Behind The Showroom Design: A Q&A With The Team Behind Our NeoCon Showroom
We sat down to interview Lucas Pearl, Watson’s Vice President of Product Development, and Rachel Whitaker, Watson’s Lead Industrial Designer and Design Manager, to uncover the secrets and insights behind the creation of this year's NeoCon showroom. From initial concept to final execution, we'll explore the inspirations and design philosophies that drove the development of this remarkable space.
Could you introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit about your role and work in the industry?
Lucas: My name is Lucas Pearl, I'm the VP of Product Development for Watson Furniture and my role in this year's NeoCon showroom was a little bit of a 'history teller' of what we've done in the past, helping envision the direction we'd like to go this year, and participating in the design process through offering critiques, advice, hopes, and dreams.
Rachel: I'm Rachel Whitaker, the Design Manager at Watson. This year I co-led the development of the layout for the space, working closely with the product development team and executing the modified products in the showroom, which we have quite a lot of this year. I also led the finish selection and collaborated with marketing on product messaging locations within the space.
What went into this year’s design? What was your approach?
Lucas: This year, we wanted to make sure we did something a little different, and pretty quickly jumped on the idea of, well, what if this space was really a functional office? You know, the questions that, frankly, we think about, and applied to our showroom, making sure we could tell a story of how our products work.
Rachel: Together, as Lucas mentioned, we took a new approach to the space and chose to focus on highlighting solutions rather than static products. Really, intentionally blending solutions across the product families to mimic that real office environment.
Lucas: Playing with all the different ideas of a heads-down workspace, team collaborative spaces, small team meeting spaces, private office spaces, and larger conferencing spaces. You'll see them all. I think it's a really successful application of Watson products, and incorporating studio or modified products. Showing the power that we have when we're vertically integrated as an agile manufacturer.
What products and details do you want to make sure shine through?
Rachel: The things we wanted to make sure we were taking into consideration were showing the craft and the various finishes and edge options. For example, the metal cladding on the Miro credenza and that striking clear coat finish. Making sure we're representing edge options and some of the most unique design features of our products.
Lucas: Aside from the central story, there are some product stories that we wanted to make sure we could highlight. We're introducing a refreshed version of our Tonic product line and we're going to be showing a new table line -hinting at what future products can look like. There’s always a checklist in the back of our minds - 'Do we have Miro in there? Do we have Essential in there? Do we have Edison in there?' All these things blended nicely with Rachel's design work to build out a space that does check the simple box of ‘everything is present,’ but that's not what you come away with. You don't come away with, ‘Oh, yeah, they just have one of everything.’ You come away with a story about how people can work, how people have a desk in this space, and how they have a home base. They have a team base, they have a collaboration area. So by combining our products in an intentional way, we really help them sing together.
How did you ensure the space feels more like a unified setting instead of a disparate set of products? How does it account for various working styles?
Rachel: We wanted to focus on the different work modes that our product can support, beginning by identifying the different functional needs and features that we wanted to showcase. We want it to feel like a unified space. We began with the core palette of woodgrain, laminates, and fabrics and then introduced additional tones through solid surfaces and powder coat finishes.
Lucas: Our showroom is designed with different work modes in mind. There are spaces where you're going to be able to imagine there’s a person that works at this desk - they have a picture of their family, they have a picture of their dog. There are going to be spaces where you can imagine this is the place you can sit for your 20 minutes between meetings. This is to check a couple of emails. This is the quick transition space. And then there will be spaces that are all about, ‘So here's where you come if you're in the office one to two days a week.’ We'll be able to tell these different stories for a fully in-the-office sort of company, a hybrid company, and those that are more and more remote - there will be options within the showroom. We want to be able to tell these stories of changes in the office environment, of people coming back to the office after the pandemic. Different requirements are necessary depending on different company cultures.
Rachel: We created a few intentional zones within the space that showcase different user needs that may exist. There is no one perfect workstation, but we're showing, as Lucas mentioned, kind of a range of scales of solutions such as supporting the different storage needs, shared storage, or resources for a team. We wanted to feature a range of solutions from individual to collaborative work and highlight the flexibility of products. An example would be the refresh Tonic Workbench. To me, it's not a static solution. Having the flexibility of those infills to come out and changing the functionality of the space is a strength of the Tonic Workbench. Something we wanted to carry through with the refresh is to increase the flexibility of that system and make sure that it's fully functional with the different applications that it can support.
Flexibility and versatility are big themes this year. What things are you excited about that support those qualities?
Lucas: What you'll find throughout the space is all our furniture is freestanding. From the monitors that are mounted to our products to the large storage installations, or larger storage installations, the freestanding workbenches, the Edison Rail, and Essential Desks and C9 Desks - all of this is freestanding. It's all built around the idea that as your office needs change, you're not having to bring in engineers, builders, or architects to redesign what your space can be, it can be done at the facilities and individual level. They can move and shift as requirements change within an organization. We have a story that is the entire showroom. We can build upon these conversations with anyone who comes in around what they're looking for, what we're providing, how we can answer the different work mode solutions that they may be interested in, we can talk at the detailed product level, we can talk at the interesting finish level, we can talk at the overall product story, and we can really lean into the fact that we believe the office is here to stay. We believe in the power of relationships that are formed within an office, we think it's important for people.
Rachel: I think I'm most excited just to see how our overall approach to product and blending products will be received because it's quite a departure from what we've done in the past. I think it will help to connect the dots for designers to think beyond one specific collection that we offer and see what Watson can solve across the office. We don't solve for everything, but we have really compelling options for a lot of key areas within the office. From something as simple as removing grommets from an open storage piece to incredibly complex solutions involving blending multiple pieces together so they look seamless. I don't know what level of feedback we'll get, but I’m looking forward to seeing people's reactions to some of those unique approaches we're taking with studios.
Can you speak more about studio products? And any other new products we can expect to see?
Lucas: What's exciting about our studio process is that to the uninitiated, they wouldn’t be able to tell these products are not a design of any different build integrity than our standard products. It's a testament to the designers and engineers that are behind the studio product that they turn out just as good as everything else.
Rachel: We'll have quite a lot of standard products, and we'll have a fair amount of modified studio products, but we're also introducing a prototype this year, hoping to get feedback. It's a workbench that we're in development for right now. We're really excited about it and look forward to getting feedback at the show.
What about the showroom do you think will resonate with the A&D community?
Rachel: One thing I think the A&D community will be excited about this year when they come into the showroom is seeing our commitment to developing and continually refining function-first products that are adapting to their evolving needs and blending together cohesively, and the opportunities for how they can take what they see in the showroom and apply those directly to their projects going forward.
Lucas: Hopefully the A&D community can come to our space and have a warm, inviting time. They can understand that our products work across work modes and different design aesthetics, but they leave thinking that we are who we say we are when we talk about product and function, and about product being understated. That they don't leave thinking ‘Oh wow. Did everyone go see that icon of a product?’ but they leave thinking, ‘That was well put together. I could see myself working there.’
What do you hope visitors will walk away with?
Rachel: I hope the key takeaway for the design community when they come to the showroom is that Watson has so much more to offer than simply conference tables or static workstations. We really can solve throughout the office, or we have products that can fulfill their needs across the office space.
Lucas: If people could leave with one thing from our showroom, I think it would be a sense that we are who we say we are. When we say we're glad they're here, we mean it. We believe in an office with your coworkers, it's all about relationships. I believe we believe that the A&D community are our coworkers. In some sense, I want to be able to forge those relationships with them and be a trusted partner by showing them that we know what we're talking about, that our products do fit their functional needs, and that they can leave with the thought that, ‘Yeah, I trust these people. I understand where they're coming from. I understand what they offer.’ I want them to be glad they came through. I want the whole showroom to feel like the icon I don't want. Last year we had a 20-foot height-adjustable conference table, right in the dead center and that was the icon of the showroom. This year I want people to come away with the idea that the whole showroom was not just the best products that they saw, but that was the best showroom that they saw.