Geek of the Week

Geek of the Week: Furnishings designer Ethan Pearl on the longer term workplace and the way COVID rearranges all of it

Watson Furniture’s Ethan Pearl is a graduate of the Industrial Design program at the University of Washington. (Watson Furniture Photo)

Six months into a global health crisis that has redefined where and how many of us work, Ethan Pearl is ready to talk about what we’re missing at the office. Specifically, the office furniture designer wants us to reimagine what it will mean to go back, how we can do it safely and where everyone will sit.

As an industrial designer for Poulsbo, Wash.-based Watson Furniture Group, Pearl’s job is to bring ideas to life, sketching, computer modeling and hand crafting physical prototypes. Our latest Geek of the Week is a Pacific Northwest native who graduated from the Industrial Design program at the University of Washington.

“My career started when I was still a college student at UW. I spent two summers as an intern at Watson helping with a variety of tasks, including as the self-appointed ‘VP of Cardboard Engineering,’ due to the many cardboard prototypes I made those summers,” Pearl said. “Since then, I have been given the opportunity to stretch my creative legs and have taken the lead on several projects.”

Among those projects is C9, an open office furniture line that Pearl says “redefines flexibility and space planning to create environments that feel more human to work and live within.” New C9 elements include acrylic desk screens for added protection as well as Olli, a rolling side table, storage locker and seating option that puts wheels to social distancing.

Pearl has received several domestic and international design awards for his work and is now focused on understanding how to apply the products effectively for the new socially distanced office, as companies consider how to get people back to work safely.

Workers engage in a socially distanced meeting aboard their Olli work trolleys. (Watson Furniture Group Photo)

“COVID-19 has proven that we can no longer design for density above all other consideration,” Pearl said. “We must give people the space they need to feel comfortable and to be safe in the office.”

And while the pandemic may have proven that many of us don’t need to be in the office to do our work, Pearl thinks there is still a good reason to get back.

“The answer is obvious. The office is the place that brings people together and fosters connection,” he said. “It is where workers can share ideas, create bonds, learn from one another, and make the decisions that drive progress. Therefore, it must be designed to support these communal activities.”

One of the biggest changes Pearl expects to see is around the idea of the personal desk, where traditionally everyone has been given a space within the office to do their work and store their belongings.

“In the future we may see this personal desk move from the office to the home. Each person may still have a locker of some kind within the office to store their belongings and maintain a foothold,” Pearl said. “However, the rest of the office could then be divided up into shared team space, meeting space, and community areas. This would focus the office on collaboration and community.”

A meeting table from Watson. (Watson Furniture Group Photo)

If he started his own tech company, Pearl says the one piece of furniture he would require everyone to use is a team table with a monitor and webcam to connect with remote workers. The table would provide a spot for people to work effectively with one another while also allowing remote workers to maintain the feel of the team.

As for the current design of tech workspaces, Pearl is a bit over the bright saturated colors, expressive graphics, industrial elements, ping-pong tables, and generally light-hearted atmosphere.

“Personally, I would like to see a shift to more muted and natural tones. A greater focus on rich textures and biophilic elements. All tailored towards creating environments with a more sophisticated and calming vibe,” he said. “The world is in a crazy place right now and perhaps we need more serenity and less playfulness in our workplaces.”

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Ethan Pearl:

What do you do, and why do you do it? I design the tools and spaces that shape the way people work. I think designing office furniture is important, because it plays such a large role in people’s day-to-day life. We spend a third of our lives working, and for many this happens at a piece of furniture. Everything I can do to make that experience a little better, a more comfortable, and a bit more fun will have a huge impact on the people who use it every day for years. I help design the tools that let people create amazing things. I feel happy about that!

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? I think people should realize just how important the environment they spend their time in is. As a designer, I am hyper aware of this. What we surround ourselves by has a huge impact on our lives. A well-designed space, or piece of furniture can do some amazing things. It can help you to concentrate or relax. It can help organize your thoughts and belongings. It can instill a subtle sense of wellbeing and energy. Or, if poorly designed, it can have the opposite effect. It is only by surrounding ourselves by good design, by thoughtfully chosen items that reinforce who we are, that we can truly be our best selves.

Where do you find your inspiration? I search for moments of beauty in the world around me. The color of a leaf, the curve of a bone, the texture of a concrete wall, the lines of a building. I find these moments in nature, in the work of other artists, or even just walking down the street. When I find something that strikes me as beautiful, I seek to understand why I respond to it. What about this object, scene, or space is captivating? I then try to emulate these moments in my work, string them together to form a story, forge them into one cohesive whole that is more than the sum of its parts.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? I am really enjoying my Switch Lite right now. “Breath of the Wild” is one heck of a game, and I love I can pick it up and play anywhere.

Ethan Pearl’s home office set-up. (Photo courtesy of Ethan Pearl)
The workshop at Watson Furniture. (Photo courtesy of Ethan Pearl)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? My favorite spot for computer work is my home office. I love the natural light and being surrounded by my potted plants. Having a second monitor, and a height adjustable desk is also crucial for me. Beyond that, I like a nice surface to spread out my stuff. I like having some clutter; it helps me feel more creative. My favorite spot to create is our workshop at Watson. It is my happy place. It has all the tools I need to make almost anything. But man, it gets HOT in there in the summer.

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) The only thing that keeps me sane is making a point of exercising every day. I especially love to run. I find it calms my mind and helps me think clearer.

Mac, Windows or Linux? We always had a windows machine growing up, and I will confess I can’t make heads or tails of the Mac OS. I do like Mac hardware though. You just can’t beat their design.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? I am more a “Lord of the Rings” fan myself. Can I put a vote in for Merry and Pippen?

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Time machine.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … Start my own design studio.

I once waited in line for … The REI Garage sale is always worth the wait!

Your role models: I really admire the Bouroullec Brothers. They are two French furniture designers who have done some amazing work over the years. I find their work very poetic, and full of emotion.

Greatest game in history: More a race than the game, but the Barkley Marathons. You should all check out the documentary about it on Netflix!

Best gadget ever: Swiss Army Knife.

First computer: Some giant, beige, Dell monstrosity.

Current phone: iPhone 11.

Favorite app: Audible. As of today, I have listened to 3 months, 19 days, 1 hour, and 46 minutes of audio books on this app.

Favorite cause: Planting trees. They sequester carbon, purify air, support ecosystems, and who doesn’t love forests?

Most important technology of 2020: COVID-19 Vaccine (fingers crossed).

Most important technology of 2022: Electric vehicles.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: The world is crazy these days, but don’t forget to enjoy the little things. They are what make life worth living.

Website: Watson Furniture

Twitter: @WatsonFG

LinkedIn: Ethan Pearl

Related Articles

Trả lời

Email của bạn sẽ không được hiển thị công khai. Các trường bắt buộc được đánh dấu *