Picture a desk. How large is it? Did you choose this desk or did it come with your job? Do you enjoy working on it? Most importantly, does it stay clean and organized?
Desks and other common workplace furniture have been evolving since their invention, and, this is important, that evolution hasn’t stopped.
Designers strive to create products that offer function and form to the people who end buying and using them, but that’s no easy task.
This is an article about a desk, but it’s also about the function of workplace tools and the changing landscape of work today.
The name of this desk is Extrude.
Designer Jayati Sinha on the genesis of Extrude
For the sake of clarity, Extrude was a one-off prototype. It is not currently in production and is not available for sale.
But looking closely at this desk, the design of which was led by established designer Jayati Sinha, can provide insights into workplace furniture, design, and even shifting attitudes toward work and physical workplaces.
“This was a piece that I made in my Masters program. I like to really dig into my users’ needs and see how they actually use products, and that’s where this idea came from. The whole table is a culmination of different utilities as well as a play with innovative materials, colors, and compositions.”
Extrude was a winner at ICFF (International Contemporary Furniture Fair) Studio 2019, a famous exhibition of innovative furniture design prototypes from talented designers.
Extrude was also a winner at IWF (International Woodworking Fair) 2018.
Sinha is a longtime digital and physical experience designer who has created a large number of innovative personal projects, all of which can be found on her website if you’d like to take a look.
She also worked with the design and innovation firm Fuseproject, which of course was created by Swiss designer Yves Behar, and she currently works as a physical and digital experience designer at Fjord.
Sinha was kind enough to look back on Extrude and share details about its design and construction.
Breaking down Extrude
First, a simple breakdown of Extrude’s design.
The desk is made up of simple shapes: rectangles with two rounded corners, a circle that intersects with support, and an elongated cylinder that serves as a support and which extrudes from the desk’s surface.
It creates a strong impression on the first look, but these shapes are all completely functional, too.
The extruding panel toward the back of the desk is a magnetic board that can be used to post memos, correspondence, bills, and anything else the professional wants to keep visible.
The non-perforated surfaces of the desk (almost all of them) are writable surfaces.
Extrude is made of MDF, Formica writable laminates, PVC edge banding, aluminum sheet metal, and magnetic stainless steel.
These materials are generally inexpensive and easy to produce, and given the desk’s tab-and-slot assembly design, the pieces can be flat-packed for easy shipment.
Extrude is dense with innovation– evidence that Sinha applied critical thought to how it would actually be used.
Even while integrating all of these ideas, the piece remains linked to the theme of extrusion.
There are many points of intersection, and yet the desk still manages to feel open and inviting.
Using a saturated shade of yellow as the accent color, a color often associated with joy and creativity helps Extrude stand out from many other contemporary office furniture designs.
The grid pattern on the top surface evokes precise design work and organization while also providing the sensation of looking at a blank piece of paper, waiting to be filled with notes and ideas.
But why did Sinha make these choices?
Design and construction timeline
The design and construction timeline for Extrude was condensed.
Sinha describes the overlap between design and construction:
“The initial design of the piece took me a month. After that, the design process didn’t stop
for four months. The construction was happening simultaneously with the selection of
materials, colors, and changes in shapes here and there. We were also changing things while procuring materials due to lack of inventory, but that’s how things work. You have to be a little flexible.”
It’s impressive that the piece came together so well, despite this limited timeline and material unavailability.
By the end of the process, Extrude was ready for exhibition, which of course led to multiple awards.
In product design, composition (and especially product silhouette) are core concepts.
When a product can be identified via its silhouette, and only its silhouette, that can be a major advantage in competitive markets, in addition to having purely aesthetic benefits.
But the composition of a physical product in 3D space requires an extra level of thought and attention compared to 2D composition.
Not only will the object be viewed from any number of different angles in 3D space, but the materials used also need to be carefully chosen.
Additionally, desks ultimately take on alterations in appearance based on the person or persons using them. Desks have their own identities upon construction, but in another way, they’re blank slates, too.
On top of all these factors, during the design of Extrude, Sinha re-evaluated which features and spaces of a more traditional desk are actually necessary, which led to a number of innovations, all of which served both function and form.
“I tried removing a lot of elements like drawers and shelves that nobody really uses. They just
become places that accumulate junk. To create a composition, you need to somehow connect things together. I was playing around with these different shapes, and as I progressed, these different elements started creating this beautiful asymmetrical ecosystem. All the utilitarian elements got integrated into the silhouette of the piece.”
In its finished state, Extrude presents an asymmetric design in which the usefulness of each major component is readily apparent.
It presents its own ideas while also leaving room for interpretation and personalization.
Changing work, changing workplace
It’s no secret that work itself, and our relationship to it, has been evolving significantly in recent decades.
The evidence of this process of evolution is extensive. Offices and office work have undergone several major changes, including the general abandonment of traditional cubicles and the disappearance of once-common business casual and business formal dress codes.
The tools of the office worker have changed as well, with portable computers being one of the most obvious examples.
The shared conception of the ideal workspace and living space has also shifted toward a version of minimalism.
“The table’s footprint is pretty small, and that’s because people now prefer flexibility and portability. The invention of laptops has totally changed the way we work. Another thing that has changed is that a lot of people have started living more minimally. I believe that if you give too much space, most of the time it just gets filled with stuff that nobody uses.”
Consider also that, for many, workspaces are no longer separated from personal living spaces.
Working remotely wasn’t just a quarantine necessity. 2020 gave various industries, companies, and employees the chance to assess the effectiveness of remote working conditions.
Will full-time remote work be the best option for every employee? Probably not. But it wouldn’t be at all surprising if more companies started to offer employees a choice between time spent in the office and working remotely.
Though Extrude would function very well in an office environment (and look good doing it), it would excel in a home workspace for the reasons Sinha has mentioned.
Extrude has an open feel, its major design elements have clear utility, and it doesn’t give the worker places to accumulate unnecessary materials.
Just compare Extrude to the highly structured and segmented desks of decades past. Even the relatively simple desks popular in the United States in the 1940s were saddled with large banks of drawers that were basically destined to be filled with piles of disorganized materials.
Extrude isn’t just looking to the future, it’s also looking to the present, where professionals are in need of highly functional workspace furniture that stays pleasant and clean over the long haul.
Another clear aspect of this design is its sense of playfulness. The colors used for the different components give Extrude a more welcoming look and feel compared to other modern desks, which are often cast in a single neutral color.
Neutrals are versatile and “quiet” but they rarely contribute to a piece of furniture’s personality.
Extrude immediately gives off a positive vibe, which aligns well with another signature aspect of contemporary workplace culture: the emphasis on work-life balance, a playful, relatively casual work environment, and flexibility.
It seems companies want offices to feel professional but not overly so.
Major tech companies have included rest spaces and lounges in their offices. Employees are invited to personalize their spaces.
Extrude displays a keen understanding of attitudes toward work and workspaces, and even though it’s not currently being sold, it offers a tempting and useful update to one of the most common workplace tools in the world.