Knoll Hipso Standing Desk Review
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As commercial office furniture sales plummeted with the pandemic, Knoll and its Big Furniture peers (Steelcase, Herman Miller, et al) all scrambled to get a “WFH” (work from home) desk line in the market. These are not digitally-native companies and all their offerings have been artificially constrained so as not to cannibalize sales from their historically exclusive commercial furniture dealer channels. It seems Knoll tried the least to make a viable offering, likely to also avoid channel conflict with Fully, which it acquired in 2019. The Hipso may have hip branding, but the offering is so constrained in height range, sizes and colors offered, warranty length, etc., that even at this price point it is completely uncompetitive.
Because of the single-stage lifting base, only medium-height individuals can use the desk ergonomically.
|MSRP / List Price||$535|
24″x45″ $535 ($595 with rounded corners)
Hipso is shipped out in 1-3 business days via UPS Ground in three boxes
Single-stage, two-segment electric lifting columns with non-BIFMA height range of 28.75” –47.25″
Simple 2-button up/down switch with no digital readout
Tops are only available in the oddly non-standard sizes of 24″x45″, 24″x51″ and 29″x57″
Desktop colors are limited to white, oak and walnut laminate in rounded corners. In square corners an additional color, black, is offered.
Desktops are old-school, high-pressure laminate (HPL). The rounded-corner upgrade replaces sharp square-cornered edge banding with a color-matched ABS plastic banding.
Height range of 28.75” – 47.25″
265 lbs minus desktop weight (depends on the size of the desktop)
|Typical Assembly Time||
Approximately one hour. Having a cordless screwdriver with a magnetic Philips bit helps.
Not ANSI/BIFMA X505-2014 certified like other Knoll desks and not compliant with ANSI/BIFMA G1-2013 Ergonomic Guidelines for height adjustment range (i.e. not intended for the corporate market).
|NEAT™ Certified by Mayo Clinic||
|Where to buy||
Buy on Knoll.com
|Ease of Assembly|
|Quality and Aesthetics|
|Positives||High-quality base components robotically manufactured in Lithuania.|
|Negatives||Very limited height adjustment range that'll leave shorter and taller people unable to use this desk ergonomically. Only three smallish desktop sizes offered in three colors. Very basic desktop quality. Relatively short warranty.|
A Standing Desk Offering Born of the Pandemic
As we write about in detail in our recap of COVID-19’s Dramatic Impact on the Office Fitness Industry, and Standing Desk Suppliers in Particular, the $1B+ commercial contract office furniture manufacturers (which we affectionately refer to as ‘Big Furniture’) have taken a huge beating, as bad as hotels and airlines in some ways. Practically in lockstep with the release of commercial office leases all over the country, large “project sales” of office furniture are down between 20% and 50% right now, depending on their customers’ geography and industry profiles. Knoll is no exception.
Once they realized the dramatic impact the pandemic was going to have on their revenues these behemoth companies, like Herman Miller, Steelcase, Knoll, HON, National, et al, have all attempted to pivot as quickly as possible to capture the Work From Home (WFH) market, to try and offset their enterprise sales losses as customers abruptly turned to e-commerce for their home office standing desks.
These pivot maneuvers have taken different forms, from acquiring digitally-native furniture companies (e.g. Kimball acquired Poppin.com) to taking retail and e-commerce companies they already owned (e.g. Knoll acquired Fully.com in 2019 and Herman Miller acquired Design Within Reach back in 2014) and cross-pollinating commercial and consumer products back and forth between them.
All of these large companies, however, have the same channel conflict problem. For decades they have sold their commercial-grade office furniture products exclusively through their dealers, so-called “commercial contract furniture dealers.” But to be competitive with online sellers like UpLift, Fully, iMovR, Autonomous, and dozens of ultra-cheap Chinese-made desks sold on Amazon, as well as retailers like IKEA and Costco, there is not enough margin to cut in their dealers on these single transaction sales to consumers. So they basically cut them out of the equation and for the most part have gone “D2C” (direct-to-consumer) with their WFH offerings.
To at least try and keep their dealers from getting too upset about the situation the products being offered through the D2C channel are “highly curated” (i.e. artificially limited), and the Knoll Hipso Standing Desk is no exception. In fact, it’s clear they also tried to stay out of conflict with their newly-acquired e-commerce subsidiary, Fully.com. Only a handful of colors, sizes and options are offered to the consumer, whereas an enterprise customer would theoretically want to stick to buying through their contract furniture dealer who can order anything from the catalog and provide installation and design services.
There’s a practical reason for this, though, in that unlike e-commerce players like iMovR that manufacture on-demand and can offer tens of thousands of desk configurations that can all ship out in one week, Big Furniture players have been producing desktops in large batch runs forever. It’s just how they’re wired. For enterprise customers that can wait four to six months to deliver a few hundred or a few thousand desks to a corporate campus that’s not a problem. But for e-commerce, it is. So to enable relatively fast shipping they’ve had to pre-produce a limited number of colors and sizes and keep them in stock, which would be a huge and impractical capital investment if they were to offer all their colors and sizes online.
Just like its Big Furniture peers curated their WFH offerings, Knoll did not bother with having the Hipso ANSI/BIFMA tested and certified, and it doesn’t even meet the G1-2013 Ergonomic Guidelines—all to make sure it doesn’t bite into corporate sales of the products it sells through its exclusive dealer channel.
Knoll’s Conception of a “Home Office” May Differ From Yours
We’ve been lab testing and reviewing standing desks since 2013, and you can see how they all compare to one another in our round-up of Top Standing Desk Reviews. Over the years we’ve seen manual crank desks replaced almost 100% by motorized models, and the plethora of choice in desktop colors, shapes and sizes explode, in a wide variety of materials ranging from simple “HPL” (high-pressure laminate) to solid hardwoods to high-tech 3D laminates.
Height adjustment range is another thing that has expanded, with the typical “stroke” of a lifting column increasing from 20 inches (“single-stage” or “two-segment” legs) to 25″ (dual-stage, three-segment legs) and some desks from iMovR going another 6″ further with optional leg extensions to accommodate really tall users and office treadmill users.
For commercial office furniture the gold standard for independent laboratory testing to confirm a standing desk’s conformance with accepted standards in stability, durability, liability, etc., is the ANSI/BIFMA X5.5-2014 certification. And standing desks you see sold by Big Furniture to corporate, government and education customers are going to always be certified to this standard.
But there’s also the G1-2013 Ergonomic Guidelines to contend with. While not a certification, a standing desk either conforms with this guideline or it doesn’t. The most important thing in the guidelines as it relates to standing desks is the height range definition that ensures the desk will work for the 95th percentile of seated females to the 95th percentile of standing males. Enterprise customers are not likely to buy any desks that do not conform to this guideline, for pretty obvious reasons.
In choosing to offer only a single-stage base option with the Hipso desk, Knoll was making a deliberate decision to not offer something that corporate customers might buy off their website and circumvent their exclusive dealer channel. It also meant that the desk wouldn’t compete very well with the Fully Jarvis desk, which right now with the WFH boom and the depression in corporate sales due to the pandemic, is the golden goose. So you might be wondering, as we are, what was the purpose for launching this Hipso desk in the first place? Just to demonstrate to Wall Street that they’re taking action against the pandemic?
In terms of desktop sizes, Knoll chose some pretty oddball dimensions to offer to residential customers. Corporate customers typically want desks that will fit nicely into cubicles, so dimensions tend to be offered in 6-inch increments, minus a 1-inch “pinch trim” so that desks don’t scrape the walls of their cubicles as they go up and down. So you’ll typically see dimensional choices of 24″ or 30″ in depth, with widths of 35″, 41″, 47″, 53″, 59″, 65″, 71″, 77″, 83″, 89″ and 95″. For the Hipso, Knoll is only offering 24×45, 24×51 and 29×57. That’s it. These aren’t just odd shapes, they are wasteful from a wood yield standpoint since their MDF cores are cut from sheets of 4’x8′ material. So they seem to be intentionally designed to, again, not compete with other offerings in the Knoll and Fully portfolios.
As for the laminates, they are basic as they come and will look more like cheap commercial furniture than nice home furnishings. Knoll offers the option of “square corners” or, for $60 more, “radiused corners” (i.e. rounded corners). Square cornered tops are simple 6-sided rectangles with a Formica-like high-pressure laminate glued to all sides. The glue seams tend to dry out over time and the edge banding tends to eventually peel off. And if you bump into a square corner with your hip it’ll smarts. (Ironic that they dubbed this desk this “Hipso”!)
Rounded corners are definitely worth the upgrade both in terms of the softness of the corners and the use of ABS plastic banding all the way around the desktop. These are not nearly as nice as fully ergo-contoured desktops that are either 3D-laminated or powder coated, but they’re better than squared corners, for sure.
When it comes to color choices, to keep inventory investment to a minimum Knoll offers only white, oak or walnut on the rounded-corner desktops, and they add black to the selection of cheaper square-cornered tops. The bases are only offered in black or white.
Standing desks that have been popular with the WFH consumer come in many more size and finish options. For example, the American-made iMovR Lander comes in literally thousands of desktop shape, size, color and material combinations, with 22 different 3D-laminate colors and 36 different solid wood finishes. They’re also 95% factory pre-assembled and individually tested before shipping, so they go together in just three minutes, with no tools, and work every time.
In contrast, the Knoll Hipso will keep you busy with tools for an hour putting it together, and if anything goes wrong during that assembly good luck getting responsive support. Unlike its Fully division, Knoll doesn’t exactly deal with retail customers all that well; their dealers typically face the customer and deal with installation and such.
The hand controller on the Knoll Hipso is as cheap and simple as you can get, with no digital readout or Bluetooth or anything fancy like that, just an up button and a down button. Nicer options are reserved only for corporate customers.
Before considering a Hipso we definitely recommend reviewing the installation manual and the installation video so you get a good idea of the tools, space, skills and patience that will be required to put it together. Unlike Herman Miller, Knoll offers no option for in-home delivery and installation.
We were very surprised to see only a five-year warranty on the desk when the competition from Chinese-made desks from Fully and UpLift is seven years, and American desks like iMovR’s offer ten years. This again seems artificially set since commercial customers generally get much longer warranties.
The base used in the Knoll Hipso is made by ROL Ergo, the same company that has long supplied Knoll with their “K-line” standing desk bases for commercial customers. ROL is one of the leading manufacturers in the business, based in Sweden with a US operation in Holland, Michigan. These bases are manufactured almost entirely by robots in Lithuania and are of very good quality. They usually carry 10-year warranties to the furniture manufacturer, so this five-year warranty seems artificially determined to, again, differentiate the product from the K-Line desks they offer corporate customers.
The only rationale we can think of for Knoll deciding to offer only 5 years is that they wanted one simple warranty plan for the entire desk, and HPL desktops don’t endure very well. In fact, most desk manufacturers selling through e-commerce don’t warranty their HPL desktops at all due to their propensity for becoming “unglued”. The issue has become even more common now with the nightly cleaning of desk surfaces with harsh disinfectants ever since the pandemic.
The Bottom Line
Knoll was serendipitously prescient in deciding to acquire Fully in 2019. In an industry that’s been seen market share gradually erode as millions of standing desks were being sold through e-commerce instead of through traditional commercial furniture dealers, they were the first of the Big Furniture players to make the bold move. Of course, they could not have predicted that only half a year later the pandemic would hit and demolish the industry. Knoll seemed visionary in hindsight, and benefiting greatly from the acquisition. While their traditional $1.3B commercial office furniture business saw a massive collapse it was buoyed by massive growth in Fully’s e-commerce business in 2020.
Now all of Knoll’s big competitors are scrambling to buy up e-commerce companies of their own. Meanwhile, they’re trying to make a (so far very unsuccessful) go of selling products direct-to-consumer on their main websites. We’ve reviewed Steelcase’s and Herman Miller’s offerings, all of which suffer from the same weak strategy of trying to hit a price point competitive with other e-commerce sellers while at the same time not cannibalizing their dealers’ business opportunities with corporate customers. Standing desks are an extremely competitive e-commerce category these days, and these guys showed up to a gunfight brandishing a dull knife, with one arm tied behind their backs.
The Knoll Hipso has a catchy name. And the ROL Ergo base that it is built on is of high quality, albeit so “de-featured” that it makes no sense for the majority of consumers. Combined with the very limited choice and quality of desktops, and the short warranty, you could do much better for the money. See our comprehensive round-up of all the top-rated standing desk reviews to see what else is out there.