“Work is always about context,” says John Hamilton, Director of Global Design, Coalesse.
There’s no escaping it. The work we do, wherever we are, is always influenced by what’s going on around us, both in our immediate workplace context—team, tools, tasks, goals, workspaces—and in our broader geographic and cultural setting.
This broader context includes the city, region and culture in which we live and do our work. In a word, it’s a sense of place.
It’s this idea—that the spirit and style of the place around us inspires and influences our work—that we’d like to briefly examine.
How does culture inspire our work?
Think about some of our great American cities and the culture that defines them. Yes, New York and Los Angeles may spring to mind first. But also consider New Orleans, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, Boston, Denver and beyond.
Think about the city’s architecture, food, music, cultural traditions, transportation, technology and natural surroundings—all of the elements that make a place a place.
The style and spirit of the place where we find ourselves has a profound influence on the work we do and how we do it—whether that be a spirit of innovation, an attitude of possibility, a culture of diversity, or a commitment to history or philanthropy or the environment.
As we create, explore and problem-solve, we draw on our place-based environment, surroundings and experiences. The thinking that inspires our work is shaped by the world around us.
For entrepreneurs, place is particularly important because of the need for an ecosystem of people and organizations to rely on. According to the Babson Entrepreneur Experience Lab, cultural context is a key driver for start-ups.
“Around the country, entrepreneurs cited numerous examples of what makes for a great environment. Along with networks, capital and mentorship, all mention cultural aspects of the place where they’re building their ventures,” the Boston-area organization reports. “In places like Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and Austin, the culture of entrepreneurship is visible in the environment.”
Organizations don’t exist in a vacuum, and the “feel” of a place matters as nearly much as the resources that exist in the area.
Organizational example: Scape
Scape is a social design company based in Amsterdam. The firm helps companies build relationships with their communities through experiences that bring a brand’s purpose or personality to life, according to Jeff Povlo, Scape’s founder.
Formerly of Atlanta, Povlo chose to set up his company in Amsterdam because he loved the city’s creative spirit.
“We love the energy of Amsterdam. We also like the approach that Amsterdam takes towards creativity and to development. Within the city, they’re always looking at how to make it better,” he said. “That kind of creative spirit is something that really connects with us.” To hear more from Povlo, view this video.
The Amsterdam-based Scape team has a collaborative workspace that feeds off the energy of the city outside its windows. At the front of the studio, a circle of Hosu Lounge Chairs is bathed in natural light. In a conference room (not pictured), SW_1 Lounge Chairs promote active, relaxed postures that complement the way the team works. The space, said Povlo, “helps the philosophy of the company come to life.”
Product example: LessThanFive Chair
Innovation often finds inspiration in the wider world. We naturally apply ideas from the surrounding environment to our own work. Coalesse has an example of this phenomenon in our seating product line: the tough, lightweight LessThanFive Chair.
Introduced in 2016, LessThanFive is a 100-percent carbon fiber chair whose name reflects its under-5-pound weight. Though carbon fiber is a staple of the automotive and sporting goods industries, it’s rare in office furniture. LessThanFive shows what can happen when a team brings cultural influences—in this case, the influence of the high-performance West Coast bicycle world—to bear on its work.
The chair’s material properties invite customers to do the same. Because the surface of the chair can be appliquéd with virtually any graphic image or pattern, it’s completely customizable. Customers can let the spirit of their own context inspire their furniture design.
Their familiarity with San Francisco’s tattoo culture inspired the Coalesse Design Group to find a way to apply tattoos to the LessThanFive chair. This chair with custom-applied art was part of a set on display in our Chicago showroom.
How does the culture of your city or region inspire your work?