When worlds collide: a preview of the Salone Internationale del Mobile in Milan

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S285 deskDon’t even think about going to Milan for a break at this time of year – you probably won’t get a hotel room. Every year the Salone Internationale del Mobile (International Furniture Fair) and Milan Design Week ensure that hotels are full despite room rates soaring for the duration of this world class exhibition. Salone is the show to attend if you want to know what’s going on in the world of furniture design. Along with Orgatec, Neocon, CIFF, Clerkenwell Design Week and the Stockholm Furniture Fair, Salone makes up the Grand Tour of furniture and design shows around the world. These shows not only provide an international showcase the very latest in furniture design, each also offers its own unique insight into the way we work and live. And they do so on a massive scale. In the case of Milan, this means extending the show beyond the halls of the central Rho fairgrounds to use locations around the whole city, when it takes place next week.

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Google’s new Amsterdam office exposes Tech’s youthful obsessions

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Google Amsterdam 2

All images © Alan Jensen and D/Dock

Back in the 1990s, when Frank Duffy was one of the august handful of people popularising notions of a changing approach to office design, he categorised four models of the workplace that he foresaw would come to reflect the work done in them, namely the den, cell, hive and club. Back then, the word ‘club’ conjured up images of gentleman’s clubs and Duffy himself described it in his 1997 book The New Office as ‘essentially an ingenious early 19th Century device to allow the kind of people who are now called networkers to share as supportive an environment as possible’, illustrating his point with an old coloured engraving of upright gents sitting around in a neo-classical, Victorian, smoke-filled room reading newspapers, sipping port and chewing the fat. Nowadays, the word club would appear to suggest something more along the lines of a youth club, as the latest pubescent design of a Google office shows us. More →

Design of the Year shortlist contrasts what is practical with what is possible

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MAKOKO FLOATING SCHOOL, NIGERIA crop

A great many of us pay architecture and design very little attention until it’s too late and we’re confronted with the workings of a mind that doesn’t consider whether just because we could really means we should. The kind of mind that designs a building that melts cars on the street or one with wind turbines that are so noisy they can’t be turned on. And so this week sees the announcement of nominees for the Design Museum Designs of The Year awards. It’s a studiedly eclectic list. In amongst the Lego calendars and texting fire alarms we also find a mobile gaming app designed to be used over many centuries (it is impossible to finish it in your lifetime, natch) that, it says here, “questions the inevitability of death, the meaning of legacy and the nature of progress”. I’ve searched for signs that this might be satire without success. However, we’ll focus our consideration on the nominations for designs for the built environment. More →

The enduring need to put a bit more of the M into facilities management

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Shutterstock's new offices, Empire State Building

Shutterstock’s new offices, Empire State Building

It may well be a statement of the obvious, but it’s worth reminding ourselves sometimes that the term facilities management consists of two words. There is often a bit too much emphasis on the facilities and a bit too little on the management and sometimes we look for design and product solutions to problems that would be better managed in some way. You can put this down to a number of things but to some extent at least it’s down the idea that when you are determined to use a hammer, every job looks like a nail. Obviously the media takes some of the blame for this mindset because it often earns income from businesses who want to sell their stuff to solve particular problems rather than focus on the idea that many of them can be addressed either as a management issue or in combination with products and design.

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The workplace should be designed for (and by) people, not robots

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Omnicorp logoFrom existential and dystopian fears expressed through books and films, we have long had an uneasy relationship with the idea of automatons and artificial intelligence. The UKCES saw robotics and automation as significant enough to include in it’s recent report on the future of work and the risks to jobs are very real based even on the more widespread adoption of the technologies already available to us. The possibility that many people may cease to have any economic value is a challenge we seem ill-equipped to meet. As ever, the web giants are leading the charge with Amazon prototyping delivery of packages by the kind of drones more commonly used over the tribal badlands of Afghanistan, as well as Google’s recent purchase of Boston Dynamics, makers of military-spec robots. The people behind the algorithms that gave us the unintentional hilarity of Google Suggest are now branching to create the sort of killer robots produced by OmniCorp in the Robocop movies.

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Why work should be a key focus in improving our happiness

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Happiness at work comment

The iOpener Institute for People & Performance is an official partner of the UN International Day of Happiness, which took place this week. Here, iOpener’s Joint CEOs Jessica Pryce-Jones & Julia Lindsay explain why work should be a key focus of improving happiness. The UN International Day of Happiness is designed to recognize that ‘progress’ is about increasing human happiness and wellbeing as well as growing the economy. The UN’s focus this year is on ‘reclaiming happiness’. The origins of the day lie in the July 2011 UN General Assembly resolution which recognized happiness as a fundamental human goal. In April 2012 the first ever UN conference on Happiness took place. On the back of this, they designated 20th March as an annual worldwide focus on celebrating and growing happiness. More →

European executives overconfident about their ability to manage change

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SupertankerThere are a number of casual truisms about the modern workplace that everybody accepts to the point they become clichéd. But knowing something and knowing what to do about it can be two completely different things. While we might all agree that ‘change is a constant’ and the ‘main driver of change is technology’, both ideas are subject to the interconnected and immutable law that whatever we do is likely to be wrong to a greater or lesser degree. According to new research from the Economist Intelligence Unit, one of the main reasons for this is that organisations and business leaders are not very good at judging how responsive they are to change, make the converse misjudgements about the readiness of their competitors. In the words of the survey, they tend to see themselves as speedboats while viewing their competitors as supertankers when the reality is often the other way around.

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What the UK regional divide can teach us about the way we design offices

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Mind the GapIn the BBC documentary Mind the Gap, Evan Davis asks why London has an economy that is larger than and different to those of other UK cities, but also getting bigger and more differentiated. One of the main reasons he finds for this is something called agglomeration; the more skilled people you can put within physical reach of each other in an environment, the more productive and economically successful that environment will become.The problem for the UK is that not only is London of a different magnitude to its other cities, it does not comply with something called Zipf’s Law which states that in a typical country the largest city will be around twice the size of the second largest, around three times the size of the next largest and four times the size of the fourth largest and so on. It shouldn’t be taken too literally but it does illustrate the important economic principle of agglomeration and explains why there is such a widening divide in the UK economy.

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Might a lack of joined-up thinking undermine UK high-tech ambitions?

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Old Street: the UK's tech epicentre

Old Street: the UK’s tech epicentre

Over the past week both Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson have offered up visions of economic success founded on new technology. Yet, as the CBI points out in a new report pinpointing the dearth of talent needed to  make such dreams a reality, politicians often appear to ignore the realities of a situation. In its new report, Engineering our Future,  the CBI calls for significant action to make a career in the key disciplines of science, technology, engineering and maths more attractive and easier to pursue. The report points out that these are the skills needed to underpin the Government’s stated focus on the tech, environmental, engineering and manufacturing industries that will shape the country’s future and is calling for a cut in tuition fees, new courses and inter-disciplinary qualifications to allow those skills to flourish.

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A field guide to workplace terminology (part 2)

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devils-dictionaryA year ago we published the first part of Simon Heath’s acid lexicon of the terms people use to obscure the reality of what it is they actually mean. Part One can still be read here. While much has changed over the past year, we are fortunate that Simon’s corrosive, witty and informed take on corporate bullshit, and especially that applied to the parochial field of workplace design and management remains constant. He’s part of a long tradition of those who apply satire to skewer logorrhea, doublethink and obfuscation, the best example of which remains Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary which is quite remarkably caustic and spares no one. First published in 1881 it maintains much of it power and topicality, for example in its definition of Conservative as:  “a statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

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The workplace of the future is one founded on uncertainty

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workplace of the futureWe now know for a fact that the good people at the UK Commission for Employment and Skills take heed of what they read on Workplace Insight. After Simon Heath recently eviscerated the idea of the year 2020 as a useful marker for the ‘future’, a new report from the UKCES draws its line in the sand a bit further on in 2030. It means they can’t have a ‘2020 Vision’ and for that we should be very thankful.  Yet the report still falls into the same traps that are always liable to ensnare any prognosis about the workplace of the future, notably that some of the things of which they talk have happened or are happening already. Then there’s the whole messy business of deciding what will emerge from the chaos; a bit like predicting the flavour of the soup you are making when a hundred other cooks are secretly adding their own ingredients.

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Innovate or die? Why facilities management must embrace change to survive

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Innovate

According to recent reports on workplace, facilities management and corporate real estate, the support services sector needs to change. Some even say it needs to innovate or die. That might be a little harsh, but the current model that the majority of FM service providers work to and that their clients take for granted is tired and has not kept pace with the evolving business environment. Zurich Insurance’s report of late 2012 into CRE & FM said the sector was at a cross roads; in 2013 Jones Lang LaSalle said something similar and picked out five global trends to which CRE and FM had to respond. IFMA & CBRE have taken a similar line, but are more specific – namely FM had to embrace its softer side, focus on people skills and develop them to ensure success. More →

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