Poppin’s Approach to Designing a Better Workplace

Insights from FirstMark’s Design Driven, a monthly event and community that lives at the intersection of design, user experience, and technology. Design Driven highlights the stories behind the most interesting products and designers in the world. See all of our Design Driven talks here.

Before Poppin was founded nearly seven years ago, the brightest item in the workplace may have been a highlighter. Now, you can order everything from tape dispensers to filing cabinets in a rainbow of colors.

Poppin aims to be a one-stop shop for your entire workspace, offering products that enable you to express yourself in your favorite shade or brand your office in your company color.

What’s more, the company is trying to make small but thoughtful improvements to objects that have been designed well for decades.

In a talk at FirstMark’s Design Driven NYC, Poppin VP of Design Jeff Miller offered some little-known facts about designing office supplies.

Most wheels don’t need reinvention. It’s tempting to believe that success comes by rethinking and reimagining every detail of a product. But that’s not even close to the truth — customers are often looking for the familiar, and designers should tap into that appeal. In short, don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to. Much of what Poppin builds has been around for a century. A stapler doesn’t need a new bell and whistle every year. Instead, Jeff embraced the “accepted” design of the stapler by creating a design that was the ‘average’ of every existing stapler. The result: a stapler that was both familiar and entirely unique.

There are some things you can’t make in China. Costly duties apply to shiny metal paper clips, paper with ruled lines, and wooden pencils imported from China. The laws that regulate the production of these items were created to stop companies driving competitors out of business. So, Poppin smartly wraps its paper clips in a colorful vinyl that allows the company to avoid unneeded regulatory costs. It’s a great example of using design to solve a non-obvious constraint.

Color matching: The eyes have it. Color matching across products made of different materials in different factories is a big challenge for Poppin. Using a spectrophotometer, Poppin can color-match within a narrow tolerance band, but the human eye can often be a better judge of variance. So, to uncover color blindness and other color vision anomalies, designers are issued the Farnsworth-Munsell 100 Hue Test. The test contains four distinct rows of similar color hues, each containing 25 distinct variations. Each hue tile is then arranged by the testee with the final arrangement representing their aptitude for recognizing color.

Building for modularity to create an iconic brand. It’s been more than 50 years since Lego decided that there would be 8 millimeters between dots on their building blocks. Considering the system now has thousands of individual, interlocking pieces, it’s remarkable to think of the sheer volume of Legos that have been created that still snap into those created years ago. Similarly, much of Poppin’s furniture is part of a modular system that considers every contour and measurement that might follow it. However, the company also tries to not be completely systemic. Miller said there’s risk in spending too much time trying to plug into a system when the product would have been better served by singular design that could be brought to market quicker.

To hear more from Miller’s talk “Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Designing Office Products,” check out the full video.

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