Where Design Meets Tech
3rd January 2020
Furniture that combines digital technology has for a long time been a bit of a curiosity. If you grew up watching Star Trek, it’s the stuff of science fiction made real: tables with interactive menus built in, chairs that change their structure to suit your body shape and advertising that allows you to place items in your home using augmented reality. It’s all very ‘Blade Runner’!
While consumers may have readily welcomed technology into their everyday lives in the form of phones, tablets, watches and other smart hardware; high-tech furniture has lagged behind, however. However, the new wave of furniture-tech could be poised to change all that.
Back in 2008, pan-Asian restaurant Inamo launched in London with ground-breaking technology as their USP. Interactive projections on table tops let diners place orders, draw, play games, or even view a live camera feed from the kitchen. An award-winning destination restaurant, Inamo boasts a celebrity clientele and has appeared as a reality TV location on Made In Chelsea and The Apprentice.
Inamo was ahead of the curve on the potential for technology to be integrated into fixtures and fittings and their interactive tables have remained a novelty in the restaurant industry for the best part of a decade. Looking at recent development in smart furniture though, it seems that the story in our homes is finally catching up fast.
We can all agree, this would be 100x better if there were less photos and more food on the tabletop...
The Home Office
Working hours are steadily on the increase, with Britons reportedly putting in the longest shifts of all EU citizens (boo!). Meanwhile the boom in flexible working and freelancing means that an increased proportion of this work time is being spent at home, leading to more people looking to buy office furniture to make sure their home office space is as efficient and ergonomic as possible.
Whether a dedicated room or just a well-equipped desk, the evolving interaction between technology and design in furniture means that the digitisation of home working now reaches far beyond the laptop.
We all know too well the risks of sitting too long or in awkward positions and smart technology is increasingly being deployed via office chairs to tackle the scourge of hunched backs and numb rears. Such chairs come with seat sensors that monitor both posture and time spent sitting, information with the chair then analyses and alerts users (through vibration) to correct bad posture and remind them to get up and move around regularly. That’s smart sitting.
Chairs with integrated keyboards have been developed with similar ergonomic goals in mind: keyboards embedded in arm rests allow typing in a natural position that avoids pinch points at wrists and shoulders and reduces the risk of repetitive strain injury.
These high-tech chairs are currently most often seen in home offices, but given the impact of employee health on company profitability, smart office furniture which protects employee wellbeing could well be the future for commercial offices as well.
Catching some zzz's
The trend of recording every scrap of data about ourselves in the pursuit of better self-care shows no sign of slowing. Now that we’re used to counting steps taken, calories consumed and minutes meditated, sleep is the latest daily routine to come under the digital microscope. The latest wave of smart mattresses deliver climate control and customised support to help give a better night’s sleep, as well as monitoring and tracking to give detailed insight into the quality of slumber. You can read more about the smart mattress phenomenon in my last article, here!
Meanwhile with phones and smart watches at our side from the moment we’re out of bed until the minute we slip back under the covers, overnight charging at the bedside is a must. If we can’t leave our phones out of the bedroom as the sleep experts suggest, at least a nightstand with integrated USB ports or a wireless charging spot can make for a less cluttered bedside and a more relaxing view from the pillow.
How else will you bid on obscure American eBay items in the middle of the night?
21st Century Marketing
As well as leading to development of new kinds of smart furniture, technology is also being used in innovative ways to market home furnishings. Rendering is commonly used in architectural design to help clients visualise what a building still in the design phase will look like once it’s constructed, and this same technology is now being harnessed by furniture manufacturers and retailers to market interior furnishings.
Creative digital agency Orbital Vision is at the forefront of development in this area. They’ve invested in their technology to develop tools that generate photorealistic 3D models of products in a home setting, replacing traditional photoshoots with a much faster, more flexible and ultimately cheaper way to showcase products to amazing effect.
Your dream living room awaits...
Computer-aided design has been used in domestic kitchen design for years, but the limits of the software meant that previously it was mostly useful for working out what units would fit where, rather than giving any detail on the finished aesthetic. Leaps ahead in virtual and augmented reality tech has seen VR adopted by more and more furniture retailers to help customers envisage how pieces would look in their own home before they buy. One example is the launch of VR furniture shopping experiences by department store Macy’s across their US outlets, leading to what they have reported is as much as a 60 percent sales increase compared with non-VR furniture sales.
Now that the furniture industry has embraced the possibilities of technology in design and marketing, we’ll no doubt continue to see these kinds of innovation in both product development and retail tools.
As the technology improves and we all become a little more familiar with it, I’m sure that furniture-tech will be in all our homes very soon!