The Portable Workplace

Four industrial-design firms create new devices for the global traveler that consolidate all of the clutter ­produced by 24/7 access to the office.

After observing what our editorial director, Paul Makovsky, carried on one of his many road trips, we invited four industrial-design firms to develop portable workplaces. Each firm was provided the following brief: “Our employee spends one third of his time traveling for work. That means carrying a laptop, a cell phone, a camera, an iPod, a tape recorder, cables, backup batteries, chargers, a currency converter, a memory stick, notebooks, pens, a passport, and paper documents in a shoulder bag from the office to the airport, to the hotel, and to the sites he is visiting. That’s about 18 pounds of stuff. We need you to streamline this clutter, eliminating as many items as possible without sacrificing any function. You can either do that by creating a container for them or designing something that absorbs them, incorporating their functions into the new object. Your concept should be a plug-and-play solution.”

Here are the proposed solutions to Paul’s techno-clutter…

Metaphase: GO
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All primary business tools are consolidated into three electronic components: computing, audio, and visual. The main device, GO:COM, is a futuristic laptop with a flexible Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) display that rolls out of the keyboard when the fingerprint scan has a positive match. The second device, GO:AUD, combines a cell phone and an MP3 player, and also features its own retractable OLED display. The third device, GO:VIS, incorporates a digital camera, a camcorder, and projector technology into one slim transformable object with a large-format OLED. All three devices can be used independently, but they are also wirelessly networked. They slide into the GO:CASE and can be released only with the fingerprint scan. An OLED is integrated into the external skin, providing e-mail access without any other electronic component. When the GO:CASE is plugged into an AC power source, all three devices charge through induction, eliminating the need to carry power cords. The back of the case, which contains all of the electronics, detaches from the main body to expedite flow through airport security. The GO:CASE features a retractable handle that deploys wheels when released.

Scott Henderson Inc.: RAID
[Click to view this concept]
For decades the electronics industry has been working tirelessly to make tiny versions of bigger devices just so we can carry them around—a redundancy based on size. Cell phones are tiny versions of bigger landline phones; the laptop’s initial purpose was to be portable compared to a desktop. These devices create, process, and store data independently, transferring information back to more powerful feature-rich base stations by syncing, docking, and downloading memory sticks to hard drives. And all because we can’t carry the big one. All around us we see obsolescent media storage replaced by remote servers that can deliver whatever we want whenever we want it. Every time we watch pay-per-view, one more DVD goes the way of the VHS cassette: good-bye, Tower Records; hello, iTunes.

You can already access your PC remotely through Internet-based platforms such as and many others like it, using all of your computer’s programs to create, store, and print data—from anywhere on earth. With the soaring popularity of these platforms, their functionality will evolve like lightning. The future mobile work space will not have redundancies in devices based on size; instead, it will have distinct separation between the base station and our mobile access to it. The “remote-access input device,” or RAID, will control a distant and invisible engine so that we won’t have to carry a second smaller engine around in our pocket. We won’t have two of everything—big ones and little ones. This disruption will replace the concept of “microelectronics” with an invisible and seamless digitopia. Our computing power will then be as omnipresent as oxygen, and almost as easy to carry.

Smart Design
[Click to view this concept]

Lunar: NOMAD
[Click to view this concept]
The Nomad mobile office eliminates the angst surrounding the tools of modern work. Each electronic device has its own carry bag that attaches to Nomad’s “power spine” with Velcro. With a quick glance, today’s roaming technocrats can be assured that when leaving any temporary office—whether it’s a Starbucks or a Starwood Hotel—they have all their vital tools packed and ready to go. And no more worrying about getting every—thing to its appropriate dock or charger every night. Nomad’s power spine is a charging system that delivers life-giving juice to each device on its back through inductive currents. Unhook the carry strap and it becomes an extension cord—plug it into any socket to top off all your electronics at once.

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