The sweet and colorful aesthetics of digital plasma interfaces are increasingly the fluid landscape of the new work environment, diffracted between home and hotel, urban and natural settings

In our late capitalist society, the level of freedom of individual choice and, depending on the specific market environment, the customization of products and services has reached a level that confronts individual users/customers with the need to make continuous choices, both of the goods to be purchased and then the insistent need to customize them. Faced with this situation, each of us is becoming, by virtue or necessity, in some way a ‘self-manager’, since we are constantly called on to make decisions about every aspect of our lives, from the color of our hair to the film to see on Netflix, from contact requests on social networks to the filling of the sandwiches to be delivered to our homes: all things that, given the pressing insistence with which they claim our attention, require a veritable ‘strategic management’ of everyday life.

Above all, the spread of digital devices has given a great impetus to this extreme flexibility, not only in consumer choices but also the way life is organized, allowing and even encouraging distance working (essential during the lockdown) that has led to a merger of work time with leisure, fused into a multi-faceted and multitasking continuous flow. (We always do at least two things at a time, and almost always one of the two is looking at our phone.) On the one hand, this can be a new source of freedom, but on the other it entails the responsibility, which falls entirely on the individual, of having to manage our space and time independently and decisively. Time ‘liquefied’ on the social level needs to be restructured on the individual one. Undifferentiated time needs to be divided up by the individual’s action strategies to be lived actively and not passively.

This evolution in our way of life finds an evident confirmation in the recent trend towards “workations” (from work and vacation), distance working at a holiday resort, an unprecedented situation for most people (though not for executives), who need the new granular infrastructures of everyday life, meaning new systems of objects and new furnishings that combine leisure uses with professional ones. In aesthetic terms, this translates into the transfer of visual codes derived from graphic interfaces into office furniture. This has already affected the domestic dimension and is now expanding into the professional. The interfaces of digital devices have accustomed us to the idea that an object, to be prized, no longer needs to “look serious” (as in tech modernism), but can have the simple, colorful face of a toy.

It is this new aesthetic expectation that informs much recently conceived office furniture, such as the Elinor table designed by Claudio Bellini for Pedrali or the Foresty sound-absorbing panel that Bellini designed for Fursys. The Wallsystem designed by Paolo Pampanoni for Manerba also displays graphic-playful finishes, but used to embroider a rationalist frame, while the Key Smart intelligent seat by Alegre Design for Kastel is perfect for the hybrid region of post-pandemic work, thanks to the wide variety of configurations that are integrated both into the home, where decorative qualities are a priority, and the office, where the attention is mainly focused on its ergonomic features.

It should also be stressed that the new ‘agile’ office takes over not only the aesthetics of digital devices but also their smart potential. This is what happens with Actiu’s Gaia intelligent platform, which has special sensors installed in the furnishings, so facilitating data collection and its transmission to the cloud. There it is processed to provide in-depth understanding of how the workspaces are being used, both with a view to proper management of the professional environment (at home or in the office) and to ensure social distancing, by monitoring room temperature and humidity, light and carbon dioxide levels. Actiu itself produces office furniture upholstered with special fabrics that reduce the viral load. The theme of sanitation, which has become central, has given rise to the NoHand handle by Manital, designed by Mario Mazzer and Giovanni Crosera. This makes it possible to open a door with your elbow, avoiding placing your hands on a surface potentially (and probably) contaminated with viruses and bacteria.

This concern for health factors acquires particular importance in the new fluid condition of vacation/work or remote/in-person work, since it is an experience that itself consists of a flow of “droplets”, obviously metaphorical, which each user traverses throughout the day, responding to various tasks wherever they are. And to the extent that talking about health issues means talking about sustainability (epidemics and extreme climate events are both connected with global warming), this too is an essential factor in defining an environment in line with the sensibility and needs of post-pandemic users. This can be seen in the G-Desk moss-covered partition panels by Alain Gilles for Green Mood, which combine excellent sound-absorbing properties with physiological and psychological well-being created by the proximity of the natural element. Similar qualities appear in the Foresta acoustic panel system produced by Mogu, which aims to bring nature back into inhabited spaces.

The same line of continuity that unites the agile workplace with the narrative of sustainability finds a coherent application in the showroom that the Note Design studio designed for Tarkett in Stockholm, a place for meetings and events and above all a physical manifesto of the circular economy, which incorporates the same aesthetic code of the ‘toy office’. The sign of an expressive need so deeply felt that it extends to products that, like the Stay chairs by Lost & Found, though not designed for the office, fit perfectly into both workplace and personal space, or even natural space. A clear example of how the aesthetics of the project, albeit in mutually exclusive terms in the different situations of use, increasingly reflect the inclusive flow of liquid contemporary life.