RIT Design Students Reimagine the Modern Office

Design students at RIT are reimagining the modern office.

All images courtesy RIT

The workplace and workforce have changed drastically in just one generation, and millennials are at the forefront of this shift. Metropolis and Poppin have partnered with the undergraduate industrial design students at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) as they dream up what the future office could be.

Crafting Long-Lasting Solutions for the Growing Office

Every year, RIT’s Metaproject challenges 20 or so undergraduate industrial design students to design potential products for a brand. This year, the sponsor is Poppin, a company that aims to design products and furniture that are both functional and beautiful, and offers them to growing businesses at affordable prices. The students, including myself, are creating accessories for Poppin’s new furniture collection.

Poppin, a startup itself, caters to emerging businesses that are expanding and becoming more established in the marketplace. As a company grows, it will usually want to upgrade its furniture to demonstrate and legitimize this growth; often when this happens, however, companies focus so much on the price tag or on their immediate needs that they fail to consider the future. They begin to accumulate an array of mismatching furniture and office accessories that don’t necessarily meet the growing company’s needs. The result is cheap products that deteriorate quickly and ultimately end up in a landfill—while the company continues to purchase more. Everything Poppin sells is meant to stay with the company for the long term. Their furniture is modular and multifunctional and can be reconfigured as needs change. With all this in mind, we were tasked with designing accessories that could effectively solve a problem, be cost-effective, and deliver aesthetically and functionally.

As soon as Poppin came to RIT to kick off the project, we dove in headfirst, immediately taking apart and reassembling the furniture that they supplied (including the Series A desks, and a few pieces of their Block Party Lounge). No tools are required to assemble any of Poppin’s furniture, which makes for an intuitive and user-friendly installation experience. We realized our creations would have to be just as simple and user-friendly to fit in with the rest of Poppin’s line.

The first phase of a project was arguably the most difficult. Many of us had been feeling this as we’ve faced challenges to develop solid concepts. After speaking with potential customers at High Tech Rochester, a local startup incubator, and reading studies and articles about the workplace, I learned that many people prefer a dynamic work environment, and like to do their work in a number of different places. I’m fascinated by the idea of the “nomadic worker” and realized that this would be a great additional category for Poppin. My research showed that moving around—from a standing workstation, to a lounge environment, or even to the kitchen next to the coffee machine—helps people feel stimulated and encourages creativity and productivity. There needs to be an easy way for people to be able to pick up their things and stay organized as they move about the different workspaces throughout the office.

Finally, I landed on my concept—a mobile platform that allows people to pick up and move their belongings without having to interrupt their workflow. I’m currently developing a flat work surface inspired by the versatile shape of Poppin’s Tucker Side Table. My goal is to create a very simple yet elegant surface that blends into the work environment, be it atop a desk or on someone’s lap. I am working hard to refine subtle details on the product’s underside to add a swiveling function, similar to a lazy susan, that allows the platform to rotate around easily to share work with someone across the table. For now, I am calling my concept the Lap Topper.

CAD renderings and drawings allow the students to experiment with transforming their ideas into finished products that make work happier.

RIT undergraduate student, Koby Trout, works on bringing his idea to fruition.

Another student, Afifi Ishak, had an idea to make the classic sticky note a bit more fun and interesting. Afifi’s initial design was a simple cube form that holds sticky notes on each face. At our initial concept review however, it was felt that this form factor wasn’t quite playful enough. After considering the feedback, Afifi was able to push his direction further. His current concept is a sticky note dodecahedron, a multi-dimensional form with custom die-cut sticky notes on each of the twelve faces of the product. It’s beautifully simple, yet inherently fun—a rubber band ball of sticky notes.

A physical mock-up allows the students like Afifi Ishak to experiment, play with the product, and see how it would fit with the rest of Poppin’s product offerings for modern offices.

Danielle Marino, another classmate, has been figuring out how to help minimize the amount of trash generated by food packaging. She realized in her research that many people in a startup environment frequently eat out or order takeout. As a result, there is an enormous amount of trash that is created, simply because there is no convenient or efficient way for people to bring their own food to the office. To address this, Danielle is designing a multi-purpose lunch bag that transforms into a placemat when it’s time to eat. In addition to a nice way to bring in food, this gives the user a place to eat without worrying about getting his or her space messy. Classmate Emily Moore had a similarly inspired idea: coat storage that would attach to the back of an office chair. She was excited to test out her first idea—a stretchable fabric sleeve that would snugly slip onto the chair’s back. She realized upon testing, however, that she was fighting the material to do what she wanted, and that more structure was needed. She ultimately pivoted to a more “exoskeleton-like” hard plastic solution that clips onto the chair instead.

The next installment in this series will be told from the perspective of another student, Tristan Cannan. He will dig into the prototyping and fabrication portion of our project, and walk through how we’re beginning to bring our concepts to life.

RIT undergraduate students Veronica Lin, Tristan Cannan and Koby Trout use a pinnable board to brainstorm ideas for the Metaproject design challenge sponsored by Poppin.



Recent Viewpoints