How Dauphin is getting ready for the future of human-centered office design

Human-centered design is at the core of Dauphin. Its chairs are designed to be ergonomic and suitable for the diversity and neurodiversity of today's offices.

In this interview, Gigi Polo, Design Director at Dauphin, shares with us what human-centered design is and how it influences Dauphin’s products.

Q/: We know that Dauphin's focus is on the concept of human-centered design. We want to dive deep into that and understand what it is. What is human-centered design?

Gigi Polo: Human-centered design, as a general term, is a framework that positions humans and human needs at the center of the design.

In the 1980s, the phrase "human-centered systems" was first used. The engineer Mike Cooley coined the term, and it's a practice grounded in identifying human needs and solving those problems with simple solutions or interventions. At Dauphin, we use the term human design to signify that we focus on human needs, and that we design with people. So there is a little difference between human-centered and how we define human design, where we do research based on human needs. We also do testing with our clients and with people. So it has those two layers embedded into it.

Q/: When you say you do research, do you mean that before you design you talk to the end user?

GP: We do that in different ways. One way is through focus groups; we do interactions with different markets. We look at trends, forecasting, and once that kind of research comes together we use the findings to start conceptualizing. And then from there, the testing and prototyping also bring insights that we then use to refine our pieces before they hit the market.

Q/: Why did Dauphin choose this as the center of their design philosophy?

GP: Well, part of it is that this is a family-owned company, and the founder of the company, Mr. Dauphin, was one of the pioneers of the ergonomic chair. So part of his drive was the idea of helping people. How ergonomics in the sixties and seventies became necessary for people's postures, but also to enhance productivity in the workspace. So I think part of it is carrying that legacy and then making that legacy relevant today. At that time, ergonomics was a separate intervention from all the products that people did. Nowadays, all chairs should be ergonomic, right? So it's something that is now part of it. For us, carrying the legacy of Mr. Dauphin is more about keeping humans and human needs at the center of our design and production.


Q/: You mentioned you are taking a human-centered approach throughout the design, the concept, and prototyping. How is that reflected in the end product? What would be the difference between producing a chair or some solution without being human-centered versus being human-centered?

GP: Well, I think that when you don't consider this framework of human design or human-centered design, you could concentrate on things that matter at a specific layer but not in all aspects of the design. For instance, some people might focus on aesthetics, and it might be a really beautiful chair that is uncomfortable, giving you a backache. The same thing happens in fashion and shoes. A shoe might be gorgeous, but you can't even walk with them. So I think that's the difference. When you think about human design at the core of your design, you're thinking about functionality, ergonomics, materials, different body types, and different ways people move; you're thinking about neurodiversity and gender equality. So all those factors become critical in defining and designing our products.

Q/: You mentioned gender equality and neurodiversity. Those are some of the recent topics that are interesting to the audience because it's a new trend. People are a lot more aware of that. How are human-centered design and issues like gender equality, inclusion, and neurodiversity related?

GP: A while ago, our president, Matthew Negron, and I had a conversation, and he was talking about this idea of people, places and culture. And I found it interesting because, in those three pillars, you can see the presence of all those things you mentioned: diversity, neurodiversity, inclusion, equality. What we do is look at different interactions that happen in other spaces. We have very dynamic areas in the workplace and we need to see how  they overlap. So, in thinking about race, ethnicity, and gender, we're not only looking outwards but also inwards.

Q/: We're seeing more people working remotely or having more flexibility. Why is this so important as we move into the future? What are you seeing, and why is human-centered design an exciting philosophy as we move forward?

GP: Today, after surviving a pandemic that we're still in the midst of, we all agree to a certain extent that the only constant is change. So, we must consider flexibility and adaptability as we move into the future. And for us, that has become paramount in the processes we put in place. We're looking at adaptability through how we inscribe and prescribe into our designs the features that have an effect on people's sites and culture as a framework, where we look at people's interactions.

Right now, we're working with this idea of different spaces. Private, as focused work; teams, as collaboration; community as a space for socialization; and public space as an accessible, ever-changing space. And then, we look at these interactions in relationships with dynamic places. So, you can think about these dynamic spaces, the hybrid, virtual and being on-site. And then, in looking at culture, we look at social and cultural behaviors, and in that kind of bucket, we have neurodiversity. Things like nomadic culture, how some people have embraced this idea of mobility or urban mobility after the pandemic, hubs in different places, pop-ups, etc.

We also look at concepts like the open landscape. Focus work within an open landscape. How can you make a public space private? How can you create those different environments in the same layout, activity-based working (ABW), kinetic energy, sustainability, and biophilia? How bringing in the natural space and considering sustainable materials and practices in a space also inform our designs. So these are different approaches that we take into consideration when we get to the point of conceptualizing, developing, and prototyping.

Q/: Can you give us an example of a product that Dauphin has recently designed with a human-centered approach at its core? And how did that come about?

GP: Yeah, so I'll give you three examples because I think they cater to different things we've discussed. One is the Ion Cloud. So the Ion Cloud paradoxically is not a piece of furniture; it's not one of those space solutions we have. It's a piece of technology that we developed during the pandemic when Covid hit the world unexpectedly, and our approach was we needed spaces that provided clean air. So, it's a piece of technology that you can adapt to focus spaces like the Bosse room-in-a-room. It's a tiny piece of technology that cleans the air using a system of positive and negative ions.

As you can see, our drive is 'needs-driven.' It's not concentrated only on furniture, which is what we do in general, but when we have a need that comes from the people we serve, we also take that on. And the Ion Cloud is an excellent example of that. 


Another example I can give you is Indeed, one of our newest task chairs. It is ergonomic because that's at the core of our design, but it's also sustainable, so it's a sustainable task chair. We use fabrics that are either made out of 99% PET bottles, recycled fabrics, or bio fabrics. We reduce 60% of the materials we use compared with other task chairs, it's really light and easy to assemble. So it gives you that chance of mobility, of moving to different spaces when people went to work virtually, to work from home as it is a good option for a home work environment. So it tackles a lot of the sustainability points, including transportation. Although the materials go to the area where we produce in Germany, we must bring them to the United States. Which also helps with the carbon footprint. 

I'll give you another one. A product that is not yet in the market but is coming soon: Lounge Vibes, a series of solutions that we have that are reconfigurable. So think about mobility, different hubs, people with temporary shared spaces, how they need to reconfigure the space to cater to a community space, teamwork, focus work, and so on. So that's coming soon, in January 2023. 

Q/: Looking at the lounge you are developing, what things, from a human-centered point of view, is Dauphin doing to ensure that the lounge is part of that philosophy?

GP: To illustrate our process, the first step is thinking about our process as research-led. So this research-led framework means that research doesn't only happen at the beginning but is something that is consistently happening throughout the work. The example of Lounge Vibes on our collaborative lounge collection is this idea of flexibility that needs to occur in dynamic spaces.

So we start the research by looking at the current and future needs that might not be foreseen. And then, looking at that research, thinking of the materials, the height of a chair, how it caters to different types of bodies, how the space might be tight and enclosed with no natural lights. How can we use or leverage that space in a way more conducive to wellness and well-being? Part of our process is looking into Maslow; we look into Maslow's Pyramid of Needs. We look into holistic ergonomics and how those cognitive, social, and physical spaces together inform a better, more productive product that positively affects our clients.

And then, we have our solutions and design services, in which we work with our clients, providing solutions for their spaces. How can they maximize their area based on their layout, activities, and behaviors happening in that space?

So thinking about ways to nurture cognitive flexibility, self-regulation, and a better work-life balance, the more productive we are, the more comfortable we are, the better we will be in efficiency, productivity, and resiliency. So we prototype and test and then refine and adjust, and that's where we do our final testing and deliver to our clients.


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Sources Compilation

Polo, Gigi.Director of Design at Dauphin, Online interview.  23 Sep. 2022

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