Topo | Metro/Steelcase
At the time of itsʼ purchase by Steelcase in the 1980s, Metro was primarily a premium seating and tables manufacturer. In the early 1990s, Metro leadership expanded the offering to premium casegoods resulting in a threefold increase in net sales with industry-leading, differentiated solutions. By the early 2000's, many of the innovations in casegoods that Metro had pioneered were becoming commoditized. There was a desire to increase sales in the category by designing an entirely new system that addressed emerging technology and work-styles with a freestanding system that could function in both open plan and private office applications.
Based on our ongoing relationships with key customer groups and the Metro sales force, we had developed an intuition about the emerging opportunities in this category. At the time, workers were migrating from cubicles and private offices to open plan desking systems in greater numbers. (continued >>)
We believed that the transition from fully-private to fully-open was too extreme for many users and that there was an opportunity for a solution to bridge the gap.
To test the thesis, we created a preliminary design brief from which we generated preliminary concept models that we could use to illustrate scenarios to users. In this case, a preliminary concept model is an idea or solution created to help understand the needs further. It is a concept that doesnʼt need to represent the final design since its only purpose is deeper understanding of needs. Instead of approaching users with hypothetical or abstract questions, Sacrificial Concepts can help focus the conversation around tangible use scenarios and needs.
Utilizing these concepts, we engaged end-users from diverse business sectors in the major markets in the US. In this case, end-users included architects and designers, dealers, facility managers, enterprise leadership, and workstation users. (continued >>)
Meetings were a combination of individual and group Q & A, concept critiques / conversations, web surveys, and user observation. Key participants were engaged to critique the design throughout its evolution, creating a consistent feedback loop in the product development process.
The opportunity framework:
Observations and insights from our research were distilled into an opportunity framework from which multiple action-oriented product design briefs were created. The opportunity framework was used initially in the development of the Topo system for Metro in 2004, but many of the key tenants were leveraged in subsequent product development cycles by other Steelcase brands - Tour by Turnstone 2006, and Denizen by Coalesse 2008.