An Exclusive Preview of Watson Furniture’s Reimagined Tonic Collection

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Maddie Frost
Maddie Frost
Maddie Frost is a Project Designer at FOX Architects. Prior to joining FOX she attended Florida State University where she studied Interior Architecture & Design.

Watson Furniture’s Tonic collection fits seamlessly into the ever-adapting office landscape.

The workplace is intrinsically tied to social shifts and technological innovations. Be it the introduction of cubicles impacting density, the adoption of computers and digital storage diminishing the need for physical filing space, or the considerations that led to the creation of ergonomic chairs and height-adjustable workstations, the changing workplace is nothing new. The global upheaval from the past few years simply expedited that cycle and brought new narratives to the forefront of our industry. Today, it can feel like an ever-shifting landscape where architects, dealers, designers, and manufacturers struggle to keep up with the newest trends and research. But for Watson Furniture, the focus remains unchanged; to create functional, timeless pieces that support the people who use them and will adapt alongside them as their needs and preferences evolve. This design philosophy and the importance it plays in designing for the modern office experience is apparent in the refresh of their iconic Tonic Collection.

The Tonic Collection is made up of a benching system, meeting and communal tables, and mobile storage, and will be relaunched in its newest iteration at this year’s NeoCon. Each product within the collection emphasizes choice and future relevancy in its designs and excels in a variety of settings including individual heads-down work modes, touch-down areas and engaging collaborative spaces. After over a decade of serving workspaces, libraries, and more, Watson’s design team applied its critical eye to hone and refine each piece, fold in additional functionality, and introduce new accessories and standard products to the line.

Watson has always been committed to offering considered, holistic solutions that stand the test of time, a working ethic that shines through in their approach to refreshing Tonic. Their design team collected observations and user feedback from the past decade and synthesized their findings to help inform the changes and additions to the collection that would subtly improve it at every level. That unfailing drive to get things right is apparent in the thoughtful and meticulous level of detail that went into those choices. A few examples include the addition of standing and counter height offerings for select products, new standardized pieces that address the flexible nature of agile spaces, and updated power capacity, options, and access. These decisions and more affirm that Watson’s Tonic collection has been and will continue to be an intelligent, timeless solution that answers the concerns of an uncertain and ever-adapting office landscape.

Photo from 2011 of the original product development team testing the robustness of Tonic’s benching system’s frame. Featuring Mike Simonian looking at the camera surrounded by Watson staff.

The Making Of The Tonic Collection

Watson first launched the Tonic collection in 2012 with Mike and Maaike, an industrial design team based out of San Francisco that also collaborated with Watson on their award-winning Haven collection. Their partnership aimed to bring a thoughtful benching system with modular accessories, cohesive multi-purpose tables, and mobile storage to American markets that would resonate with the collaborative values of the then-emerging Millennial workforce. Over a decade later, Watson endeavored to refresh and expand the line while keeping Tonic’s original spirit intact, reaffirming Tonic as a beautiful, relevant collection that will continue to evolve with its people and environment.

Watson’s Product Development Team uses folded pieces of paper to visualize possible modifications to the Tonic Workbench’s end silhouette to ensure its iconic, clean aesthetic is maintained.

Today’s Tonic collection features dual and newly added single-sided benching with updated, modular infill accessories that configure (and can be reconfigured) within a central deck. This system, called the Tonic Workbench, is newly available in both seated and standing heights, has updated power and data delivery, and boasts a much simpler assembly process than its previous incarnation. Watson also introduced two new standard products to the collection; the Tonic Conference Table and the Tonic Work Table, which grant additional application flexibility, support a more nuanced spectrum of power and data needs and lend a sense of unity across an expansive floor plan. They have refined the line’s multi-purpose tables – the Tonic Tables – by including optional drop-in power and adding a standing height option. This refresh saw updates to the optional monitor mount accessory to better meet the demands of modern screen sizes and brought Watson’s Neighborhood Light and Planter Box accessories to the line. Tonic still includes its iconic mobile personal storage elements, the Trolley and Stash.

Work Design connected with the team at Watson Furniture to learn more about the revamped Tonic collection.

The Tonic Collection works across a broad range of applications and supports a spectrum of power and data needs from light to heavy. From left to right: The New Tonic Work Table, The Reimagined Tonic Workbench, The New Tonic Conference Table, and A Refined Tonic Table.

WDM: What was the inspiration for the design?

Watson: There’s rarely one thing that inspires Watson’s projects. A beautiful tapestry of observation, interest, need and questioning usually leads to a new product or collection idea. In 2010, Watson’s product design and development team attended Orgatec and was impressed with the benching systems that were becoming commonplace for European companies. Additionally observing the spontaneous way strangers were connecting at communal tables in an Amsterdam café, the team recognized that, at that time, there was no benching solution in America that wasn’t just a converted conference table, a solution that ignored many needs for users, facilities teams, and designers. Watson then set out to define benching as a workstation option in US markets and worked with Mike and Maaike to launch Tonic in 2012.

When the desire to refresh Tonic arose, it was under the expertise of Rachel Whitaker, Watson’s lead industrial designer and design manager, that the project was carried out. Through studying Tonic’s existing offerings, interviewing various sources, looking at modification requests from customers going through Watson’s Studio process, and applying her knack for empathetic, considered design, Whitaker led the Product Development team’s effort to reimagine the collection while maintaining its core ethos.

To innovate is not just to introduce something new, it also means to change what has previously been established. As innovators, our past guides us to make something already great into something outstanding.

WDM: What was the motivation behind the decision to relaunch the product?

Choosing to refresh a product, let alone an entire collection, isn’t the easiest road to take. Novelty offers abundant excitement, and the temptation to value newness above all else is a tendency that plagues every industry in the business of selling things. It’s a more straightforward narrative – to say this new thing here, this fresh idea is the answer to your problems. But there’s value in spending the time to revisit what’s been done before. By allowing fresh context to trickle in, we can learn and build on past efforts to measurably improve. To innovate is not just to introduce something new, it also means to change what has previously been established. As innovators, our past guides us to make something already great into something outstanding.

Rachel Whitaker (right) Watson’s lead industrial designer, discussing product updates with Clif McKenzie (left) Watson’s CEO.

WDM: Tell us more about the product design team.

Watson: Watson’s in-house product design team was led by Rachel Whitaker for this project.

Rachel is the lead industrial designer and design manager for Watson Furniture. With over a decade of experience in the fields of industrial and interior design, Whitaker expertly navigates the intersection of furniture design, space planning, and interiors.

At Watson, Rachel works closely with a multidisciplinary team to develop and launch intuitive, well-built, and function-forward products that positively impact people’s lives. She is excited by the design challenges prompted by an ever-evolving office environment and endeavors to contribute compelling solutions to the future of the workplace.

WDM: What are the most innovative features of the Tonic collection?

Watson: As we embarked on this project, we noted several improvements that would reduce overall material use, simplify complicated manufacturing processes, and streamline assembly – all while improving the functional aspects of the Tonic collection and maintaining its iconic aesthetic.

Through testing and analysis, Watson’s product development team identified that the original benching system was overbuilt and used more material, individual parts, and fasteners than was necessary for it to be structurally robust. This meant the product was more complicated and slower to manufacture than it needed to be. Through prototyping, the team was able to minimize complex and time-consuming manufacturing processes by reducing the number of welds and bends in metal components and combining previously separate components into single pieces. By consolidating those parts, fewer items need to be powder coated, and assembly of the product becomes much simpler.

The heart of the Tonic Collection is undoubtedly the Workbench. Through modular accessories, seen here with privacy screens, the Planter Box, and storage, it’s able to pivot between individual and group work modes, evolving alongside its environment. The Workbench can be specified with a number of end conditions and is seen here with the ’Under’ storage option. Adding Tonic Trollies gives individual workstations personal, and mobile storage.

WDM: Where do you envision the collection being utilized?

Pieces within the Tonic collection can exist in any space in today’s offices or wherever work happens. Because of the breadth of the line, the array of accessories, and the workbench’s capacity to easily swap out infill components, Tonic accounts for current needs and adapts to how they may change in the future.

Within one timeless aesthetic, Tonic’s communal and individual settings, conferencing, meeting tables, and mobile storage provide a bevy of options to unify and provide a range of functions across an entire floor plan. Its iconic, clean look seamlessly merges with any space’s style without the risk of looking dated as time passes.

Tonic will continue to stand the test of time and effortlessly pivot to accommodate an ever-changing office landscape.

By expanding the line, refining each piece, and ensuring human considerations like additional height offerings and updated power access are thoughtfully implemented, the refreshed Tonic collection will continue to stand the test of time and effortlessly pivot to accommodate an ever-changing office landscape. Tonic works across a broad range of applications and supports a spectrum of power and data needs from light to heavy. This provides users with options for where and how they work, encouraging exploration and connection, while still supporting individual workstations.

The Tonic Conference Table is a new standardized product and can be specified in seated, bar, and standing heights. Drop-in power can be added to any conference table segment.

WDM: What do you think are the key benefits of this product in today’s evolving workplace environment?

Watson: The Tonic collection invites users to explore their workstation and their workplace, and engage with their environment on multiple levels creating spontaneous environments that don’t sacrifice the individual’s need for privacy or a place for heads-down work.

Tonic tables are a simple product with rectangular and round top shapes that can accommodate drop-in power and a monitor mount, so they can be utilized for quick meetings, as a lounge setting, in cafes, and more.

The Work Table is a new standardized product that is specified as an approachable, preset solution for two to four individuals. The product doesn’t need to be hardwired, instead utilizing single circuit power which makes it easier to install and to move in the future. Tonic’s Work Table is offered at a seated height and is newly available at standing height, making it feel easy to approach and applicable as a touchdown point or as a designated work area in communal or work lounge environments. Through inviting, thoughtfully designed accessories, it creates touch points for formal and casual meetings, chance encounters, hybrid calls, and more.

…Tonic adapts to the changing needs of designers, facilities teams, and end users.

The Tonic benching system called the Tonic Workbench, has an expansive array of modular infill accessories, which are pieces designed to work within the center infill of the Workbench, that allow it to pivot between the focused work area and team space by switching the infills out. Tonic’s Workbench’s power raceway provides robust wire management and controlled access to power in a beautifully exposed manner. When used as a solution for individual workspaces, surface space is defined by the size of the worksurface segment, a slight but instinctual delineation to cue what is ‘your’ area and what is ‘mine,’ from the user’s perspective. Another key design element is the grommets, both shape and material, that are openings in the infill making power access an intentional design element and not just something to hide. The Workbench gives people the ability to individualize through the use of infill accessories, and customize with Watson’s vast array of materials, making it beautiful, playful, and functional.

…The most attractive thing about Tonic is its ability to help people plan for uncertainty.

With the addition of conference tables, which are available at three heights (seated, counter, and standing), a single-sided Workbench with single-sided infill components, updated accessories such as the Neighborhood Light with USB-C and USB-A charging ports, and planters, Tonic is an expansive, responsive solution for designers, facilities teams, and end users. Beyond specific features, however, the most attractive thing about Tonic is its ability to help people plan for uncertainty. The collection of products has a timeless design and will continue to be a reliable and relevant solution for individuals, teams, and communities.

WDM: Where are the products manufactured?

Watson: Watson designs, builds, and ships from its headquarters, called The Orchard, in Poulsbo, WA.

WDM: Will the collection be featured in a showroom?

Featured products will be in our Seattle and Chicago showrooms and unveiled at this year’s NeoCon in our Chicago showroom, which is located at TheMART in room #341.

WDM: How can our readers find a rep or get in contact with you about Tonic?

Watson: A list of our reps is available on our website.

WDM: Where can our readers find out more about the products?

Watson: Readers will be able to find the expanded Tonic collection after NeoCon 2023, at which point it will be available on Watson’s website. For early access to the Tonic Collection Look Book, readers can sign up here.

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Maddie Frost
Maddie Frost
Maddie Frost is a Project Designer at FOX Architects. Prior to joining FOX she attended Florida State University where she studied Interior Architecture & Design.
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