West Auckland-based furniture design company PLN Group has created furniture for Apple, Google and Disney to reduce sound and boost productivity – and now it hopes to use design to improve employee wellbeing in offices, too.
PLN Group chief executive Blair McKolskey said the company, which designed and manufactured furniture in New Zealand, was better known internationally than in its own backyard.
The 40-year-old company started as a furniture firm, creating designs for luxury hotels like the Huka Lodge in Taupo. But about a decade ago it switched to using design to improve productivity in offices, McKolskey said.
The team spent more than six years researching how future offices could function better and how design could help workers concentrate in collaborative, open-plan workplaces.
* Ten ways tech will shape your life in 2018, for better and worse
* Opinion: Christchurch architecture has lost its way and its artistic inspirations
* Futuristic furniture: Can you imagine soft chairs without cushions?
“Our products follow our research. We look at a combination of factors, you’ll have one-off anomalies in macro events like Covid-19, but also more predictable patterns like an ageing demographic or changes in technology that are changing the way workplaces operate. We want to make solutions through design for these trends.”
PLN Group partnered with fellow Kiwi company Revolution Fibres, one of only a handful of global companies that make nanofibres, to incorporate their material in designs to absorb sound in open-plan offices.
They built acoustic pods, which are in Apple and Google headquarters in the United States, that were created using nanofibre that was about 40 millimetres thick to soften sound waves, which was equivalent to about half a metre of thickness in polyester fibre or wool fibre, McKolskey said.
PLN Group also collaborated with renowned lighting and furniture designer David Truebridge to create acoustic lights that softened sound and reduced reverberations for collaborative spaces.
McKolskey said securing two significant deals with multinational companies Citi Bank in Singapore and advertising giant WPP to create noise reduction furniture for its offices in India this year softened the blow of low demand because of Covid-19.
While he did not reveal how much the deals were worth, McKolskey said Citi Bank was using PLN Group’s designs across its offices in the Asia Pacific region and had sent four container loads to WPP.
PLN Group had just secured another significant deal with a business in Japan, and hoped to also grow its presence in the Europe over the next year, McKolskey said.
He said the company was in the early stages of researching ways to improve employee health and well-being in offices through design.
“People’s lives seem to be getting more stressful, not less. We’re having a rethink about how offices will work after Covid-19 but there will definitely be a need for them to build culture and teams, which can’t be from working from home.
“We want to mitigate the impact of stress in offices through design. When you’re stressed your cortisol levels are high, your heart rate is elevated and in poor shape so through visual interactions we can help reduce that.”
McKolskey said research had shown that visible connections to nature had a positive effect on workers’ stress levels.
“It’s pretty rewarding knowing that you can take that kind of logic and research into other places like hospitals to help people recover quicker.
“Creating innovative solutions while collaborating with other New Zealand businesses is how we can be competitive internationally.”