Q&A with Alex Lau, Colebrook Bosson Saunders

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Ahead of the BCFA OPEN Spring Design we caught up with Colebrook Bosson Saunder’s Senior Product Design, Alex Lau to chat about their product ‘Ollin’ which has been shortlisted in the BCFA OPEN Innovation Awards.

“Innovation means coming up with a practical solution that resolves a problem that people have accepted for a long time”

What was the inspiration behind the ‘Ollin’ project?

The inspiration for Ollin came from two key sources; our experiences within the market, alongside our design philosophy which sits behind all of the solutions we have designed to date.

Within the market we were experiencing two key changes which we knew we had to prepare for; the increase in touch screen monitors, alongside a decrease in the weight of monitor technology – 30% of the monitors in the market weighed less than 3kg’s – a weight our dynamic monitor arms could not support.

At the same time we were finding an increasing demand to be able to mount two lower weight monitors on the same arm. Traditionally we were used to mounting multiple heavy weight monitors on our post mounted arms.

The situation in the market gave me a very clear problem to solve; design an arm that supported touch screen input and screens under 3kg’s in weight.

My initial inspiration for Ollin came from a big and heavy prototype we built with a simple counter balance weight that gave the monitor a perfect balance, whilst feeling incredibly responsive and easy to adjust.

Since working with this prototype it presented me with the challenge of creating a monitor arm which gave the user the feeling that their monitor was ‘floating’ and easily –re-adjusted.

When you think about how unique our bodies are, this idea of creating a floating monitor arm that can be adjusted with minimal effort is key to promoting the well-being of the user as they adjust the position of their monitor to their unique requirements.

This links back to our design philosophy which is to design solutions that make technology conform to the needs of the user, rather than the other way round.

I like to think of it this way, if you are working in a poorly light workspace and you can’t find a light switch you will still carry on working but your eyes will feel the strain. However, if you have a light switch next to you, you can switch on the light without thinking about it.

It’s just the same with a monitor, if you have this perception that it’s floating you can easily move it into a position to suite your posture and eye level, rather than making your body adapt to a position which is uncomfortable.


Did you have any issues that you had to overcome during this project?

The main issue to resolve was to develop a mechanism that was able to balance such a big weight range of between 1 and 9kg. This was a problem we were familiar with in the development of our bestselling Flo monitor arm where we tried to develop the spring adjustment to support a weight below 3kg’s.

In these early stages we created lots of different mechanical prototypes which all pointed to one conclusion – in order to support a larger weight range we needed a larger and longer spring. However, in order to do this the arm would look very bulky and out of proportion.

The only way to solve this problem and achieve a slimmer profile was to create a long spring which bent and followed the arms profile – however, due to the properties of metal springs this was impossible to achieve.

This led me to think of an alternative method that no one had ever though to use before; the bungee cord.

Due to the properties of a bungee cord it was able to support the weight range we were aiming to achieve, but it also allowed me to investigate the idea of creating the ‘floating’ monitor. A long bungee cord is like a long spring with less variation in force whilst allowing the user to easily balance their monitor at the correct height.

However, despite its clear advantages, going down the ‘bungee’ route was not easy as we found out very early in the development phase. Our research showed that the natural rubber in bungee’s only lasted for two years, and man-made rubber (polyurethane) would last forever but can’t be recycled.

In the end we found a type of man-made elastomer that was 100% recyclable, but it had never been used as a spring, let alone used to stretch as much as we intended and to support different monitor weights in a multitude of different heights and positions.

Luckily we got a lot of help and support from our elastomer supplier to understand its material properties and from that point onwards it was all about testing and experimenting with the arm’s geometry and design to get the elastomer to behave how we wanted it to behave.

This was our biggest achievement in the design and development of Ollin; being the first company to provide a monitor arm that used an elastomer cord to control the arms movement and adjustment. Not only did we achieve this we also surpassed our own aims for our new arm, with Ollin supporting weights from 0 up to 9kg – and with the addition of the new dual mount bar later in the year Ollin will be the most cost effective dual screen dynamic monitor arm on the market.

It’s also key to remember when designing Ollin we not only achieved the challenge of developing a new adjustment mechanism we also had to ensure it met our already existing design standards: being able to adjust the force, cable management, meeting a cost target, being able to manufacture it, assembly sequences, meeting our standards for quality… the list goes on!

What does creativity mean to you?

Creativity is thinking outside the ‘Box’. Creativity is taking intangible ideas that can be very broad and cover a large area around a particular subject, or the problem you are trying to resolve, and bring that idea to life in the form of images, sketches and prototypes. This process might not lead to anything, but it’s vital in order to discover the next innovation.

What does innovation mean to you?

Coming up with a practical solution that resolves a problem that people have accepted for a long time.

If you could sum up ‘design’ in one word, what would it be? And why?

It would be a ‘host’ that is invisible and thinks about everything you need without you being aware. Every product should serve or help you in one way or another e.g. a pen helps you write down your thoughts and ideas, but everything about that pen affects your experience: weight, colour, smoothness of ink, shape and size, price…

So in a way as a designer we are serving you through an object that has been fully thought out, so hopefully you will use it again, and again with delight.

Furthermore, a good designer should not only think about the user, they also need to think holistically about how the design can be manufactured in a way that ensures the safety of those that are making it – I like to think of it like running a restaurant where you need to understand and support everyone who is involved in the process.
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About Sam Prosser

Sam is the Marketing Manager for the BCFA. He has a passion for design and loves following the latest trends within the industry. If you would like to appear in the Design Insider Live please do send over an email to sam@thebcfa.com
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  • Leung ping chung

    Excellent interview!
    I am particularly impressed by the philosophy of Alex on the process of creating Ollin!

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