What’s in a hole?

How erasing a chip’s smallest detail leads to big impact for designers and wallboards

Early prototypes showing a range of wallboard options explored.

We were just a few weeks into our project with Wilsonart Engineered Surfaces to redesign the manufacturing giant’s laminate sample wallboard, the “silent salesman” that hangs in the workrooms of thousands of architects and designers nationwide. After 21 years, the board system needed a refresh.

As we began our initial interviews with the wallboard’s users, one research participant delivered an ardent plea that was tinged with angst:

“Whatever you do, get rid of the hole.”

It wasn’t a response we were expecting. All the other sample chips had holes. And yet this seemingly trivial request about a hole would soon become more meaningful than we imagined.

During a user interview, a designer describes their design and chip selection process.

The hole — the small void from which sample chips hang on wire hooks — was the industry’s unquestioned method for displaying materials on wallboard. But to a designer, the hole was a hurdle to a clean mood board, the visual array of materials proposed for a building project, including carpet, tile, paint, stone, fabric and laminate. A designer’s mood board represents the possible, the magical formula that will bring a designer’s ideas to fruition. It is a palette that needs to capture the hearts and minds of clients, claim a portion of the budget, and make it through the gauntlet of specifications and value engineering evaluations before the materials can be included in the final build.

Without a hole, the sample can lay side by side with the other materials, blemish free. It doesn’t have to be cleverly hidden or slipped under another material that can lend its size to hide the eyesore. While such sleight of hand removes the distraction of the hole, it reduces the sample size, diminishing the laminate’s presence on the board. Of course, one could order a larger sample to be delivered, but as designers on tight deadlines typically assemble their mood boards in the final few days (and often, hours) before the presentation, who has time to wait?

Paper prototypes help users assess and respond to specific chip details.

What’s in a hole? It’s an opportunity to honor the care designers take in seeing details that most of the world passes over. Eliminating the hole removes a persistent hassle from designers minds, freeing them to unlock the laminate’s potential to play seamlessly alongside the other materials in all their divine color and pattern.

What’s in a hole? It’s an acknowledgment that Wilsonart knows listening to designers is good business sense. Appreciating the details that only designers see, and frankly care about, means providing attractive chips that want to be held, felt and ultimately placed in the hands of clients.

What’s in a hole? It’s a commitment from Wilsonart to do right by its users. Removing the hole from samples requires a shift in production. It requires duplicating sample stock in warehouses and creating new sample codes for flaw-free chips. It demands questioning the presumed format of a wallboard. It calls for creating a new way to display samples, to hold them in all their glory, as designers and fabricators eyes run across them to select just the right shade, grain or pattern. These are not easy tasks, but ones Wilsonart committed themselves to undertaking.

Wilsonart heard the voice of not just one designer, but all the designers who wish to simplify their workflows and make their lives just a little bit easier. Last month, they shared their response to what they heard, rolling out their newly designed SMART Wallboard to 10,000 users nationwide. “Response to the SMART Wallboard has been incredible,” says Ricky Crow, Director of Wilsonart High Pressure Laminate.

“Designers recognize and appreciate the fact that every detail of the SMART Wallboard was built to simplify and enhance their experience with our products. Soon designers will wonder how they ever lived without it.”

What’s in a hole? We now know the answer. The answer is laminate.

The old and new chip side by side.