11/07/2023 • 6 min read

2 Questions for the Haworth DesignLab Artists

Discover their diverse perspectives on the office and who inspires them

by Haworth, Inc.

Haworth DesignLab was created to bring new ideas, design diversity, and desirability to life by partnering with talented designers and artists. The collective looks beyond our industry to find potential innovation for the ever-changing world—challenging expectations and setting new standards for where we work.

Haworth Design Studio collaborated with Patricia Urquiola to select 5 Haworth DesignLab participants and curate experimental and future-focused concepts. These 5 emerging artists and designers bring their graphic, art, sculpture, interior, and product designs to the initiative through unexpected, emotive, and immersive experiences:

  • Bradley L Bowers
  • Brian Wooden
  • Eny Lee Parker
  • Maximiliano Rosiles
  • Chrissy Fehan from Pophouse

To get to know them better, we sat down with each designer for an informal chat. We learned about their personal histories and backgrounds and gained insights into their unique design perspectives.

We also asked them to tell us about their individual views on the office experience, as well as the people who inspire them. Their responses highlight the diversity of thought these emerging artists bring to the Haworth DesignLab collective. 

Q: Have you ever worked in an office, and what's your opinion of offices in general?

Bradley L Bowers:  I had quite a few experiences in offices when I first dipped my toe into being a professional designer. I was still an undergrad when I was given the opportunity to do a co-op in Cincinnati. It was a very small group of designers. Even though we were in cubicles, we were always in the same small area, and you could walk over and lean over someone's cubicle. It was very communal.  

After that, I worked for a big-name design house on their department store brand. Because it was their more value-centered brand, we weren't in the main headquarters, where there were mahogany staircases and velvet runners—it's very luxurious. Our office was across the street. We were what I called “the misfits” because the space looked like some sort of prison. But again, it was a small group of people. Even though the context was a little depressing, the energy of the space saved it from being an absolute nightmare.   

Then, right before I started my own studio, I worked for an Ecuadorian furniture company out of Miami. That was the least “office cubicle” space I'd been in. It was essentially a showroom, with the designer sitting in the back. We were among the furniture being sold. Customers would be walking in and out, and I would just sit at my computer designing the new collection.   

Finally, I worked for two Swedish brothers who had an art moving and shipping company in Miami as their creative and brand director. I was sitting in the warehouse. The shippers were pulling paintings off the truck, wrapping them and shipping them, and I'm sitting there on my computer doing my creative work. So, I think I've run the gamut of weird spaces to work in.  

Brian Wooden: So, the office in general, just like in “Office Space?” I worked in one during my internship. I think it was my senior year of college. It was an ad agency. I was doing all the motion graphics. It was one of those offices where it was so boring that they tried to throw in some Nerf guns, and they're like, “We're fun now, right?” It was as basic and vanilla as you can really get with an office.

I don't have a ton of office experience, so I have a split idea in my head of office spaces. I have the default of cold lighting. Cubicles. Super boring. Then there's all these big tech companies building bird nests and tree houses in the middle of their office spaces—really trying to make it fun and doing stuff like that. It made sense that these companies were trying to make people more interested in being in this space, where they spend so much of their lives. So that's really exciting to see.   

[With my work], I find that the answer comes from a kind of inner-child component. That's why a lot of my work is very bright, bold primary colors—almost representative of children's building blocks. I'm trying to recreate that feeling of just being a little kid and improvising with these building blocks and stacking them and not really knowing what you're doing. All of a sudden, you have this big crazy structure. That was so exciting to me as a little kid. That's a huge part of where my inspiration comes from. If I could incorporate that into a space, that would be super exciting. That would be a space I would want to spend a lot of time in. If I want to spend my time there, then probably some other people might want to, too. It’s how you talk about space and the intersection of relationships and people being in that space.   

For these companies with an infinite amount of money and spaces where people are needing to be in [the office] all the time, there's the practicality versus fun—that Yin and Yang balance. We can design this completely ergonomically and have it optimized for human productivity, and paint the walls with a color that has been tested to improve cognitive function or whatever. That’s the Yin. Then the Yang would be this wild space where there's all this room for creative expression, and there are instruments and toys to play with and games. Having a little bit of the Yang would get that balance in there.   

I would go for a little more Yang, which just makes spaces fun. You have work to get done, but it's nice to be in a joyful spirit, right? Make it a playground for grown-ups. I think people are realizing it's not just like blank cubicles anymore—that the office doesn't have to be taken so seriously. You can have a lot more fun with it. If people are excited to be in that space, then they're going to have more energy, and that energy can be used for whatever they need to do.

I don't necessarily have a prediction, but I hope that because people are realizing that we don't need to be in the office space all the time, that's going to incentivize companies to either make the office spaces more fun so people will want to come in, or they're going to say, “We don't really need to spend that much time in this office space anymore.”   

Eny Lee Parker: To be honest, I have never worked in an office space before. When I was in grad school, we were assigned some office space with tables. There was a conference room and our workspaces. That was really nice and still felt flexible—someplace where people would come and go. But the space design was very divided. We all had a little personality on our desks and our walls, and so on.   

[Today], we work in a studio type of environment. I have a big black desk that I share with my teammate John, and we mostly use it for our computers. It's quite messy. It's a large surface where we can see the whole studio. It's just a really massive studio, and there's stuff everywhere. We're constantly juggling between projects and orders, so it's hard to keep everything organized, but I try my best.

I would love it if it stayed clean and organized—which is not very easy in the studio—so it is really hard for me to focus. Normally, I will try to work from home, or I will go to a coworking space that's not distracting with people everywhere. I only have my laptop and a coffee, so I almost feel the need to perform and just work instead. If I'm home and there are many things happening, I have to juggle them. In the studio, it's nice for me to go check in on projects, but it's always more like management, rather than a routine that I would like to keep. 

Maximiliano Rosiles: I have worked in [an office] and found it uninspiring because it wasn’t visually stimulating enough. I need a lot of stimulation to get inspired. My mind follows my mood and my intuition. I'm constantly working in different mediums or industries. I always have to be inspired and stimulated, so I don’t get distracted by something else. I like to have my structured days and go to the studio to do my desk work, but I'm constantly thinking about various projects. When I worked for a textile manufacturing company managing production, I had an office where I felt [too] secluded from everything. I like to have it open enough that I can collaborate with other people, but also have the freedom to make the space mine.  

Chrissy Fehan from Pophouse: I work in an office for my 9-to-5 job. I actually work at Pophouse, a Detroit-based commercial interior design firm, and we design offices. So, I'd say I have a really good impression of [offices], but each office is different for each landscape, company, and their culture. When I'm in the office, I like to focus on really collaborative work and stuff that you can’t necessarily do at home. Over the course of the pandemic, things shifted from coming in 40 hours a week to coming in when it's going to be super-collaborative work. Anything heads-down, we're doing at home. That feels like all those social moments should happen together, so the culture continues to grow and manifest that way.

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Q: If you could host a dinner with any 3 designers—past or present—who would you invite?  

Bradley L Bowers:  Zaha Hadid, Greg Lynn, and Nina Simone.

Zaha Hadid is someone who genuinely has split the world into sectors: all of the architecture that existed before her and all of it that exists after her. There's no way that you can erase her from history. So, I would love to be in the presence of that. And, according to some interviews, she is very good at practical jokes, which I think would be fun.  

Greg Lynn is a phenomenal architect. He is my icon. I'm inspired by him, maybe more than I am by Zaha's work. He's found a way to speak about high-level concepts like physics and architecture in a language that anyone can understand without feeling condescended to. That's what I've spent my entire career trying to do.   

There are very few musicians or singers or performers who can take something that was not originally theirs and transform it completely, like Nina Simone. She's not going to do arias and vocal runs. She's not Whitney Houston, but when she sings a piece, it's just bare and it gets you. I try to achieve that with my work. I'm not trying to be perfect, but I want you to look at it and go, “Okay, this is full of something.”

Those 3 people at a table, with me just glued to the wall watching, would be dynamic. It would be explosive, and it would get weird, crazy, and maybe hilarious. It would be a lot.   

Brian Wooden: I wouldn't want it to be a room of just visual artists or designers because I think there'd be a lot of egos involved, and I've worked with a lot of artists before where we just do not get along. So, I think it would be artists from different disciplines.  

This is probably so obvious and cliché, but Picasso would have to be up there. It's cliché for a reason. Yeah, my dude, Pablo, he'd be in there for sure.   

A skateboarder named Rodney Mullen, who's like one of the godfathers of skateboarding. He invented the kickflip and everything that makes skateboarding what it is. You have to be an artist to figure out how to do that stuff with a piece of wood under your feet. And he's just a really sweet, soft-spoken dude. He's still skateboarding [today], which is insane.   

And then third would be John Kricfalusi, the guy who animated “Ren & Stimpy.” I think I'm an animator at heart because I love listening to animators talk. The language in which they describe their work… just resonates with me so much.   

Eny Lee Parker:  Isamu Noguchi, because he's brilliant and has worked with so many fantastic artists.  

Xavier Corberó is an incredible Spanish artist. He has this quirky personality, and I'm a big fan of his work.  

Solange Knowles is great because she does everything from music to staging to products to composing. Her mind is really alluring to me.   

I don't think I would cook for this dinner, but I would like to make all the plate settings. I would curate everything, but then let a professional handle the food and the wine. It would have to be somewhere cute and small and low-key in Brooklyn.   

Maximiliano Rosiles: For designers, it would be Charles O. Perry, Isamu Noguchi, and Virgil Abloh. For artists, I would pick Senga Nengudi, Jacob Lawrence, and Doris Salcedo. The dinner would definitely be in a home situation with unpretentious food like pizza and wings. There would be passionate debates and conversations.   

Chrissy Fehan from Pophouse: The 3 designers I would love to have dinner with are Patricia Urquiola, of course; Zaha Hadid; and Alessandro Michele, the creative director for Gucci. What I love about it is you have [Zaha, an] architecture icon; Patricia, who's designed everything; and then [there is Alessandro,] this very avant garde designer for Gucci. I think that the gathering would be very, very unique, but also very funny and lighthearted. Maybe not dinner, but drinks and dancing.

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