Form & function – two words (a phrase, really, in its own right) that define studio furniture – whether it be in the broadcast studio, post-production studio or even in-room control stations. To be effective, not only must its form be ergonomic (and aesthetically pleasing, as well), it must also be able to function… by “function,” I mean that it has to be able to provide access to every knob, dial, slider and gauge in addition to being a joy to use; in other words, nothing like the Draconian studio platforms from the days when the industry was just getting started (square/boxy control stations with controls stuck wherever they may be even remotely accessible). Gone are those days – relegated to the pages of the history books.
Form and function vie for a craftsman’s attention as he precisely constructs and assembles various pieces of furniture. Sometimes form wins decisively and you end-up with an elegant chair that is better to look at than sit in; other times, function wins and you get an ugly but comfortable and sturdy chair. The true sign of a master craftsman is a balance of both, whether it is for cabinets or desks, tables or chairs.
Technical furniture however is slightly different. You still have form and function and you still need balance; but in this case, form and function are often far more intertwined. With technical furniture, your furniture has ceased to simply be furniture but is now a tool, as well. The broadcast studio isn’t the only home for technical furniture; it can also be found in police and fire dispatch, high-tech security stations, air traffic control, and other uses, as well. Due to its purposing, technical furniture’s function often requires a narrower range of available forms than standard furniture.
Subtle curves comprise the human body, so why not shall these same subtleties be present where we interact? Engineers (because, let’s face it – if you’re controlling a presentation, be it a conference or television show, you’re “engineering” that production) must merge and, literally, become one with their control area – so why shouldn’t that area be as pleasing to work within as possible? Some may scoff and harken back to the days of old – but after you’ve experienced the overall comfort of ergonomic and practical design, how could you ever go back?
For the broadcast studio, the optimum technical furniture is often custom built. The quality and placement of technical furniture has a significant impact on studio workflow. You don’t simply build the facility around the console. Ergonomics, floor space, additional equipment usage, etc.; total functionality needs to be considered, as well. A number of technical furniture companies exist; one such is TBC Consoles – a company sharply focused on the broadcast industry.
“I’d say as a rule of thumb, the studio you build is going to be with you for a long time,” states Bill Putney, Technology Consultant. “If it’s uncomfortable for the people who spend a lot of hours in there, it’s bad. If you can’t get into service equipment, it’s bad. If it wastes space or seems awkward in the space it occupies, it’s bad.”
Manufacturing such a masterpiece requires special artisans capable of not only creating the outside, but the inside, too. Special designers in the field of studio control equipment must have the ability to not only include everything required for proper control functions but also to be pleasing to the eye and comfortable to use. Relying on those who actually sit behind the consoles making the endless adjustments so that we, as a viewing audience, will experience the ultimate in video and audio, is how form meets function in the stylist’s mind. Endless conversations between those who create and those who use are paramount for a properly planned control module. Everything has been considered and provided – down to the minute of details.
The furniture that best fits your needs is custom, but due to budget constraints, this isn’t always a real option. This leads most of these specialized furniture companies to have a specific base model for all the necessary functions; usually, it’s a compilation/amalgamation of their most frequent/successful designs for that function. Although this reduces options and optimum function, it also significantly reduces the cost. Floating between these two extremes is partial custom, or tweaking the base design a wee bit after the fact. Another cost/quality balancing act can be done by only having key rooms totally custom, with everything else using the straight base models.
What must flow on the exterior must also flow on the interior. In order to arrange all of the equipment to be in easy-to-reach places, it all must be planned with exactitude for the massive undertaking that is the wiring of said components into the exquisite workmanship. Despite bearing all of the qualities of heirloom furniture, remember that this is a control fixture; and, because of this, it has all of the wiring and internal components that make it so. The internal devices and wiring must be accessible for adjustments, tweaks and future upgrading; again, design and engineering take over to see that this is carried-out.
One option that should be given heavy consideration even if your studio has otherwise sought a no-frills furniture plan is electric height adjustable work surfaces. Height adjustable furniture has become increasingly popular as it becomes more practical for a number of very good reasons. Being able to freely switch between sitting and standing positions while remaining at a workstation reduces strain, and increases comfort. Statistically, people with the sit or stand at will option also take less as well as shorter breaks. Employees are less tired by the end of the day, meaning they had more energy at work and more energy when they go home which improves morale; also, people that are more alert are less likely to make mistakes. Standing for part of the day at what was historically a ‘desk’ job can even cause minor weight loss, even if that person makes no other changes in their lifestyle.
If the full custom route is chosen (aka the ‘money is no object’ path), bells and whistles abound. Still, a number of factors need to be considered while customizing and constructing the office. Space restrictions, if any; size and space requirements of key personnel (i.e., is anyone unusually large or small, limited in movement – perhaps confined to a wheelchair, etc.). Exact types of equipment must also be considered, since a radio station is not a TV station, after all. What types of equipment do your engineers prefer?
“We built our studio furniture,” explains Mark Voris, Chief Engineer at Spirit Catholic Radio. “We thought through the uses and needs of the users as well as the engineering aspect. The thought to keep in mind is future changes and/or upgrades.”
Optimizing workflow requires a carefully laid-out plan even before your chosen furniture vendor ever flips the CAD/CAM switch to ON. The furniture’s intended recipient can most likely be easily reached via computer so the producer can help come up with the floor plan as they go through their workday – which is good for uncovering details about ergonomics, personalization and workflow that might otherwise be overlooked. “One of the lasting gifts an engineer can make to a station is to take as much time planning how the studio spaces are going to work as we do with any purely technical aspect of the job. That includes the fixed furnishings,” says Putney.
The console is the heart of many-a-control-room in the broadcast industry, but the heart needs a body to function. Essentially, the structure of everything else plus the options and accessories fill that function. Once your minimum requirements have been met, the options and accessories come at an additional cost in money, but not always a cost in space (depending upon what is added).
“(A) microphone/lighting beam suspended from the ceiling joist removes the table pounding issue,” states Jerry Olson of KPBX Spokane Public Radio. “[W]here I did not have enough attic clearance to install a microphone beam, I used microphone risers instead.”
What options are available beyond simply more of the same (like extra racks and cabinets)? Well, how about an articulated keyboard? Perhaps a clear stand for music or instructions or suchlike? How about a small roll-away filing cabinet that matches the furniture? Higher grade and/or fancier looking materials used for your basic structures, maybe? Options abound when the money tree is in full bloom. Height adjustable work surfaces are, sometimes, the best of the extras.
What makes a good console tick? Firm control, ease of use, flexibility of purpose and connectivity. TBC Consoles, for example, has a variety of solutions for the broadcast professional. Their ergonomic systems account for workflow, customer preference and functionality. Years of practice have honed their skills and earned them multiple Broadcast Engineering Yearly Excellence Awards. Much of their furniture is modular, which allows for growth and adaptation. Technical furniture such as Monitor walls, Master Audio Controls, Ingest stations – in short, all your TV broadcast and production technical furniture needs.
“For one, the punch blocks are mounted on the wall at eye-level, making it a lot easier to work on,” states Voris. “(This from the) many years of crawling under consoles and behind racks.”
They’ve got Post Production covered as well. Check-out their SmartTrac, IntelliTrac and SmartCart technical office furniture in their online gallery – they offer both sitting and standing use furniture, as well as height-adjustable models. The IntelliTrac (not to be confused with the Intellitrac, which is a GPS system) is highly modular, allowing for easier adjustments and alterations.
Helpful features include integral cable management, multi-track system, and the raised construction feature has legs supporting the base instead of resting directly on the floor, then, there’s vented removable panels and the rack turrets that are both mobile and interchangeable. SmartTrac is modularly constructed and many adjustments can be made to it without the use of tools – a no-mess enclosure contains your cable runs out of sight but easily assessable, with the bonus of separating power cords from signal cords. Elevated construction allows more leg room, as well as all aluminum construction and detachable turrets that are all standard; and it works equally well free-standing or against a wall. The unit is easily assembled and, with all of TBC Console’s technical furniture, a broad number of options are available. TracWall is the answer for a monitor wall; a grid-pattern of slotted aluminum structure contains those unsightly wires (along with the base run in cabinets at the bottom of the structure) out of view and provides the necessary support for speakers or monitors clocks or other accessories; a broad mix of mounts are also available.
But let us not forget – it IS furniture (albeit furniture encompassing a control unit). As such, the cabinetry should look as regal as if it were in your living room at home; the tabletop-surface as though it was the finest of counters in your kitchen; and the comfort as if it were in your bedroom. Studio furniture needs to be all of that – ergo, its design must include the intentions of the greatest craftsmanship from the highest-grade materials. It is no easy feat to concentrate those three design qualities into a piece of equipment that literally controls the room within where it is placed. It can be done – but it takes exceptional talent to accomplish it.
Most TBC Consoles technical furniture is supremely adaptable and reconfigurable to meet changing needs and offer enhanced flexibility of purpose to help accommodate potential shifts in workflow. In today’s rapidly-shifting business environments, adaptable products are increasing in importance. TBC Consoles is there to answer that call. Check-out their website and explore the possibilities: www.tbcconsoles.com