in 2015, is a big part of the reason for that unique success story.

With his background at brand-name manufacturers such as MillerKnoll, General Electric, and Mohawk Industries, Star estimates he has commissioned product designs approximately 2,000 times over the course of his career. And as global leader of Gensler’s product development, he has helped fine-tune a special tool of successful product design: the specifiers’ point of view. 

Gensler-led designs include tables and case goods for Halcon, sustainable flooring for Mohawk, glass systems for Muraflex, desking for Fantoni, seating for Stylex and Humanscale, and lighting for Artemide. And most begin as project-specific solutions. An in-house product design division comes in handy when any of Gensler’s 7,000 employees from 53 offices covering 29 practice areas can’t find the exact right item for their projects. What’s remarkable is how those in-house solutions are changing the marketplace for everyone.

“We really love rolling up our sleeves to solve problems that a lot of people think are unglamorous, but for us, we see them as an opportunity to improve the built environment.”

Scott Star, global leader of product development, Gensler
Image of a living room with three people working at a coffee table
Gensler designed Resonate, a sectional for Haworth that has a compact footprint ideal for smaller offices or transitional spaces. COURTESY HAWORTH

Identifying Gaps in the Market

Gensler’s research and sheer size give it the ability to forecast trends and identify gaps in the market. One of the latest gaps in the design furnishings marketplace that Star’s team has begun to address is in ADA-compliant millwork edge pulls, bathroom accessibility hardware, door handles, and signs that also look stylish.

Edge-mounted millwork pulls designed for hardware manufacturer pba, for example, met an unaddressed need for fittings that won’t detract from millwork facing and can be opened with one hand without the need for grasping, pinching, or wrist twisting. “We really love rolling up our sleeves to solve problems that a lot of people think are unglamorous, but for us, we see them as an opportunity to improve the built environment,” Star says. “A lot of people just consider those [hardware items] to be utilitarian. We consider them a canvas for not only improving functionality and inclusivity but also [an element] that can look better and integrate better into spaces.”

Though such projects began as ways to help Gensler’s interior designers, Star rejects the notion that the product development practice is one of the firm’s appendages. “My elevator pitch is always that ours is the only industrial design resource associated with the world’s leading A&D firm,” he says. “We’re able to put all the knowledge and insight gained via our A&D work into our product design work. It’s all on tap.”

image of an office with living walls

Responding to Changing Needs

That expertise and firsthand experience as specifiers yields surprising insights. For example, Star recalls a commission to design a demountable wall system for Maars Living Walls. “We knew that interior designers weren’t looking for more products like this—there are plenty already,” he admits. “What they were really after was a partition system that could bring structure to the open areas of the workspace. One that would be hackable and user-controlled.” The resulting product, called M923., is all about extreme versatility, responding to space needs that change throughout the day. 

Indeed, flexibility is a common thread linking most of Gensler’s product commissions, which have applications across a range of typologies. It’s a priority Gensler’s product division can amplify in a way manufacturer-based designers aren’t always able to do, because it is rooted in the firm’s internal research. Star points to Gensler’s annual workplace survey, which in December of 2022 confirmed that workers are interested in coming into the office more, if they can get the right mix of experiences, spaces, and furniture that supports the many different modes of work. Collections like Resonate, the modular lounge seating that Gensler designed for Haworth in 2020, address these needs. Unlike most lounge seating, it is extremely compact, an important product feature that can help make employees feel welcome as team rooms get smaller. 

“The one common denominator is flexibility,” Star opines. “Whether [it’s] expressed through adjustability, reconfigurability, hackability, or other devices of user control, it is the key way that product design can assist interior designers in creating the best spaces for the evolving workplace,” he says. 

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