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Shaping the Future of Flooring Through Collaboration and Innovation

Flooring / Shaping the Future of Flooring Through Collaboration and Innovation

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With a background in hard surface, aviation and automotive, Audra Keiber, director of design & development, dove into the soft surface world with Mohawk in March 2020. Only one month later, the first Mohawk Design Summit was held where RSAs and business partners weighed in on the designs that governed the next round of product introductions. 

“It gave me the opportunity to meet key customers and really get a clean slate perspective of what their opinion is on our products and what we’ve come to market with,” she said. 

This year, retailers and designers from across the country convened in Calhoun, Georgia for the 2024 Design Summit focused on both hard and soft surfaces for the 2025 and 2026 Mohawk, Karastan and Godfrey Hirst brand launches. 

“The purpose of the Design Summit is to obtain honest industry feedback regarding Mohawk’s products and services,” said Keiber. “It’s a collaboration for peer to peer and to help nurture relationships with Mohawk design teams and respected industry leaders who sell products that Mohawk creates. It is to also gain expert insights into color lines and pattern developments for our industry and understand what we are doing well and what we need to do better.”

Here, we talk more in depth about the design process, Mohawk’s first Design Competition winner and her participation in the Summit and the future of flooring design. The following are excerpts of our conversation, which you can listen to in its entirety below.


Floor Trends & Installation: Each year the Design Summit has clearly had to evolve from one thing to the next. Could you give us a brief rundown on how it’s evolved over time?

Keiber: It was our RSAs and key business partners who’d given some tough critiques on the product lines and colorways in the past, and the biggest objective there obviously was for us to listen and understand what those gaps were, and then to take action from what that feedback was, which we did.

Our second year, we wanted to open this up to a future perspective and get level set in trends and the things that we were tracking. So, we opened it up to interior design and design specifiers as well as RSAs to give us a broader, more well-rounded perspective of where we were going and where we needed to be.


Floor Trends & Installation: Was the Summit solely focused on soft surface the first two years? Is that correct?

Keiber: Yes, and then year number two, it became really clear that with hard surfaces being a continued point of growth in the industry we needed to start looking at harmonizing. Mohawk is a multi-surface manufacturer, and they have some wonderful, very beautiful products across all of their surface offerings. For us to really understand and to best benefit opportunities for sales from a whole house perspective, we needed to look at how our soft surface products and our hard surface products harmonized. That was part of what came out of year two. 

As you saw this year, we had hard surface and soft surface together and brought hard surface materials in to do our storyboarding and our development from a color palette evaluation. So, I think that this year was definitely the best yet. 


Floor Trends & Installation: First, let’s talk about the design process itself. I had several conversations with some of the participants. They were surprised at how complex it was, and it gave them a whole new perspective on design in general. Second, where do you even start? And then last, what all is taken into consideration?

Keiber: First, the new product development process is a strategic and functional process with stakeholders throughout the value stream, right? It’s a multi-discipline process that aligns with all of the product development processes and follows the basic structure of research, define, develop prototype test and manufacture. Within that process, you could look at it as a stage gate process or a design process we’re really understanding. We’re looking to understand the consumer, the market, the client needs, right? 

This is where we look at the macro trends and how those are driving change from a consumer perspective—from a product perspective. Then, we look at how we’re going to take that into a product roadmap and how that’s going to evolve in our products and our innovation structure over time. Then, we develop and prototype and then test and manufacturing. 

When we look at things from a small-scale prototype standpoint, we would love to sit here and say that it always translates 100 percent, but that’s just not a reality. When you start to look at prototyping equipment versus manufacturing equipment, there’s always a variation in scale. We do that so that we know that when we’re doing something on a small scale from a prototype perspective, it is translatable into production.


Floor Trends & Installation: That’s definitely not something that I would have ever thought of. You literally think of every little aspect involved from concept to completion.

Keiber: Yes, you have to because what you don’t want to is to come out with this beautiful product that you’ve developed on the prototype standpoint and sell it, and then not be able to produce it, right? That’s the worst. It doesn’t really support a confident foundation in your customer base going forward. So yes, we do look holistically at the start to the end of the process.


Floor Trends & Installation: What kind of feedback did you get from participants about the process itself? Did they confide in you some of their thoughts?

Keiber: It’s funny to me because that is one thing, from a consistency and feedback [perspective] from all of the attendees from the day I started until this last event, that people are very surprised with. When they look at it, [they think,] “Oh, it’s just selecting some colors.” It’s really not. It is a lot more in depth in that. There’s a lot of evaluation from a sales and strategic business objective to what’s trending and how things such as society, technology, environmental objectives, politics, innovations in industry, and just innovations in creativity affect all of these consumer behaviors and where we’re going. So it is always a surprise. But it’s a much-needed evaluation in order for you to have confidence in what you’re producing and how you’re putting it out there.


Floor Trends & Installation: The retailers and designers who participated in the Summit are from different regions across the country. Many of them mentioned how surprised they were at how much overlap there was with each group’s trends. I asked them what they feel contributed to that. One person said she felt social media has opened up a whole new world of trend sharing, blurring the distinct differences that once characterized each region’s product choices. What are your thoughts on this?

Keiber: Oh, I absolutely agree. It used to be that, and I would say, maybe 10 plus years, that you would see trends emerging from Milan’s Salone del Mobile, where that’s really the innovation hub for design for home interior, etc., and it would take a good five years for those things to translate in through the West Coast and across the country. Well, with the Internet, not just social media, you can see the Salone day one and get the highlight reels by the end of the night. So, you’re really more in tune with where things are going from a trends perspective instantaneously, and then it just kind of builds from there with your social media followings and any of the HGTV’s, and all of that. Instant access to those things has made it a lot more of a white wash when it comes to the application.

I think that you have some trends that are more niche and based on the region. But from an overall trends perspective, I think that has been one of the things that has shocked participants and has really shocked the Mohawk team—those changes or those variations from the West Coast to the East Coast aren’t nearly as dramatic as what you might think that they are. Some things are lighter here or darker and more saturated here. Maybe some areas of the country really like to have the multi-surface carpeting versus a solid color or a tonal and the light colorways.

There’s a logic that’s based on the environment and the weather and those types of things. But the trends are really what the trends are. It’s how those colorways and things are applied, and what saturation, and in what value that is really where the difference is. 


Floor Trends & Installation: Let’s talk about the winner of the Design Competition. Carla De Meir is a student at The College for Creative Studies. She is a game design student. What was she tasked with in order to compete in the Design Competition?

Keiber: We wanted to hold a competition. This is about engaging a younger audience from a Karastan perspective. Karastan has a long heritage, but it’s not really anything from a younger generation that that people are connecting with really fast. So, we wanted to open this up and bring in some younger students from the interior design discipline at the College for Creative Studies, and we gave them the design challenge of biophilic design and the designs needed to be applicable to residential interior broadloom carpeting, not area rugs and those types of things. 

They had to do research on biophilic design, what it meant, how they would translate that from its meaning into some sort of design philosophy and application.


Floor Trends & Installation: What made her project stand out above the rest?

Keiber: There are a couple of things relative to her project. Her project was focused on the morel mushroom and the textures and the patterns. As a video game designer, she has to focus a lot on patterns, textures and scale. She hit every objective and her illustrations and her final application of that particular pattern just really hit everything. It was to scale; it was repeatable. It hit the mark from a broadloom perspective when she came into it. Originally, she had a lot of creative ideas and illustrations, and then, you could clearly see her logic and how she paired those things down to achieve that end goal. She never lost sight of that goal. 


Floor Trends & Installation: De Meir brings a whole new perspective to the design table. She is seeing patterns and textures in the virtual space. How does that play a role in the future of flooring design?

Keiber: You hear a lot about the digital environment and how people are creating these virtual representations of inspiration boards or just personas and places that represent what they’d like or what they do in their real life into a virtual realm. And her ability to, first of all, take pattern and take surface texture applications and to illustrate them in a digital space and to do it with an understanding of how that would replicate to scale and perception in a 3D environment is pretty impressive. But she was also problem solving any issues that she would have as if she was looking at the floor as a skin in that particular environment and making sure that when she looked at the problem and the solution, she could play it both ways, which is not something that’s typical.  

I think as the generations change and the younger generations, especially Carla’s generation, are immersed in digital realms and video games and all of these things that I know I never had, they do it so seamlessly. It’s just amazing to see, and it’s almost like a testing ground, right? They could test out what they want, how they feel about it here, and then there’s real life. 

She was on my team, and she looked at something as an opportunity to deconstruct it and put it back together. She was tearing pages and papers up and gluing them together to create conceptual illustrations, to communicate what she was thinking. We had a discussion towards the end of the workshop, and she has actually developed a computer program that helps her do this translation of patterning to make it easier for her to apply these things. The way that she was looking at things from a complete perspective, nothing was off limits for her. Every participant came up to me by the end of the event and was complimentary, first of our interaction from a student perspective, bringing in and giving opportunities like this to the younger generation, but also the quality of thought and creativity that she brought to the table was just impressive.


Floor Trends & Installation: Tell us about the future of flooring. Where are we headed?

Keiber: The hard surfaces are really taking over. We have to be able to harmonize our applications, our bedrooms and specialty rooms and things like that. So from our standpoint, we were harmonizing with the other mating products, but we’re also looking at textures. Some of the trends that we were tracking here are relevant relative to some older applications of carpet and textures. So, we’re doing a lot of texture pattern not necessarily a pattern, but more of a haptic surface. That’s a lot of fun looking at loops and cut piles, and how those things work together, and how we can soften the color, so that it becomes something that if a consumer does want color, it’s not something that they’re scared of, right? You look at pattern scale and that application so that it’s something that becomes almost a background effect and not something that is so contrasted that you’re extremely focused on it in the application in the room.

We talked a little bit about biophilia and nature and that as an inspiration. Those are iterative. And how those things translate into products and environments and industries does definitely evolve over time.

But it is iterative. It’s not this year it’s biophilia, and next year it’s digital. It does translate, and it translates at an evolutionary progress over so many years. Then new things come in and those start to spark whatever the next trends are going to be. 


Floor Trends & Installation: I’m sure you are already thinking about next year. How do you think you will change up the Design Summit for next year?

Keiber: Well, we have a lot of discussions on the table right now—nothing super concrete. But one thing that is for sure, we want to expand into a broader representation of all of our surface products that are made under the Mohawk umbrella—Daltile, the hard surface folks and soft surface to look at it as more of a holistic front.