THE TWOFOLD SOLUTION
When two people have the same idea at once, it helps if they have better skills at bringing it to fruition — and can work together.
That's what happened with Twofold.
It's a work cubicle on wheels designed to bring a little privacy back to the open plan office.
It's common at the modern startup for people to be forced to sit at one very long table wearing headphones while they work at laptops. If they need to make a private call there might be phone booths if the stairwell or the smokers' patio won't cut it.
Robert Petty, an architect at Zimmer Gunsul Frasca (ZGF) had an idea for a booth on wheels with two fold-down seats and table tops, folding doors for privacy and acoustic insulation, and even room for a monitor. He worked on it with his friend from PIE, Rick Turoczi, in the workshop inside ZGF's 12th Avenue tower.
The Twofold booth or mobile meeting room, as it's known, will retail for $12,500 in the third quarter of 2018. (A mini version, a workstation which attaches to a wall, is $2,750.)
You can close the doors completely although, like a Portland Loo, you can see people's feet under the door. The ceiling is louvered, which allows light in without glare on work surfaces.
As Petty explains it, "At PIE they were a bit cramped. They had some phone booths, but they wanted to do something a bit more workable and body-friendly. So we worked with them."
It started with two chairs opposite each other and tape on the ground to establish a footprint. They used two-by-fours to build the frame, calculating head height and elbow room. As they used the space, they kept changing it as ergonomic demands direct them. That took six months.
Hacking the space
"We started it as an academic pursuit. We thought maybe we could prototype it and they could help us out with some feedback. That kind of struck our fancy because we have folks here in architecture, interiors and engineering. The appetite was there to do it as an R&D adventure. But it got a bunch of people really engaged."
After six months they were at the point where it could cost money to build a robust frame, using steel. The PIE moved. But a big ZGF client — whom Petty cannot name, but for whom they have built a big Portland headquarters — saw it on a walk through and loved it. "They said 'We think of it as hacking your own space, can you put it in a project?' Then we thought maybe we have something."
Petty said ZGF was about making things, but marketing it was not their strength.
Designer meets entrepreneur
Serendipitously, he met Eli Alford-Jones and Anja Bump who had experience in operations and manufacturing. Alford-Jones had sold a fintech company called Paydici. Bump was a business consultant. She had worked in cubicle farms and open plan offices and was particularly plagued the combination of noise and visual distraction — catching movement out of the corned of her eye.
So the Twofold team — which now numbers four people —bring the entrepreneurial zeal and marketing savvy, while ZGF brings the high-end design chops.
Think inside the Chromebox
Inside it feels a little like being in an Airstream trailer or an airport bathroom. Chairs like jumper seats slide down from the wall panels and little tables fold out. The cabinetry is marine grade, which means the hinges are solid and horizontal surfaces should stay horizontal.
One version comes with a bracket for a monitor with a built-in camera and ceiling-mounted speaker for video conferencing. Hidden in the frame is a Chrome Box, a mini Android computer which runs the communication software. Both the front and back doors open and fold away, so it can be places against a window for a view.
The mobile workstation uses the same principles — little chairs and folding tables — and a suggested use is for healthcare. It's a station where vital statistics could be checked or blood drawn in a corridor when the office nurse visits.
The mobile meeting room prototype debuted at the Pollinator during Design Week with other highly original furniture. A new version, ready for the market, was debuted last Wednesday in ZGF's spacious lobby. The new doors have less fabric and are covered in whiteboard material for meeting scribbles.
Not made in China
Bump says "People don't disturb you when the doors are closed, and when you want to have an interactive meeting you can open the doors." And you can move it around. "The nice thing about the wheels is you can change your mind all the time. It's very flexible."
She knows manufacturing and chose Celestica to make it, a contract manufacturing company near Portland airport. They were superior to getting it made in China for several reasons: quality, customs, shipping ("time on water") and generally being able to keep an eye on the process. If they ever need thousands of them made they might consider China, but right now it is a small-batch custom product, with changeable elements.
They have two pilot booths out there now. One in Portland and one in Seattle ("at a very large, well-known company"). Twofold is working with ZGF to try and get into their projects. Which seems likely given ZGF's initial enthusiasm and support.
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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