Brian Alexander describes himself as an observationalist. “I spend a lot of time getting to know the behaviors of everything,” he says. Alexander is so fascinated by why people do what we do, in fact, that he’s been compiling an owner’s manual for human behavior since the late 1980s. “It began by watching a traffic jam in a food service line,” he says. “I was intrigued with the way people negotiated and mimicked the person in front without even knowing it.” He adds to the manual frequently and draws upon it for every project he works on.
One example: the intuitive height-adjustment switch on Alexander’s Renew Sit-to-Stand Table. After noting how people interact with other switches, he designed a new control that encompasses both our basic intuitions about direction and our bodies’ need to change positions throughout the day. “It’s like shaking hands with a flower petal,” he says. “I try to slip people little affirmations through my designs, things they can identify or connect with on a very basic level. You can see it in their faces, the reactions they have when something flows with them rather than against them.”
To Alexander, getting a design right is more about perfecting human interaction than it is about aesthetics. “If something is done right, it’s complete with the minimum amount of bits, but at the same time, it leaves itself open to growth—like a plant.”
While Alexander often works on physical projects, he also specializes in identifying discord in existing processes and suggesting new ways to bring those processes into harmony. “Most of the time, there’s some subtlety in our deeper wiring that reframes the whole problem,” he says. “If you get that squared up front, you can aspire to something more specific.”