PearsonLloyd Q&A

— 14 May 2020

Luke Pearson and Tom Lloyd talk to us about the value of sustainable, local manufacturing and the future of workplace design.

You have worked with some of the industry’s largest manufacturers; {Walter Knoll, Tacchini, Bene, Senator}, working with Modus means pieces are more crafted than mass produced, what value do you think this brings to the products or to the people that produce them?

Luke: Scale is always interesting and as we look forwards we are really interested in the idea of local. When you mass-produce items in many ways they can be made anywhere and they often are. Building local skills is always a good feeling but it also retains craft skills. These skills are really useful on smaller production runs and when you can offer specials or small alterations, which are client specific.

Tom: In a way, even though the scale of production in the furniture sector can be very different from one factory to the next, apart from highly tooled parts, almost all the work we do is made to order. We are accustomed to understanding and then working with the process, crafts and skills of each factory that we work with. There are many benefits to low investment, high craft production, including a basic level of flexibility in the processes that allow us to develop ranges and ideas iteratively over time in response to customer needs and market trends.

The embodied carbon of a piece of furniture often depends on very simple factors, (energy used to extract raw materials and deliver them to the factory gate, energy used in production, and distance from point of production to end user). What does working with a UK based manufacturer mean to you? 

Luke: Very simply, if big objects are shipped shorter distances the carbon impact is less. That should be everybody’s aim. Draft sofa and tables were really considered from the outset to benefit from local production and making a small package for transport.

Tom: Localised material sourcing, production and distribution have huge environmental advantages and should be celebrated at every turn. Our global world was running out of control, and the Covid-19 event will hopefully reset our relationship with mass global production and consumption. We truly appreciate working with Modus as a home-grown UK manufacturer and see so many reasons why this will be a model for much more production in the future.

Workplace design is something you have been particularly interested in, how do you think behavioural change post COVID-19 (or at least past the worst of the pandemic) will affect furniture design?

Luke: We have spent the last twenty years designing space to be ever more compact and now the influences are utterly different. We have all seen our personal workspace diminish and boundaries disappear but now we will require more space and clearer separation. This wont kill collaborative spaces but it will reframe them (excuse the pun). They will have to work harder still. I think we will also see a blended landscape between home and work and that will shift the aesthetics in both directions. People need a sense of going to work. Additionally from working at home people have learnt which work tools are truly necessary and which are nice to haves.

Tom: I think Covid-19 will have a permanent and positive affect on workplace design. For twenty years we have seen a higher and higher density of employees per m2 and less and less effective working environments. The workbench is now seen as a key factor in lower productivity and workplace stress. All these trends will be thrown out by the pandemic. Home working will become a new reality for all of us in some form or other, lower density workspaces will last beyond the production of a vaccine.

What effect do you feel extended physical distancing might have on our psyches and what can design do to enable shared experience in a distanced world?

Luke: Design is not only a physical outcome, but also a process. Sometimes design is about planning as much as about an individual item or product. As a design studio we miss the tactile nature of a pin up and sketching on paper in front of each other. Not all businesses require this same physical interaction but I think there is a general understanding that the office provides, as much as anything, a decompression and relief from the pressures at home. We need this in order to work. By the same token we physically need to stop work and ‘go home’. We need both. We will need to discover as an organism how to generate this either psychologically or physically in this new, more fragile world.

Tom: I think the affects will be profound. So much that we have taken for granted all our lives has been taken away from us, and our personal freedoms will be curtailed for perhaps years to come. We will surely cherish physical and emotional contact more as it becomes less frequent. I can Imagine new hybrids developing between our digital and physical worlds, which respond to the new normal, which will be long lasting.

What place do you feel circular or doughnut economics has in the rebuilding of our economy?

Luke: Surely it’s the only place. Even before Covid-19 we were all racing towards an inevitable conclusion. We can’t expect to have what we have become accustomed to going forwards. When we started our studio twenty years ago, a return economy trip to Italy was £400. Last year it was possible to do this for £75 or less. It’s obviously not sustainable. The world is fabulously finite and once we have used up the available materials that’s that. Last time I checked only stars can produce more elements….

Tom: A real engagement of circular manufacturing principles was only just being taken seriously in the run up to the pandemic. In the consumption hiatus that we are now experiencing, there is a real opportunity to change the way we design, manufacture and consume what we need and want in our physical world. The responsibility lies with the consumer, the producer and legislators to reframe our consumption of resources from a linear one to a circular one.

Avoiding a return to the treadmill of design shows, how can we most effectively remain current and keep abreast of the latest technological and design-based developments and changing patterns of behaviour?

Luke: For me I think slowing down and doing less, better is a great start. It’s easier than ever to drill down and find out what you want from blogs, online talks, articles etc. Information is not the problem, it’s the insights we draw from the information.

Tom: I think we are all becoming more accustomed to living and working through a digital lens onto the world. This will become much more familiar to us. Our global world has led to global trends and global markets that don't particularly benefit individual users and certainly hurts our planet. Wouldn't It be great to become more local anyway?

We are only just beginning to realise the severity of the consequences of biodiversity loss and our encroachment on the natural world. What role do you think design has to play in rebuilding ecosystems?

Luke: If we source locally, use as little energy as possible and consider material choices to avoid mass farming of single species it’s a good start. Using materials that are local to source and grow is not so easy but it’s how everything used to be done. The impact of making long life product is in many ways the fastest way to make the biggest impact.

Tom: I think the greater responsibility lies in the hands of the consumer and government; the libertarian politics of absolute freedom for individuals is actually highly destructive. We must all learn to cherish what we have and want less. At a product level, designers can make decisions every day that minimise energy consumption and the use of environmentally damaging materials and processes. 

We have recently launched our remanufacturing scheme, ReWork, how can furniture be designed to facilitate refurbishment or remanufacture using the fewest materials and the least energy?

Tom: One of the basic building blocks of circular design is engineering in the ability to assemble and disassemble a product with non-professional tools and little or no instructions. This gives a product the best possible chance to be repaired, refurbished and repurposed over its lifetime, and therefore maximising the useful life of its embedded energy.

There has been a huge wave of bio-based materials coming to the fore in recent years but many of these are impractical from the perspective of scale, what materials would you like to explore in your next designs?

Luke: I’d love to know more about bamboo. It feels like we will lose all the craft skills in favour of mass production but a recent trip to China reminded me how incredibly flexible the material is from a craft perspective.

Tom: I honestly think the future of furniture design is in wood.

Our highest aim is to be producing products that are beneficial to the planet. What eco-effective product would you like to design for Modus?

Luke: A super eco, super comfortable lounge chair that’s beautiful through its construction

Tom: Any product that is still in use in twenty or thirty years’ time.