A Vision of the Future

by Janet Wiens

Companies in the design industry invest millions of dollars and countless hours each year to bring new products to market and revitalize existing offerings. Kimball Office's investment in Vision, the company's brand new materials platform, appropriately illustrates this point. Rolling out in three separate phases over the course of two years, Vision is an ambitious revamping of the company's textile and surfacing offerings, all made possible by research, collaboration and a sizable bankroll.

Georgy Olivieri, director of architecture, design and sustainability strategies for Kimball Office, says that company officials saw a two-fold need when they began the process of reviewing its surface materials platform. "We realized that we had not done an overall refresh of this part of our business in many years. The economy was also a major factor. A number of our existing vendors had gone out of business. We needed to develop relationships with strong, financially sound vendors with excellent design and manufacturing capabilities."

Olivieri says that the undertaking also coincided with an overall strategy developed by company executives that focuses on working more closely with architects and designers to support end-users.

Executives at Kimball Office selected Eva Maddox and Eileen Jones of international architecture and design firm Perkins + Will to help develop the new platform. "It was an easy decision to choose them for this effort," says Olivieri. "We knew that their process and ultimate recommendations would give us deliverable, actionable results and that they would bring that commitment to all phases of this comprehensive project."

The Vision collection's rollout began in late 2010, with the introduction of over 70 highly acclaimed panel and seating textiles. The second phase, wood veneers and finishes, premiered at NeoCon this year, and will be followed by the launch of the platform's final phase, laminates and paints, at NeoCon 2012.

"We started with textiles because we saw that as the biggest need," says Olivieri. "To achieve the success we wanted, we enlisted the talents of some of the best designers and manufacturers in the industry, a commitment that will continue as the Vision collection grows. Each design and manufacturing partner must have outstanding capabilities in their respective area, including a commitment to sustainability and to meeting our delivery requirements."

The textiles portion of the Vision collection features fabrics from Maharam, Carnegie, KnollTextiles and Mayer Fabrics, in addition to the company's own offerings. The design team identified textiles with both today's market preferences and future trends in mind. As a result, the collection includes a range of classic colors, solid textures, stripes, leather and faux leather, and small, medium and large patterns. The line also includes 19 healthcare-specific fabrics with a variety of antimicrobial, bleach-cleanable and moisture-barrier attributes.

Eileen Jones, design principal at Perkins + Will, says that Kimball Office presented their team with some goals, while others were developed by all team members after the two companies joined forces. "Our primary goal was to create a materials collection with finishes and a color platform to support the company's brand, customers and growth markets," she says. "Other key goals included integrating the platform to align with potential new product directions, designing for longevity and reducing the number of materials offered to address sustainability requirements."

The platform's development spanned two years, and included visioning and research sessions; an external review of competitor offerings; a thorough analysis of the information that was gathered; crafting of the program and aligning partnerships with key vendors; and the final selection and development of individual designs.

Jones says that the collection features two important components: a core group of finishes and a trends category that will be refreshed on a three-year basis. "Some designs within the collection will have an eight- to 10-year life, while others will be available for a shorter time. Vision will be continually updated in response to the needs of the marketplace."

"Officials at Kimball Office did a great deal of soul searching in bringing Vision to market," Jones adds. "The comprehensive nature of this project was fueled by the creative energy and expertise of all team members, and the desire to do the right thing was integral in every aspect of this effort."

Part of "doing the right thing" meant committing to sustainability. High-quality and environmentally friendly textiles were used, and most materials are crafted from recycled polyester or rapidly renewable materials, including cotton and wood. Fabrics are certified by either Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) or the McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) Cradle to Cradle standard.

The wood veneer and finishes portion of the Vision Collection includes 10 new and three existing wood finishes, and will be available this fall. Both Olivieri and Jones note that the strong connection between individual designs in the two segments of the collection that have already premiered will continue into the design and launch of the laminate and paint portion of the collection in 2012. Visit Kimball Office at www.kimballoffice.com or Perkins + Will at www.perkinswill.com for more information.

Janet Wiens is a freelance writer based in Memphis, Tenn. She was formerly a marketing manager for HNTB and now works with industry clients to address their marketing and public relations needs. She can be reached at jwiens@bellsouth.net.