“Over the course of the last century our workplaces have transformed beyond recognition. What were once spaces designed purely for function, the offices of today focus on leading edge technology, collaboration and community,” says Bob Stewart, head of ZENITH’s research and development.
US engineer Frederick Taylor is credited as being one of the first people to ever design an office space in the early 1900s. He developed the Scientific Management Theory to maximise the efficiency and output of an office, which saw clerical workers somewhat crammed into long rows of basic desks and chairs, while their supervisors looked on from private offices.
As technology progressed so did different design movements – from the Bürolandschaft approach, which was developed in the 1950s to increase the efficiency of communications within the office, to the virtual offices of the 21st century when the introduction of Wi-Fi and mobile phones meant that the definition of a workplace became far more flexible.
ZENITH’s roots in office design began in the 1950s as a manufacturer of partition systems and manufacturing workstations and later expanded further into the commercial furniture market. In those early days cubicles were still relatively modest, but fast forward to today and many people don’t even have a workstation in their office: they can go and work where they want and when they want in the most appropriate setting with the most appropriate tools for the task at hand.
Hybrid designs featuring breakout rooms, hubs, study nooks and conference rooms, coupled with spaces based on comfort and ambience are now the norm. Really, the workplace of today is about utilising leading edge technology, collaboration and community.
These changes in the needs and wants of a workforce led ZENITH in 2009 to invest more heavily in its in-house research and development (R&D) department, and consequently the ZENITH Design Studio. We really try and create environments that inspire people to excel, and we do this by creating furniture that fosters an inviting atmosphere.
Yet again, technology is shaping what this looks like for the workplace. In R&D we are looking at how our designs can support some of the newer technologies, such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) as the keyboard and mouse become less relevant.
We are also working with leading companies that are at the cutting edge of workplace change and looking at how collaboration and face-to-face meetings can extend beyond the physical workplace as VR and AR cement themselves into our daily lives.
While guessing what the next wave of game-changing technology may be is almost impossible, ZENITH’s expertise in R&D means it is continually researching global workplace trends and designing products that anticipate the ever-changing workplace environment.
Is there anything as dynamic as a revolution? Rapid, rambunctious, and radical, revolutions are often over as swiftly as they begin, leaving behind a swirl of rubble to be rebuilt and rearranged into something new. In short: revolutions are great, but they can only last so long.
Take, for example, the activity-based working (ABW) revolution. When it first stormed the scene in the mid-2000s, ABW’s approach to old school, formulaic design was heralded as a breath of fresh air in an increasingly stale design sector. Workers celebrated the freedom and enhanced wellbeing afforded by the groundbreaking, flexible designs, while higher ups cheered the spike in productivity and worker retention. Then ABW evolved. To keep up with its ballooning popularity, it was reduced to its most basic elements, co-opted for sprawling open plan offices and workspaces littered by colourful couches and ottomans. Soon, spaces verged toward the ridiculous, incorporating slides, ball pits, and cargo net hammocks. And just like that, as quickly as it began, the ABW revolution was over.
Now, nearly 15 years later, designers are stoking the embers of ABW, breathing new life into arguably one of the 21st century’s most important design milestones. With their new Cremorne headquarters for Australian energy suppliers Red Energy, Melbourne interior designers Carr Design Group did just this, marking a renaissance for the ABW movement. The feeling of revolution is fitting, given that Red Energy is an energy provider like no other. Since 2004, the Australian owned energy company has drawn its power from the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric scheme, which is roundly regarded as a civil engineering wonder of the modern world. Red Energy is also committed to giving back to Australian communities by way of affordable energy and meaningful connections with local sporting clubs, associations, and charities that share their forward-facing values.
For their new Cremorne headquarters, Red Energy tapped into this revolutionary and community-oriented spirit, crafting workspaces that reflect a fresh approach to ABW. Like any good revolutionary, Carr Design Group did not build from the ground up, but rather looked to the past for inspiration. Nestled into the former Bryant and May factory – one of Melbourne’s most iconic heritage buildings – the new fitout was treated as a sculptural insert within the existing building envelope, and carefully enfolds heritage elements including an exposed truss ceiling and expansive factory bay windows. A richly textured, warm material palette beguiles the industrial setting and offsets shades of deep brick red and burnt orange with cool blue-greys and creamy whites.
The new offices bring together over 1000 Red Energy business support and customer interaction staff, all of whom require very different work space typologies. To accommodate their various needs and activities, the plan was arranged in a series of ‘pavilions’, ‘neighbourhoods’, and ‘hubs’ set along a central circulation path. The overlapping spaces range from fixed to flexible and open to focused, and encourage workers to explore beyond the boundaries of their own workspace. Linking the four tenancy levels is a brick red sculptural steel mesh stair that evokes the red brick of the building’s exterior and funnels circulation into new spaces for breakout, collaboration, and interaction.
“Inspired by a commitment to celebrate and respect the historical importance and unique architectural form of this culturally significant structure, the fitout was treated almost as a sculptural insert with all internal built form detached from the perimeter in a bid to respect the existing exposed truss ceiling, expanse of original factory bay windows and important heritage details.” – Carr Design.
At the briefing stage, Red Energy emphasised investment in workplace health and wellbeing in addition to a renewed focus on training and development. To make these goals a reality, Carr Design Group turned to Zenith and their broad catalogue of flexible, functional commercial furniture. Across the office’s four levels, Zenith’s signature sit to stand Orbis Workstation delivers both practicality and comfort without compromising on style. Like all Zenith solutions, Orbis prioritises people and the user experience. Red Energy employees can now enjoy a suite of intuitive features that make work life easier: LED reminders to sit or stand, a patented wire management system for keeping things tidy, Bluetooth app control, and the ability to store up to four preset worktop heights.
The new office also makes extensive use of the Belite Chair, designed at all points with supreme functionality and ergonomic support for the end user in mind. Characterised by minimal parts and componentry, the responsive design of Belite celebrates flexibility and ease. Responding to users’ postures and agile uses throughout the day, Belite’s form is uniquely positioned to alleviate problems of lumbar support while still never compromising on sleek, sculptural forms. The chair’s elastometric skin (held in a contoured backframe and seat pan) alters to suit changing user positions across different tasks and requirements throughout day. Coupled with a dynamic suspension system that takes the user’s bodyweight and movements as a counterbalance, Belite’s 270-degree radius of ergonomic support ensures that irrespective of function and mobility, end user health and wellbeing remains at the forefront of concern. Simplified, innovative and user-centric at every turn, Belite’s intuitive construction also means that the fussiness of adjustments, levers and knobs is finally eschewed once and for all. In its stead, Belite’s seven major elements is a feat of streamlining – ultimately informing the chair’s minimised mass (being 57% lighter than most high-performance task seating) – to guarantee dynamism between rest, application and varied use.
Like the vast majority of the Zenith portfolio, Belite carries an inspired sustainability approach. Constructed from postconsumer recycled PET drinking bottles, corn byproduct and foam based on soy as a raw material, Belite’s sustainable manufacture dovetails with the product’s lightweight, minimised form to truly deliver a ‘conscious’ artefact: of the environment, of its user and of the evolving profile of the commercial landscape. Complementing the Orbis Workstation specified throughout, Belite cuts an aesthetic figure just as much as it does a functional one: as clean, streamlined and multitasking as even the most agile of workers.
Fleeting though revolutions may be, their effects are indelible and their legacies indestructible. Often, the most interesting repercussions occur long after the final aftershocks have subsided and a new sense of clarity allows the best pieces of the revolution to be identified and carried into the future. As much is evident in the new Red Energy Cremorne headquarters, which heralds a rebirth of the ABW revolution, albeit reimagined for the changing needs of today’s commercial spaces. It’s bold, it’s bright, and there’s nothing quite like it anywhere else. Vive la révolution!
Now having launched in Shanghai, Zenith remains squarely at the vanguard of supplying the latest design innovation for the commercial, health, hospitality and education sectors throughout more than five nations and their wholly complete network of service centres. While each of their showrooms celebrate Zenith‘s vast array of products and international portfolio of brands from across the region and beyond. Shrewdly backing this comprehensive design offering with a team of sector specialists, steering managers, comprehensive service delivery and a dedicated R+D team that work around the clock to improve the profile and performance of design across many sectors, Zenith has emerged as one of this region’s leading suppliers – collaborating with local design talent and their own manufacturing facilities to tailor design solutions in a culturally-aware holistic brand service.
Zenith returns to the INDE.Awards in 2018 as Platinum Partner. Taking the Asia Pacific’s best design to the global stage, we look forward to celebrating this region’s most excellent in creative practice.
There’s never been a better time to be a designer in the Asia Pacific. A strong regional economy, cutting edge technological capabilities, and unrivalled raw design talent have all converged at the right point in time to make now the most exciting period in our region’s design history. None of this is coincidental: over the past few years, the industry has worked to develop strong support structures and international mentorship programs to ensure sustainable growth and that the next generation of talent is provided with the guidance and assistance that they need to reach their full potential. The INDE.Awards do just this, providing the Asia Pacific with its foremost platform for recognising and nurturing regional talent and developing strong cross-country ties.
This year, Zenith will return as an INDE.Awards Platinum partner and once more contribute to enriching the region’s already diverse and dynamic design culture. An established leading light of Asia Pacific design, Zenith embodies all the characteristics that make the region’s design landscape so unique and exciting. Like the regional industry, Zenith blends a strong spirit of innovation and idiosyncratic design aesthetic with a thoughtful design process that is driven by a twin focus on style and functionality. Akin to the broader region, Zenith takes an unrelentingly forward-facing, trailblazing approach to design and is committed to developing new and unexpected responses to age-old design questions.
For over 60 years, Zenith has led our region in striking, eye-catching commercial design that doesn’t compromise on performance. From the tech boom to the open plan office, Zenith has responded thoughtfully and practically to every major contemporary design landmark. Their carefully considered approach has won admirers around the world. Zenith recently celebrated the launch of their new showroom in Shanghai, and continues to diversify its activity across the many commercial sub-sectors throughout the region.
Whether they’re in Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, or Singapore, Zenith approaches all design with a high degree of sensitivity to local culture and design traditions. Their hubs across the region allow them to fully understand local design contexts and challenges and design accordingly. Zenith consistently distinguishes itself from its peers by reflecting a firm grasp of not only the brief but also the context from which this emerges, responding to this thoroughly and sensitively.
In today’s hyperconnected design industry, regional ties between designers, suppliers, and manufacturers are more important than ever. For designers, well-developed connections with manufacturers and suppliers feed the iterative design process and streamline manufacturing, allowing for the highest possible quality of finished product. Zenith understands this, and has developed strong manufacturing capabilities to support their design efforts within the region.
The INDE.Awards would not be possible without the generous support of Zenith interiors and our other sponsors. We are grateful for their ongoing commitment to celebrating the uniqueness of design in the Asia Pacific region and look forward to working together moving forward to strengthen existing regional connections and forge new ones.
As Australia’s older generation continues to grow, the architecture and design community is beginning to see tremendous opportunity for change within aged care.
By 2042 one in four Australians will be 65 years or older. This unprecedented change in our society, coupled with longer life expectancy, means we will become increasingly dependant on aged care services and facilities. In addition, the Baby Boomer generation is rapidly redefining how it wants to spend its twilight years, representing a huge opportunity for design to play a bigger and better role when it comes to creating spaces that look and feel both comfortable and uplifting.
In the past, aged care facilities have been more akin to hospitals than homes. With long corridors, closed off nurses’ stations and institutional-looking furniture, design for the care of the elderly has been more clinical than comfortable. But things are beginning to change. As the focus on wellbeing and health in design becomes ever sharper, we’re seeing more architectural and design firms being brought in to create aged care spaces that align with general home design.
This change in approach comes as consumer expectations for future aged care environments are also evolving. People want to stay in spaces that are light and spacious and they expect flexible living areas with comfortable places to relax.
It’s one of the reasons Zenith branched out in to healthcare: to reimagine what furniture in aged care looks like to not only increase comfort and enhance patient recovery, but also to reduce the stress and physical fatigue of caregivers. And it’s a space Zenith has been working on quietly to get absolutely right.
Last year we partnered with German furniture brand Brunner, which is renowned for providing solutions-based furniture right across the full spectrum of the healthcare sector.
The company’s innovative design thinking proves that soft furnishings and furniture can be luxurious and practical at the same time. For example, comfortable armchairs and recliners with high-quality fabric upholstery, combined with practical vinyl covering for hygiene purposes. It’s this approach to design that retains the importance of aesthetics along with the specialised requirements of aged care furniture.
The products fall under our Zenith Care Collection, a carefully curated range of products by European, Asian and Australian brands, designed to cater to the specific needs of those within the healthcare sector. We’ll be showcasing the collection at Australian Healthcare Week this month as we continue our efforts to rejuvenate spaces for aged care, contributing to a wider shift towards stylish and practical living spaces for Australia’s ageing population.
It’s already been a year? Zenith celebrated its first year in Singapore with a showroom fiesta!
Zenith is only one year old in Singapore, but its showroom parties have already become the stuff of legends in Singapore’s A&D community. They’re known as the place to be if you want to catch up with a huge cross section of the design community in a celebratory atmosphere.
Thursday 30 November 2017 was no exception. The date marked the furniture powerhouse’s first anniversary in Singapore, and over 180 guests flocked to the fortieth-floor of One Raffles Place for a Mexican fiesta-themed party. Live music, maracas and a pinata set the scene, with guests treated to margharitas that they made themselves on margharita bikes. Not sure what we mean?
If you missed the party, you can catch up on the action on our Facebook.
Zenith proudly supported and showcased the graduating class of Interior Architecture 2017 UNSW, at their Sydney showroom.
Working closely together and collaborating with the student lead exhibition team since January, the Eclectic Electric exhibition night celebrated the achievements and the journey the student’s embarked on.
The 2017 capstone project encompassed the revitalisation of the White Bay Power Station, a heritage listed former coal-fired power station on a 38,000m2 site, surrounding a large part of the Bays Precinct Sydney Urban Transformation Program, under Urban Growth NSW. The brief emphasised spatial strategy with a focus on innovation, accessibility, style and public activation.
With no detail left unchecked, the exhibition featured a bar with flowing drinks and an abounding grazing table.
Accommodating 90 graduating students, their family and friends, and the A&D community, over four hundred people packed the Zenith Showroom.
Lapalma’s success has been achieved step-by-step over thirty years. Using natural recyclable materials, expertly combining metal with wood, leather and fabrics to create timeless pieces of elegant furniture with clean fluid lines. It is the hard work, passion and inexhaustible enthusiasm of brothers, owners and founders, Dario and Romano Marcato.
Zenith is proud to announce a new partnership across APAC, supporting Lapalma’s passion for furniture made with high precision using the most advanced technology while respecting the environment and source of all the noble materials employed to make their collections.
In October 2017, Zenith officially launch the Lapalma brand into all 12 locations across APAC. To coincide with his first visit to Australia, Dario Marcato joined Zenith at two special events to help launch new collections released at Il Salone, Milan in April 2017 and Orgatec, Cologne in 2016.
Guests enjoyed a degustation style menu of Veneto inspired food reflecting Lapalma’s origin of Padova, one of North Italy’s oldest cities.
Two years ago, Lapalma launched ‘Light Office’ a new direction for them in response to the new approach to workplaces – flexibility and well-being. An increased need for a lifestyle approach teamed with the ability to change the environment easily according to task, be it for focussed or collaborative work.
As the global economy shifts to become more interconnected than ever and new manufacturing hubs crop up around the world, Asia Pacific is leading the way.
In 2015, the Asian Development Bank reported that the region’s burgeoning economy was a product not of oil, agriculture, or booming global trade; rather, it came as a result of thriving local industry. Deftly marrying the preservation of traditional craftsmanship and methods of making with mass investment in advanced machinery, Asia Pacific has pulled away from the pack to lead with its innovative design, efficient manufacturing, and bold and distinctive design identity. The heavyweights of Europe and North America have had to make space on the world stage for a new player that brings with it a fresh point of view and keen eye for timeless design… On. Our. Own. Terms.
A New Global Power: The Rise Of Asia Pacific
This new identity comes at a time when the Asia Pacific middle class is more affluent than ever, comprising 37% of the global middle class and having an estimated international revenue injection power in excess of $1.7 billion per annum. According to the International Monetary Fund, this group constitutes history’s largest continental economy when measured by both nominal and purchasing power parity, in addition to indexing consistently in the upper rungs of GDP across the world’s BRICK economies. Largely thanks to persistent growth in the financial and technology sectors, private individual incomes remain higher and more stable than heretofore, as are vital remittance inflows from overseas as our collective ‘dollar’ (across the region) remains low enough to coax the world’s offshore manufacturing needs. Combined, such factors have traditionally forged stronger intra-national relationships; but today, this has brought in its wake a new era of co-operation between supplier and consumer, fast loops of commercial and design optimisation feedback, and an astronomical rise in consumer activity across all industry sectors.
Locals are increasingly choosing products designed and made within their home region – and why wouldn’t they? Design coming out of the region takes the best of traditional solutions to age-old challenges and blends it with contemporary manufacturing and aesthetics languages to create products that look good and just work. All this is perfectly timed with the rise of online shopping and so called ‘cross border shopping’, which have exposed the region’s design to tens of thousands of new customers.
At the heart of this evolving industry is China – particularly Shanghai – where design is attracting the best and brightest. In 2014, Deloitte speculated that in order to remain competitive in the world economy, China needed to diversify this industry and move away from a commoditised manufacturing reliance on lower-skilled assembly to an “innovation-based economy” of which optimising the design resolution of any given product or range was an prime determinant in the Chinese design world’s ongoing success.
And diversify is precisely what China has done in recent years: building from the ground up a design industry that has only continued to grow. The industry is young in both age and composition, with 93% of the Chinese design industry reportedly between 20 and 30 years of age and distributed amongst design consultancies, incubators, and R&D departments of major companies and manufacturers. These talented designers converge in ‘First Tier Cities’ such as Shanghai and Shenzhen to develop new design solutions imbued with the country and region’s characteristic flair. The cities are now making names for themselves at the vanguard of international design as well as turning over staggering revenue: Shenzhen’s more than 6000 design firms and their 100 000 employees have an annual average yield of US$1.54 billion.
Within this space, brands from across the region are flocking to China’s shores to bring the much-needed diversity of expertise in manufacturing, branding, post-occupancy analysis and ultimately a formal design language beyond borders in the effort to offer the Chinese market a degree of design diversity to satisfy their cosmopolitan market’s needs. While our architects and designers continue to be more involved with the A+D community on the Chinese mainland, we are beginning to see the effects of a regional design philosophy take shape.
Last month, I reported on one such brand – Zenith – and its continued quest for more cross-cultural negotiation in this region’s design future. After having celebrated their three year milestone in Hong Kong recently, Zenith has just taken the party to Shanghai to mark their watershed moment on the Chinese mainland amid the revolution of our region’s growing design prowess on the global stage:
Part of the ongoing story of A+D in our growing region is a sub-story of those businesses growing alongside us. […As] Zenith continues to grow across the Pacific, theirs is one of the many stories that testify to the ongoing support of such brands for our emerging design talent. What Zenith’s story uniquely inspires, however, is a coming of age for our A+D designing beyond borders.
Now having launched in Shanghai, Zenith remains squarely at the vanguard of supplying the latest design innovation for the commercial, health, hospitality and education sectors throughout more than five nations and their wholly complete network of service centres. While each of their showrooms celebrate Zenith‘s vast array of products and international portfolio of brands from across the region and beyond. Shrewdly backing this comprehensive design offering with a team of sector specialists, steering managers, service deliver and a dedicated R+D team that work around the clock to improve the profile and performance of design across many sectors, Zenith has emerged as one of this region’s leading suppliers – collaborating with local design talent and their own manufacturing facilities to tailor design solutions in a culturally-aware holistic brand service.
There is, unsurprisingly, plenty to celebrate. And boy-oh-boy did Team Zenith celebrate last week in their Shanghai showroom! As the launch of their twelfth showroom to date, located smack-bang in the heart of Shanghai’s bustling Jingan District, the glittering skyline of the megalopolis was the perfect backdrop to toast what is ultimately the brand’s ultimate triumph: bringing the region the power of design for a brighter, more intelligent and more culturally-sensitive future. As such, the theme of the night – ‘Another World’ – could not be more apt. As China continues to lure us with a rich tradition and looking forward to an equally eye-opening future, Zenith‘s Shanghai showroom truly encapsulates the power of design to realise ‘other worlds’ – a power that was further underscored by the pop-up exhibition of much-vaunted digital installation artist Pussy Krew, a dessert wall (!) of unbelievably mouthwatering delights, and the beats of the Soul Dancing Shanghai company on the night.
In a globalised age where one project can see the specification of Australian timber alongside lighting made in Scandinavia, flooring from the United States and furniture designed in Asia, there has never been a better time to be a designer in the Asia Pacific. Over the coming years, the region will surely go from strength to strength as it further refines its bold and pioneering design identity.
View showroom launch photos here
Download showroom launch photos here
The A+D world faces a precarious future: dwindling local expertise, unlikely local capacity, and a race we thought was heading toward the bottom but seems, instead, to be heading nowhere.
The Anxiety Of Influence
Although the current state of our property market might indicate our growing status as a well-designed nation, few of us in the A+D world are quite so sanguine. Tasked to close contracts faster and cheaper than ever before, our A+D community continues to report a culture of fear within the industry, circuitous monetary flows and wildly ambivalent consumer confidence – whether for key developments in our property market or for the position our industrial design will index on the world’s stage in the face of growing international competition.
At all avenues, we appear to be racing to the bottom faster than ever before. Needing to curb costs wherever possible in order to bolster our value proposition to the market, (namely, a value proposition that hangs solely on price point), the collateral damage has been enormous and, sadly it would seem, largely silent.
Within the space of a single workforce generation, our local manufacturing industry has experienced an ongoing period of contraction, falling to record lows on the Industry’s Group Index. In the 2015-2016 financial year, manufacturing’s injection into the national economy capped almost $30 million AUD. Throughout the last financial year, however, it contributed less than $15,598 million – a drop of almost 50% (which, comparatively, outstrips the drop experienced during the same parameters for our equally anxious mining industry).
Manufacturing Industry’s Performance Activity
(% contribution to AU GDP):
But Is It A Question Of Déjà Vu?
It may sound flippant, but it feels all-too-familiar to me. Though few might be willing to see the correspondence, we find ourselves today in an oddly similar position to mid-Nineteenth-Century Europe. As the cause of industrialism continued to make in-roads into European social and political circles, the correlative emerged simultaneously for the continent’s economic thinking: the purportedly unspoken virtues of laissez-faire market drivers. We have novelists, in particular, to thank for the gainsaying. In the British tradition, Dickens, Eliot, Carlyle, Gaskell and any one of the Bronte family filled reams and reams of paper with the very human-centric tales of entire industries falling to task as the race to the bottom became more of a chaotic sprint.
But what might the Victorians teach us here? Well, for one thing, their response was inspired: intervention. Charter after charter was passed from the 1848 People’s Charter onwards, delineating strategies for mutually beneficial relationships between industry sectors: the cotton industry bolstered the weaving industry, textile trade and international trading relationships (even the colonial military) all working collaboratively to manage the ongoing struggles of ameliorating the rapid effects of mechanical innovation into an otherwise localised cottage IR structure. In short, the shift in industrial relations produced highly specialised skillsets as relationships became entirely driven by exclusivity and specialisation for quality control.
Do Industrial Designers Have A Responsibility To Manufacturers?
Needless to say, such effects are also currently extant within the A+D community. Relationships between our industrial designers and suppliers have never been richer and more penetrative. And yet, the local manufacturers still appear to be lucking out. While our lower dollar continues to boost manufacturing export volumes, weak local demand continues to subdue total activity as designers seek cheaper offshore alternatives
According to a recent report by Fairfax, 83% of Australian votes believe that we have a responsibility to generate more revenue and jobs within our total manufacturing capacity. Such sentiments could not have arrived at a more pressing moment. Between 2008 and 2016, more than 300,000 manufacturing jobs were lost, now accounting for approximately 1 in every 13 workers.
“The public’s instinct is absolutely right,” says Jim Stanford, economist at the Centre for the Future of Work at the Australia Institute, following his key findings that this nation displays a significantly lower proportion of manufacturing capacity than any other comparably advanced economy. “We risk paying a long-term price if the decline continues.”
So, should the A+D world reconsider its relationship with manufacturers? After all, government deregulation of the commercial sector in particular – plus the constantly changing landscape of taxation and tariff control – doesn’t bode well for too heavy a reliance on offshore manufacturing in the long term (even if it does satisfy short-term commercial imperatives). While local expertise continues to decline, we are actively complicit in creating an arena that is not sustainable for our local industrial designers, their local and international suppliers and the push for seeing our local design language make a loud impact on the international level.
Under such conditions, never has ecologically and socially sustainable approaches to our industrial relationships been more pressing. And thankfully, some industrial designers are proving that understanding the future direction of our collective practice and the potentially errant market forces at play is key to our overall success – as a nation, as an industry, and as a design community.
Rethinking The Designer-Manufacturer Relationship
Keith Melbourne is one such forward-thinker. Following the launch of his Pino collection for Zenith, Melbourne sat down with me to discuss his unique relationship with manufacturers, underscoring his discussion with the insight that closer collaborative approaches are key to the success of industrial design as a discipline, and design as both collective practice and community.
From designing all unique manufacturing componentry for the range, not to mention furniture kitted with ergonomic solutions for the manufacturers needing to construct these difficult product typologies – it becomes clear that it is near-impossible to delineate where Pino’s design story ends and its manufacture story begins. At all points, the difficulties, necessities and support systems for the range’s manufacture appear to inform its design resolution from the beginning. What emerges is not simply a product to decorate our mantle as a well-designed nation but, rather, the vital support system needed to ensure that the mantle will no longer be top-heavy.
David Congram, Indesign: You’ve commented elsewhere that Pino is unique for you because it was very much a balancing act between sustaining its characteristic wire form and still providing the level of comfort and performance we wouldn’t normally expect from hard furnishings.
Keith Melbourne: Yes, and ‘balancing act’ is the perfect term for it. [laughs] Well, sometimes, but it really was more of a pleasurable experience as a whole. And probably the number one thing which I found especially arduous this time with Pino was the manufacture. It was a wonderful challenge but I seriously underestimated the scope of the manufacturing side. We developed twelve manufacture components, and then spent two years refining the manufacturing process as a whole.
DC: Well, since the manufacture for Pino was largely uncharted territory for you in terms of the form of the range, was it key to collaborate with specialist manufacturers?
KM Oh absolutely! It was a very mutually-rewarding experience for both myself and the manufacturing team because it was such a prolonged collaborative process. Manufacturing is something that is very hidden, so I enjoy coming out and championing that part of the design process. Otherwise, how would people know?
DC And people are intensely interested in that part of the design process, too, I feel.
KM Yes, extremely so. It’s always met with a very high level of fascination. It has a tendency to ground the product, and really sweep away the unecessary ‘mystique’ that surrounds design as a discipline.
DC And when you were refining each element during that questioning, how many prototypes were required to truly test its functionality?
KM Interestingly, not many at all. I normally make a lot of models when I’m designing furniture, but it’s almost impossible to make a model of anything in the Pino range. When you take it down to one fifth of the scale, the wires don’t really translate. The accuracy required during the prototyping stage to inform the end-result just couldn’t be achieved for Pino because of its peculiar materiality. So largely it was done in CAD with some mock-ups in MDF for an ergonomic point of view.
DC That’s quite interesting because I imagine it would be rather uncommon –
KM Well yes – prototyping is an important part of any design process, but the material that constitutes the bulk of each piece wasn’t very welcoming of traditional prototyping, and certainly wasn’t particularly suited to dropping down the scale. I developed a new type of prototyping for this range using laser cut MDF to make a simulation of the chair, for example, so that you could sit inside to test the distribution of load and weight. Although it differs incredibly from the end result (not only in material) this way I was able to test and refine the ergonomics of each piece. But largely, I think we only did one prototype overall.
KM Yeah! But, thousands of megabytes of CAD data as well. It was an interesting challenge because I normally do like to make many models and work directly with the material and form. Unfortunately, or actually quite fortunately in a way, the material in this instance worked against the way I normally design.
DC You’ve told me quite a bit about the manufacturing side of developing this range, and I’m curious to know your opinion of the manufacturer-designer relationship.
KM Oh it’s extremely important! It’s critical as far as I’m concerned. I don’t work just by completing the design process and then passing the spec sheets through to the manufacturers. I prefer to work more collaborating alongside the manufacturers and I find very often that this also colours the design process to a great extent too, while also influencing the success of the design from a performance, quality or even aesthetic angle.
DC Do you think that is standard or rare for the design community currently working throughout Australia, in particular?
KM All designers I know have slightly different relationships with their manufacturers. Some, like me, are quite involved, and others can be very removed, some removed entirely as we often see with those who use offshore solutions. But I think that the line in the sand – where the manufacturer finishes and the designer starts – for me at least is very blurred. Perhaps that’s more informed by my engineering background than I know. But I love the relationship with the manufacturer. I spend a lot of time physically in the factory refining the manufacturing process. And the manufacturers love it too.
DC I imagine that the stronger the relationship between the manufacturer and the designer leads to a better-resolved product at the tail-end of the whole process.
KM Yes I’d have to agree. The whole process of the tooling side of things is about spending time refining those elements that can improve quality but also save time and a lot of funds too.
The design process for me can sometimes be quite lonely. I do a lot of the legwork alone and then the collaboration starts with the manufacturer where the sparks start to fly. I have a lot of respect with the manufacturers I work with, and the transference of skills and expertise is by far one of the most rewarding parts of this relationship.
As Zenith celebrates their third anniversary in Hong Kong, we look to some of the brand’s landmark achievements in designing the Asia Pacific A+D world.
“Many of our clients have offices in Asia and there are so many Australian architects and designers working in these regions. We need to be there to support them.”
Three years ago, Barbara Schmidt’s above observation prompted Zenith Interiors to build on decades of accomplishment in Australia and New Zealand by branching further into the Asia Pacific region. As Australian architects and designers began to collaborate more with the A+D community on the Asian continent, our region began to see a regional design philosophy take shape on its own terms. And, no doubt supported by brands such as Zenith that were brave enough to jump the pond and extend the offering of their service to new markets requiring their expertise, this cross-cultural negotiation also began to see the rise of Asia Pacific’s economic and political dominance on the global stage.
Now celebrating the third anniversary of their presence in Hong Kong, Zenith is thus also celebrating an important milestone in
the history of our region’s design tradition. The brand joins us in celebrating, that is, the growing strength of our region in our time: the world wedesigned, the world realised by our innovators,
our risk takers, our thought leaders and our design talent.
Part of the ongoing story of A+D in our growing region is a sub-story of those businesses growing alongside us. Last year I reported on Zenith Interiors’ further growth across the Pacific – it is one of many stories that testify to the ongoing support of such brands for our emerging design talent. What Zenith’s story uniquely inspires, however, is a coming of age for our A+D designing beyond borders.
From the 1950s, Zenith has steadily refined its approach and
grown across the Australasian region, closing out the millennium with four manufacturing facilities and showrooms throughout the nation’s major cities. With a commitment to bringing the best in international design to the local market, they quickly noticed the emerging prowess of the design community on our own shores.
In the past decade, Zenith launched their own contribution to our growing design importance – Zenith Design (2009) – led by their own design and manufacture direction, state-of-the-art facilities and an award-winning suite of proprietary products to enhance collaboration, wellbeing and productivity in the modern workplace. Suddenly with the capacity to offer bespoke solutions “ being a local manufacturer in this Asia Pacific region”, commented Barbara Schmidt, was integral “to offering fully resolved solutions with a customised edge. […I]t was a huge point of difference for Zenith.”
And the significance of this capacity should not be understated here. After all, according to the Asian Development Bank, its was not
our oil, agriculture or global trade that underpinned Asia Pacific’s meteoric economic rise in the new millennium – it was our region’s wholehearted embrace of local industry, the preservation of our traditional skills and unique craftsmanship, and the mass-investment in advanced machinery. In the years that would follow Zenith’s further continental expansion, our region continued to enjoy growing rates of consumer activity, stronger levels of income, continued remittance inflows and greater intra-national ties between supplier and consumers. Earlier last year, I reported on how this has culminated or us, today, in the most remarkable expansion of education in world history – a confident indication
that our 1.7 billion + combined middle class demographic will continue to play an important role in shaping the global future.
Launching soon in Shanghai, Zenith’s co-ordinated design effort comes as an unique boon for an united Asia Pacific.
From Hong Kong to Wellington, Christchurch to Auckland
to Perth, and all along Australia’s East Coast and Southern
border, Zenith’s model recognises that design is (and needs to be) diverse. Their pan-regional presence declares that design is as personal as it is cultural. But, more importantly, it declares that ours is a design culture that matters – that matters outside our borders – and will continue to do so.
At Indesign Media, we congratulate Zenith
on this significant milestone, and wish to
thank them for their ongoing support for championing our design, our way.
Late last month, Zenith’s third anniversary in their Hong Kong showroom was ringed in with a jungle-themed party that brought
a touch of the South-East Asian tropics to sprawling megalopolis. Under a canopy of vines, their showroom was brought to life with jungle rhythms that drew out the wild side of their illustrious
guest list. In recognition of the environmental difficulties facing
our region, Zenith Hong Kong collaborated with Elephant Gin
Cocktails in an effort to conserve chronically endangered
wildlife. A significant portion of all proceeds where donated
to two foundations – Big Life, in support of anti-poaching,
and the Space For Elephants Foundation, in support of the restoration of old migratory routes.