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Sep 16, 2020 By IIDA HQ
Omnipresent, Invisible, On-Demand Technology
The seamless integration of technology into the workplace is a challenge that most designers and manufacturers face—how can we keep tech out of sight, but within an arm's reach?
By IIDA HQ Sep 16, 2020
Published in Publications

The following is an excerpt from IIDA’s annual Industry Roundtable report, Industry Roundtable 23: The Future of Place, Experience, and Worklife. The roundtable took place at BMW Designworks in California. Read the full report here.

The modern workplace runs on technology: Wi-Fi, video conferencing, biometric security systems, motion-activated lighting, app-controlled climate zones, Slack, AutoCAD, etc. Technology is essential. Yet the cumbersome wires, cables, power cords, switches, sensors, and gadgets that enable it can make technology feel like a burden. As a result, the seamless integration of technology into the work environment—both physically and psychologically—is one of the greatest challenges designers and manufacturers face.

The wave of the future is to create spaces in which technology is omnipresent but invisible until the very moment it’s needed—out of sight, yet right at arm’s reach. BMW realizes this fantasy with its Interaction Ease technology for iNext, a fully electric autonomous vehicle that will be introduced to the market in 2021. In rethinking the SUV interior for the self-driving era, Holger Hampf of BMW Designworks and team sought to emulate the feeling and experience consumers have in their happy places, whether that happens to be a remote mountaintop or a buzzy bar/ lounge hanging out with friends. In short, they envisioned iNext as a destination in its own right.

Accordingly, the iNext interior features residentially styled chairs and surfaces that have the appearance of freestanding furniture, a palette that takes cues from boutique hotels, and a seating arrangement that encourages conviviality. Glass on all sides switches from transparent to opaque at the wave of a hand. The vehicle has an eclectic, cocooning, unexpected quality. These attributes abet a driving experience that’s “ultimately human,” says Hampf, and that allows for “natural, multimodal, and social interaction” between passengers.

A key to creating such a space was an approach to technology dubbed “shy tech,” whereby elements like GPS navigation and audio controls are hidden from view but reveal themselves where and when the driver or occupant needs them. Adjustment mechanisms for the zero- gravity chairs are hidden beneath the seat upholstery; the door handle appears, as a glowing icon, only when you reach out for it. “In iNext, the tech is all around you: alive, reactive, and abstract,” Hampf explains.

Shy Tech at the Office

Shy tech is an apt model for the next-gen workspace. “We have to make sure the right technology is there to enable human experience, and yet design it away since it creates a lot of visual noise,” says Hampf. One way to reduce said noise is to embed technological capabilities into finishes and materials. For instance, iNext features high-tech textiles embedded with haptic controls, and the windshield glass transforms into a flat- screen on demand. “We have to ask what experiences we want to create in a space, and then drive them under the surface of that space,” Hampf explains.

This vision aligns with where corporate interiors are heading. “By 2050, no one will have a computer, because everything will be computerized,” Jennifer Ruckel, Ind. IIDA, predicted. “Computers will be small and cheap, embedded in everything, and rituals like swiping to get into an office will not require a card.” Unobtrusive sensors have already rendered offices technologically capable of providing real-time feedback on end-user productivity, wellness, happiness, and other success metrics. The next frontier is for the space to somehow self-adjust immediately to that feedback.

In the interest of sustainability, designers and manufacturers will need to figure out ways to incorporate technology into materials and furniture in a manner that allows for continuous upgrades. “Furniture with embedded technology becomes obsolete more quickly since the technology often becomes outdated before the furniture itself does,” says Elizabeth Christopher. Companies are already designing or retooling their products to address this consideration. For instance, “our pieces are designed to accommodate rather than integrate technology,” Kirt Martin notes.

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The real world is about 10 years behind everyone in this room, and that’s a challenge.
Kirt Martin, Landscape Forms
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Kirt Martin, Landscape Forms
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