Furniture Design is a topic rarely discussed. Until my mid-thirties I didn’t even realize that furniture designer was an actual job. Turns out it is, and it’s a pretty big industry. Modern technology such as 3D furniture rendering has made the topic a bit sexier and put it on the radar of many consumers.
Furniture designers have been around since the dawn of the first piece of furniture. After all, someone had to design it! In post-Middle Age Europe, most furniture designers were craftsmen that designed and built. Today, however, the only furniture designers that also build are smaller studios and those with hobbies. The vast majority of furniture seen by consumers is designed by specialized firms or in-house corporate designers only to have the actual manufacturing outsourced.
Tools of the [Modern] Trade
Draftsmen, Architects, and Furniture Designers have a lot in common. Most notably, at least for discussion here, is the replacement of their tools by digital counterparts. No more rolled tubes—DWG files are now stored in the cloud. No more slide rules—3D modeling can handle that. No more hand-cut models to pitch architectural clients—3D Rendering can handle that.
The tools of furniture design may have changed but have the core concepts of approach? I’d argue that yes, those are shifting as well. Design decisions are more influenced by international supply chain dynamics and marketing price points than consumer preference. That’s not to say that cheaper designs are a necessity—only that they are a more common solution to fixing complex production cost dynamics.
Quality Furniture via Digital Design
Digitizing design processes has many advantages. Remote members of design teams can collaborate more quickly, revisions are faster, references to past designs are more convenient, and iterative versioning is much more possible. What’s all that mean though? Simply put; having things on computers connected to the internet lets designers move more quickly and companies save time (read as save money.)
So how does this digital cost-saving digitization affect furniture design, on a consumer level? It allows higher-quality goods and designs to be produced by lowering overall production cost. By spending less up-front, furniture companies are able to spend more for materials and manufacturing. This probably doesn’t always translate perfectly and, again probably, just means that companies that couldn’t enter the market before are tip-toeing in with similarly low-quality products.
Enough rambling, let’s consider which of these fantastic new digital technologies are helping shape the furniture market and how. Each of these technologies, some merely trends, are influencing the consumer furniture market in unique ways. Some directly by lowering manufacturing cost and others indirectly by seeding the demands of future trends and styles. We’ll be skipping “The Internet” since that’s just too easy.
3D Furniture Rendering
Digital rendering involves taking 3D Models, applying real-world mimicking textures to them (digitally), and then using computers to simulate real-world lighting in such a way that creates images similar to product photography. These images, when created by talented artists, are often indistinguishable from actual photography—but at fractions of the cost. CGI Furniture isn’t reserved for Hollywood blockbusters, however. 3D furniture renderings have become almost essential to modern furniture designers’ workflows.
3D furniture rendering services offer designers the ability to create photograph-like images of their designs long before final production decisions have to be made. Historically, no one really knew what a piece of furniture would look like until it was made and finished. 3D furniture rendering has, effectively, replaced initial sampling rounds for many companies and continues to allow a more nimble and market-reactive approach to product development.
Social media is influential in nearly every industry. Influencer marketing has become one of the most-overused buzzwords among marketers and shows no sign of cessation. Instagram is a special case for the interior design and furniture industry—born on a visual-first experience—and has been well-utilized by many industry titans. Companies like Restoration Hardware, Hooker Furniture, Bassett—these companies have taken to Instagram with much more ease than most other industries. Why? Because they’re used to selling through imagery alone.
Circling back to 3D furniture rendering—these images can allow brands to make follower-friendly changes to product images that would normally necessitate a new photo-shoot. For example, re-creating an image of a best-selling product in a bright green finish for a St. Patrick’s Day promotion would require re-finishing (if not re-manufacturing entirely) the design and doing an all-new studio photo-shoot. Digital rendering allows that to happen in just a few clicks of a button. These types of quick turn-around on design iteration let brands maximize their social media presence for less and not force themselves to use images that are only marginally relevant.
There is plenty of places to buy furniture online—you can even buy quality furniture on Amazon. Wayfair is the single most influential online furniture retailer in the world. Their meteoric rise in the market is, largely, attributed to two things: they are geniuses at large-box logistics and they are geniuses at having a digital presence. Their website, in addition to furniture, has vast resources dedicated to inspiring consumers, comparing styles, and allowing people to “browse” around before buying.
Again, to re-enforce how influential 3D technologies have become within the furniture industry: Wayfair has dedicated resources to creating real-time furniture shopping tools that would allow consumers to see what a piece looked like in their home before purchase. This is a form of augmented reality (AR) technology (as opposed to virtual reality (VR) tech) that has seen lots of interest across many consumer industries. There’s a high start-up cost of creating 3D models of furniture—at least for the entire Wayfair catalog—but the utility is self-evident.
These digital technologies have helped shape the furniture industry into a more modernized version of itself. It is, arguably, one of the slower industries to respond to advances in consumer technology. Perhaps furniture design isn’t a great medium for technological advances. Perhaps the shift within the industry we’re seeing is more a product of technology’s influence on how furniture is marketed and sold to consumers. Technology like 3D rendering and online interactivity apps certainly cultivate a deeper regard among consumers.