Invention and innovation are often confused, but there’s a stark difference between the two: invention is common, but innovation is genius. Likewise, a myriad of products is introduced to market every year, but few are truly pioneering and hold the promise of market transformation.
Relaxing Floors by Mohawk Group is one of those rare products that falls into the latter category and became an instant standout when it was introduced at NeoCon earlier this year.
To develop this groundbreaking new product line, Mohawk reached out to husband-and-wife team Martin and Anastasija Lesjak of 13&9 to collaborate on another launch after successfully working together on other collections.
Mohawk Group’s Relaxing Floors collection employs evidence-based design to reduce stress levels of building occupants.
“We had worked with Martin and Ana on previous collections including Moving Floors and several other ones that have been really successful in driving design and information into the marketplace,” says Jackie Dettmar, vice president of commercial product development and design for Mohawk. “We had approached them back in 2017 about doing another round of products, and at the time I challenged them with [the idea that] we want to do something geared towards the multi-segment workplace, specifically, and at the time we were looking at the hard surface category. Basically, that’s where it started.”
The story behind the carpet collection took a dramatic turn early on and led the design team on a journey in which art, science and human-centered design converged.
The Marriage of Art & Science
The 13&9 team wanted to develop a floor product with greater relevance. “When you’re thinking about society in general and what we are facing in workplace design, we wanted to address some of the biggest challenges and issues of our time that come with digitalization and globalization,” Martin Lesjak explains.
(Photo: The chillD fractal pattern employs a triangular segment-shaped seed as a basis for the design.)
Specifically, 13&9 was interested in exploring the relationship between urbanization and human health and wellbeing, noting that people who live in cities often lose their connection to nature. This disconnect is compounded by continuous exposure to digitization that has been shown to increase people’s stress levels.
As a result, 13&9 focused their research on biophilia—not merely at a surface level for marketing purposes (akin to “greenwashing”)—but to truly understand the link between people and nature and the implications for the built environment.
“We were really interested in the true connection between space and people that use the space and looking at human-centered design, where we research, discover and analyze the relationship between people, things and design,” Ana Lesjak says.
mellowD pattern courtesy of 13&9 Design and Fractals Research
The team wanted to know not only why people find a product aesthetically pleasing, but also, why a particular pattern might induce a sense of relaxation. “This is how everything started,” Ana recalls. “This is how the story board actually happened.”
[Related: Technology Reshapes the Future, But Human Element Remains Front and Center]
Serendipitously, 13&9 discovered the work of Richard Taylor, professor of physics, psychology and art at the University of Oregon, and founder of Fractals Research, who conducted studies for NASA to help reduce stress levels in astronauts while in space.
In his research, Taylor uncovered fractal patterns occurring in nature that result in positive physiological responses when people observe them.
“I’ve been studying natural patterns for years, and I’ve always been amazed at how profound the effect is on somebody,” Taylor says. “It’s been known for a very long time that there are very positive consequences of looking at natural patterns, but I’ve also been surprised how people haven’t really nailed down precisely what it is when you look at nature what’s triggering those effects. And that’s where my research came in, that I’d identified these fractal patterns in nature that are triggering all of these amazing responses that reduce your stress levels by up to 60%.”
The mellowD pattern features a line-shaped seed fractal that repeats at different magnifications.
His conclusions help explain why people recover more quickly from surgery in hospitals when they have views to nature, for example. They also helped create the framework around which Relaxing Floors was built upon.
But having the right partnerships in place for this unique collaboration between science, art and product design is what ultimately made the collection successful, Taylor says. “I knew that it would have to be the right set of people because it was going to be this sort of art-science project, so it had to be people who were very creative and flexible and very collaborative,” he explains. With Taylor, 13&9 and Mohawk on board, they had found the perfect match to bring Relaxing Floors to market.
From left: Professor Richard Taylor, Jackie Dettmar, Anastasija Lesjak and Martin Lesjak.
Beauty Is in the Details
The design team developed proprietary software using algorithms to map the fractal patterns uncovered in Taylor’s research, which was then translated into a visual language that forms the basis for the Relaxing Floor collection. The patterns in the collection give people’s eyes a break from the digital world and deliver the essence of nature to the contract-built environment, resulting in proven stress-reductive qualities.
Two styles within the 12-by-36-inch carpet plank collection mimic the eye movements that take place as people view natural scenery. Using specific scientific parameters, the team “grew” mid-complexity fractals using the software that correlate with stress reduction.
restD pattern courtesy of 13&9 Design and Fractals Research.
Fractals with midrange complexity, as measured on a parameter scale labeled D, are the most common in natural scenery. Style mellowD utilizes a line-shaped seed which repeats at different magnifications, while chillD employs a triangular segment-shaped seed.
The restD plank style, together with coordinating Connecting Neurons Definity broadloom, builds on the University of Oregon’s studies of fractal-based electronics. These electronics have the capability to connect to the eye’s neurons, which under a microscope look like miniature trees with fractal branches and glow red due to a fluorescent dye.
(Photo: The design team developed proprietary software using algorithms to map the fractal patterns uncovered in Prof. Richard Taylor’s research which was then translated into a visual language that forms the basis for the Relaxing Floor collection.)
The neuron formations are then transformed into outline patterns using the research on stress-reductive fractals to provide a literal translation. Completing the Relaxing Floors collection is Fractal Ground, which offers a coordinating organic groundcover visual in a 12-by-36-inch plank format.
The collection’s carpet plank styles are manufactured to achieve stringent Living Product Challenge Petal Certification and have a net positive impact for people and the environment through innovations in materials, manufacturing and community involvement initiatives.
Seeing the Big Picture
The implications for this type of evidence-based product development is far reaching. In healthcare facilities, for example, specifying products that can measurably reduce stress in patients may result in better medical outcomes. Stress reduction can also be invaluable in educational settings and the workplace, where productivity and disengagement continue to be a challenge.
chillD fractal courtesy of 13&9 Design and Fractals Research
Dettmar notes that designers are already asking Mohawk if they can write the fractal dimension into their specifications to help them meet health, safety and welfare criteria for stress reduction. “I think [the collection] has huge implications for the whole specification market,” she says. “People are hungry for the knowledge and the validity of the science behind it. It’s going to lead us in creating better products and better environments.”
Martin says this is “just the beginning” of products that will adopt fractal qualities to the benefit of occupants. Further, he suggests the multidisciplinary approach and science behind Relaxing Floors can extend well beyond product design.
“I think it’s just a good example of how we can find a really rare and innovative solution that helps our work and our society when we join forces with other disciplines where science, architecture and design and an ambitious manufacturer create something that makes the world a better place—and it’s not just a saying.”
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