In Review: Orangebox’s On The QT

Orangebox, the makers of the original office pod, recently launched their latest, most innovative one – On the QT. We went to the brand’s Smartworking showroom in d3 for a review, along with Celeste Ventura from RSP and Adil Amin from Bluehaus. After experiencing this focus pod’s next level design, we left very much wanting to covet for our own workspaces, and even homes!

Few companies have their corporate values as deeply embedded into their product design as Orangebox. As the original designers of the first flexible pod, Orangebox’s product lines have consistently displayed a knack for true innovation. Their latest product, On The QT, is a result of years of consumer feedback, a reflection of the modern worker’s needs, and a proactive response to the latest shift in the workspace.

We know Orangebox as pioneers of the Smartworking® concept – a brand that provides a wide range of workplace solutions, with the exception of desks and storage. Their designs are truly multidimensional, and their latest product, On The QT, is equally innovative and adaptable.

On The QT is a focus pod that has been in development for around three years now, and tackles several challenges that have cropped up since pods and phone booths saturated the market. We were lucky enough to be among the first first few to get a live demo of this simple yet impressive product. Anne Barron, Regional Manager Middle East & Africa at Orangebox, invited us to review this space age, retro pod, along with designers Adil Amin from Bluehaus and Celeste Ventura from RSP. We were hard pressed to find any fault at all, in fact, if anything, we wanted to take one back with us immediately!

The Review Crew

Above from left: Celeste Ventura from RSP; Adil Amin from Bluehaus; Anne Baron from Orangebox

Perfectly Private

While the first two versions of Orangebox’s phone booth and pod were well received, there were still challenges that came during and after. In addition to the challenge of a market saturated with similar products and outright copies, there were fiscal considerations over the past few years. Clients questioned the ROI of a product that was used for an average of five minutes a day by only a handful of workers on the floor or team.

“We had to rethink our approach and innovate, but still wanted to keep the Orangebox philosophy and our clients happy,” says Anne. “So how did we resolve this? We departed from the phone booth concept, and designed the smallest focus room possible. And that’s On The QT. It’s not just a phone booth. It’s one by one and a half metre space is designed for more than just a quick phone call. You can just as comfortably attend a longer virtual meeting in it.”

On The QT is truly a unique product. Essentially, the team has produced the smallest focus room in the market. Its design is intuitive; even the way you enter and exit is similar to the motions of getting into a car. But the most distinguishing feature is what they call the ‘kink’ – an angled side that adds a simple but beautiful architectural detail to the design, which is not just an aesthetic element but has been designed with deeply functional reasoning behind it.

The clever angle of the QT’s ‘kink’ means that speech rebounds away and down from the user, rather than directly back at them. This angled shape also offers more legroom in the shorter, sitting version. In the stand version with a stool, the user is offered even more legroom, creating a greater sense of comfort despite being just one by one metre at the top. Also, when lining up a few QTs in a row, the angled shape provides additional acoustic properties from the air gap created in between. The external angled shape can also create a psychological nudge, allowing you to direct traffic through the office.

In this way, the design incorporates several dimensions: the tactile and intuitive nature of a car for getting in and out, and the impact that its size and shape would have on the floor space. Additionally, the booths can then be corralled in a specific shape to create a focus shape, which looks great in a space, and the kink allows for interesting negative space to be formed.

A simple yet useful feature that we really liked is the PIR (Passive Infrared Sensor) system that detects movement and acknowledges it through a red LED. This signals to the inhabitants of the workspace that the pod is occupied. The LED brightness is set to building standards and code, meaning that it does not disturb, nor does it draw any excess energy. Additionally, while the pod does not have monitor brackets inside at the moment, a soon to be released option will include desk attachments that can host monitors as well. This is a game changer because in most phone booths, the option to comfortably house a monitor isn’t available at all!

Unlike other similar products, On The QT’s functionality extends well beyond its interiors. A writable surface placed on one of the external walls allows the pod to be integrated with the greater landscape of the workspace, in addition to being a fun add-on. Orangebox is a company that encourages collaboration, and the design was intended to allow the pod to be a part of the project team space. “We wanted it to be included in brainstorming sessions,” says Anne. “Let’s say the team is having a meeting, and you need to take a call. You can always pop inside the booth while the team continues collaborating, using the whiteboard right outside.”

There are essentially two types On The QT focus pods – a sit version and a stand (tall) version. Either can be customised depending on the intention. For example, specifying a model without a power socket is a subtle way to discourage longer working periods in the booth. Additionally, there are plenty of finishes to work with as well – plywood outer walls can lend a natural touch; wrapped fabric offers a soft, inviting feel; a plain laminate or textured painted steel gives off a stripped-back, industrial aesthetic.

You can also enhance privacy by adding one of Orangebox’s unique patterns to the glass, or even designing your own while perhaps incorporating the company branding.

Adil: It’s design is very appealing and really sets it apart from other products plus it’s got a lot of features packed into it. From the moment you set eyes on it, you know you want to try it. I really like the handle detail, it’s the first thing you touch and sets such a good impression. The feel of the pod tells you how well the product is built. 

The overall experience is great! You have good acoustics, comfortable seating, and privacy. The table height is just right too. In terms of usability it’s a great product and doesn’t make you feel claustrophobic like other products. I would, however, add some more visual privacy but it’s still more than manageable in the current state. The manifestation is a great element that can be used for branding too. And the kink is a clever design feature that I’ve not seen anywhere else. I think it looks great in addition to being unique!

Celeste: I love it! It’s definitely one of the more well thought through products I’ve seen in the market, generally speaking. It seems like everything has been considered – comfort, privacy, acoustics, lighting, and even air circulation. The customisation is great and it gives us designers a lot of room to work with. I can see it being colourful and playful in modern and industrial styles, depending on the design theme. 

I initially assumed it was going to be uncomfortable, but I was pleasantly surprised! I like that it has two heights for varying degrees of comfort. The air circulation part is so important to me, and I’m glad someone has thought about this. Even the fact that you can move it around so easily is impressive. I don’t have to think about restructuring the floor or worry about electricals. This avoids the need for redundant conference rooms too!

A Fresh Take On Phone Booths

The overall design of On The QT is well thought out and can be described as empathetic by design. “Human-centered design is important to us, and we bring this ethic into every product and feature we design,” says Anne. “When it comes to acoustics, we recognised that no one wants full soundproofing because that’s just not natural. So we’ve designed it to be just right when it comes to the amount of sound that gets reflected or let in.”

Anne is referring to the acoustic properties of the booth. Besides being a lovely architectural feature, the angled wall constantly deflecting the sound away from you, makes it more comfortable to work in the space. The shape and materials of the walls absorb and block the right amount of sound, and the air circulation provides a comfortable amount of ambient acoustics. The structure of QT has been designed to provide an acoustic performance that is comparable to best-in-class competitor phonebooths, however the crucial acoustic objectives are to achieve conversational privacy for the user inside whilst not disturbing people working outside, near to the QT.

Anne further adds, “We’re never looking for full soundproofing. We use our ears for balance, which offers a lot of perspective of our surroundings. So if all the sound is taken away from you, it’s actually quite disorientating. When we were building pods and when we brought the expertise into the focus room area of the market, we wanted it to be the most comfortable experience for everyone. If people want to sit in the pod for an hour, we want to make sure they’re comfortable doing so.”

Another key feature is the air circulation system, which is particularly impressive. An air circulation unit ventilates the QT by taking in the ambient, conditioned air and expelling the stale air through the extraction pads with a complete air change every 3.2 mins. This creates a fresh, healthy working environment, keeping the user alert and able to concentrate. It was also paramount for Orangebox to avoid that pressurised build of air causing the ‘submarine effect’ that is synonymous with small pods and phone booths.

The four by four foot square size ensures that a sprinkler is not required by global building standards. However if desired, it can be easily inserted from the top, servicing the internal of the pod. On The QT has well thought out MEP acoustics, leaving little room for confusion or doubt for interior designers and clients. Also, an underrated aspect of the focus pod’s design is its mobility – all you need is a simple hand truck to move the booths around with the sit version easily transported through doors and service lifts – a truly agile asset!

Of course, we have to mention the sustainability specifications as well. On The QT is actually made of 50 percent recycled goods. Additionally, if needed, clients can work with the Orangebox team to improve the sustainability aspect of the product and ensure it is environment friendly throughout the product life cycle. A subtle yet valuable benefit of On The QT is that you avoid the energy consumption needed for four or five people just for one phone call. Instead of using a meeting room designed for groups of people, you can just pop into the pod.

Our Thoughts

In a market replete with similar products and innumerable copies, Orangebox have once again managed to stand-out from the competition. Not only have they innovated within an existing category, but have gone above and beyond to deliver true value.

Adil: I think that the initial impression you get is that it’s expensive, but it will only be expensive if not used well. In my opinion, On The QT is designed so well that you can get value from it from day one. I would love to see this in hotel lounges too. I think with the new state of affairs in the world, it makes even more sense. It can really complement areas like lobbies. I would like to see more product development around the lighting and maybe the controls to maintain it. That would be a great feature. Overall though, it’s a great product. I’ve used similar products before, but this one really goes the distance.

Celeste: I think this would be a great addition to hospitality spaces. It’s got a design that would work well in multiple settings. You don’t need to book for a meeting room or worry about the co-working spaces being noisy, you can just have a couple of these in your lobby reception area, and it’s perfect. I also love the panels inside, they make you feel like you’re in business class. I would love to see a screen integrated in the booth where you can sketch on or take notes, and it could be connected to the cloud. I believe that would really drive the value. Nevertheless, overall, it’s a great product and I believe it’s a great investment!

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