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Friday Five with Robert King of Humanscale
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Since he founded it in 1983, Robert King has remained CEO of Humanscale, the American company that has been at the forefront of design-focused, ergonomic office products, long before the recent popularity of more healthy, active ways of working. King first received his Bachelor of Science in economics from Boston University and an MBA from Columbia University before launching Humanscale, which maintains its corporate headquarters in New York City. Now, the company has expanded to include 16 offices in North America, along locations in the U.K., France, the Netherlands, Italy, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, India, China, and Mexico. Along with running the premier company, King is working with WWF (World Wildlife Fund) to restore the ecosystem of the Eastern Plains in Cambodia, which has been hit hard with poaching. He’s been an active member for over 15 years and Humanscale continues to work with them on this worthwhile program, which will potentially increase the tiger population worldwide by more than 5%. Let’s take a look to see what he’s selected for this week’s Friday Five.

Photo by Humanscale

Photo by Humanscale

1. Niels Diffrient
Niels and I met in 1997 at a time when I was talking to designers about developing our first chair. I actually searched him out because I had asked many people how to adjust your chair and no one knew how to do it. I was looking to develop a chair that was easy to use and he was known as one of the great chair designers of the world. As we were talking, we realized we shared many of the same beliefs and both valued simplicity and ease of use. Over the years, he taught me so much, including the importance of restraint and how complicated simplicity can be to achieve. Thanks to Niels I learned that true innovation is very expensive, very unpredictable and very slow, whereas styling (which often passes for design) is inexpensive, predictable and fast. Niels and I were always only interested in the former.

One time when I went to his studio, he had a prototype of a chair that was upside down. He was explaining how the bottom of the chair looked and why it looked that way. This didn’t really interest me. I was more interested in turning it over. That’s when he explained how important every part of the chair is. I said, but no one sees it. His response was “Bob, we see it.”

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

2. Nature
Since I was a kid, I always loved nature. Even today, I spend as much time as I can outdoors – fishing, diving, etc. I enjoy spending time with my family and my children and teaching them about nature – whether it’s under water, in a forest or climbing a mountain. I want my children to understand just how important the natural world is in our lives. It’s inspirational – not just because it is beautiful, but more so because all living things are functional. The way living things look is purely because of function and efficiency and interestingly these things are almost all incredibly beautiful.

A competitor’s website once said, Great design is a balance between beauty and function. I strongly disagree with that. Function is not the opposite of beauty. Beauty and function can be, and should be, one thing. I find that beauty and form flows from function and certainly that is true in nature. It is pure function and yet it would be hard to say that there are things on earth that are as beautiful as the things in nature.

Photo by Humanscale

Photo by Humanscale

3. The Living Product Challenge / Living Building Challenge
Who would think that a standard could be an inspiration? While there are a lot of standards out there, the basis of the Living Product Challenge is that every building or every product that meets it contributes to the health of our environment. So if all products and buildings met this standard, we would not have to worry about the environment at all. It would take care of itself. This is something I have always felt was necessary – that organizations and even people have a net positive impact on our world. We’ve talked about that here at Humanscale for a long time and it’s something that we all need to aspire to if our children and their children are going to live on a planet that still has diversity of life. In nature, it’s not possible to have something that just takes away – it wouldn’t be sustainable and it would just die out. In the past, standards have been to minimize the amount of harm you do and that’s not enough. You have to contribute something back. That is the only way we can preserve the planet for future generations.

Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur of We Animals

Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur of We Animals

4. Rachel Hogan
Rachel Hogan is the Director of Ape Action Africa, which manages the rescue and rehabilitation of great apes in Cameroon. She has dedicated her life to taking care of orphan primates whose parents are killed by illegal hunters. Hogan rescues them and gives them a sanctuary – a safe place to live and thrive with their own kind. Her work protects the wild habitat where these magnificent creatures live to create a future free from bush meat hunters and logging. This type of commitment to a cause is what has moved mankind forward.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

5. Tokyo
I love many things about the Japanese culture including the dedication to perfection, simplicity and the struggle to create order in an un-orderly world. I find the effect of that dedication very soothing and calming. My friend Yasuda is a great example of this. He owned one of the best sushi restaurants in NY, but decided to move back to Toyko to start his own restaurant there. The restaurant is just Yasuda and his wife. It is all about perfection. He buys the fish in the market every morning and prepares it. Everything about the restaurant is as perfect as he can make it. It’s an experience like no other and one that truly represents order and simplicity in its purest form.

Photos courtesy of Humanscale.

Caroline Williamson is Editorial Director of Design Milk. She has a BFA in photography from SCAD and can usually be found searching for vintage wares, doing New York Times crossword puzzles in pen, or reworking playlists on Spotify.