During our last #FrameLive session, designer Alfredo Häberli and Andreu World CEO Jesús Llinares discussed what drives creativity, and what’s in store for future workspaces.

Working from home has become the standard for millions globally. The office is being redefined to facilitate connections between workers. Big questions on the agendas of CEOs, HR managers and designers alike: How can the workplace accelerate innovation? What are the conditions for creativity? And how can spatial design and furnishings be beneficial for collaboration? 

For our latest #FrameLive discussion, Frame editorial director Robert Thiemann sat down with designer Alfredo Häberli and Jesús Llinares, the CEO of Spanish furniture brand Andreu World. The collaborators shared what sparks their creativity, reflected on the pandemic’s influence on work life, and discussed why spaces for innovation need to be circular and people-centric. 

Häberli describes his studio as a Wunderkammer, a space filled with inspiring objects that give him ‘some intelligence I can transfer to other objects and other ideas’.

Creativity can come from a place or a purpose 

To be creative, Häberli needs his studio – the place in which he spends more time than anywhere else. He describes it as a Wunderkammer, a space filled with inspiring objects that give him ‘some intelligence I can transfer to other objects and other ideas’. The designer says he needs calmness and concentration when he works – two things his studio offers. It also makes him feel at home; he calls his team his ‘second family’. ‘[Feeling at home] is, for me, extremely important for creating ideas.’ 

‘To be creative you need to have a purpose or a challenge,’ says Llinares. He refers to Conversations about Work, a recent book produced by Andreu World that highlights the creative processes of eight renowned designers (Häberli among them) and discusses the future of workspaces. ‘This has been a reference for showing how designers generate creativity. On the other hand, challenges sometimes push you to be creative . . . That’s the case with the solutions we build together with Alfredo and our design team.’ The creation of Giro Soft, for example, on show at NeoCon, prompted many technical challenges. It combines Andreu World’s know-how with wood and its artisanal heritage with modern techniques and technologies.

Cover and above: The creation of Giro Soft prompted many technical challenges. Designed by Häberli, it combines Andreu World’s know-how with wood and its artisanal heritage with modern techniques and technologies.

The pandemic instigated a more flexible, sustainable and humanistic future for work

Häberli feels the pandemic extinguished any sense of security we once had. Now, he says, ‘we have to be more chameleon, amphibian animals. Very, very flexible.’ That flexibility must extend to the spaces we use. Workplaces have abandoned partitions in favour of open-plan environments. ‘But we also need calm moments,’ says Häberli, ‘not just for Zoom meetings but for yourself.’ In essence, spaces will no longer be definitive. ‘We have to be able to change the architecture, the room, the space in between.’  

The way Häberli himself works has also changed. After travelling at least two or three days a week prior to the pandemic, he’ll no longer go to other countries ‘just for a two-hour meeting. If it is necessary to see a prototype, to sit on it, to try a chair, yes – otherwise we will do Zoom meetings. This is good for me.’ 

Llinares agrees that future workplaces will need to combine private spaces for individual work and open environments for collaboration. They will also be more democratic, with less hierarchy and fewer private offices. These trends were there before, he says, but have been accelerated because of the pandemic. 

Andreu World is also pushing for new materials and designed based on the circular economy. Last year, the company introduced three new materials, such as the thermopolymer used for Patricia Urquiola’s Nuez Lounge BIO® chair, a biodegradable, compostable material made from microorganisms. In fact, all its thermopolymer-based products will be 100 per cent recyclable and 100 per cent recycled. ‘It’s a decision we put in place last year to answer the demand to be more sustainable,’ says Llinares. 

The company also asked the eight contributing designers to Conversations about Work how they see the post-pandemic future. ‘The biggest learning was the confirmation that people are the centre of everything,’ says Llinares. People are developing more humanistic attitudes, he says, and ‘taking more care not only of ourselves, but of the rest of society and of the world’. 

Llinares and Häberli agree that future workplaces will need to combine private spaces for individual work and open environments for collaboration.

The client-designer relationship is like a mobile 

‘Always in movement but also joyful.’ That’s how Häberli describes a decorative mobile, using it as a metaphor for the ideal client-designer relationship. ‘All the small pieces [should be] in balance.’ He says there should be mutual loyalty, trust, challenge, honesty and professionalism. ‘I always say I only work with people I like. It sounds quite arrogant but it’s the only way I can work.’ He adds that nowadays a lot of companies are not run by their founders or families but by anonymous investor groups that are more about marketing and money. ‘The mobile is not in balance,’ he says. ‘That’s not the way I work.’ 

Part of the reason Häberli and Llinares’ relationship works so well is because they challenge each other. In the case of the Giro Soft sofa system, that challenge was to create a modular yet cost-effective solution – a product with enough personality to satisfy market needs while aligning with the Andreu World brand. For Häberli, one of the most difficult aspects was combining ‘big comfort’ and ‘simplicity in design’. ‘The project also shows how important it is to visit companies and see the people,’ says Häberli. ‘The invisible thing [in a piece of furniture] is the comfort. You have to sit on it, feel it.’ 

Watch the full video here: