Sit on it -n- think

Ok so here are few question I have been wresting with for a while:

What makes a chair great?

Is it ergonomics?
Is it a clever interpretation?
Is it the form?
Is it an innovative use of materials and process?
Is it simplicity?
Is it how we interact with it?
Is it the environment it creates?

Lastly what enables a chair to stand the test of time?
I would love to hear some thoughts…

A) Durability

B) Good marketing

yes x 7. all of the above. there is no formula of course. people have been “designing” chairs for thousands of years, and there is still room for improvement and both good and poor designs produced everyday.

not sure exactly what you are looking for…a secret formula of 10% ergonomics + 15% materials + …?

R

all of the above.

not to be flip, but it all depends.
Thonet’s cafe chair was innovative in form and manufacturing but (beneficially for the cafe owner) uncomfortable.
Most design history books will only show eye-candy regardless of any other kind of success or failures. It’s the most typicall definition of “great”.
It’s funny that no-one mentions Laz-e-Boy when talking about great chairs, for decades, it’s been one staple of the American dream.
And then there’s Wendell Castle and the rest of contemporary craft making exhorbitantly expensive one-off “art furniture”.
And now sustainablilty will be a measure of greatness as well.

Greatness, is what best suits the needs and wants of the buyer.

no spec is right.

it all depends.

there is a speciific draw about seating that attracts designers. it’s a deceptive challenge. considerations vary depending on the use of the chair. for instance, the amount of attention to ergonomics i would use for task seating is very much different for that i would use for a dining chair. the converse could be said for upholstery detailing between the same two chairs.

Rich-
I’m not looking for a formula, just opinions on what makes an enduring chair great.

I have always wondered what it is about the eames chair that makes it great. As with anything the appeal is in the eye of the viewer, but it strikes me as odd that certain designs are just great and accepted as great. Where others are just looked at as nice or en vogue but there is little if any staying power.

Also as a designer I there are so many approaches to take a chair design I am curious about what approach anyone would take if you had to design a chair for yourself. Any thoughts…

Good answer ‘no spec’. I’ve designed and built a few and my starting point would always be comfort, which doesn’t neccessarily mean padding, but making it the right height and shape and fit for the task ie, sitting at a table or lounging in front of the TV. I also try and make chairs from sustainable materials. There are too many plastic chairs out there and very little infrastructure to aid recycling, much better to make them sustainable.

I think the Eames chairs work so well because they are comfortable first, function has much greater longevity than aesthetics.

Tank-
Great thought. So a great feeling chair will out last a more interesting aestheticly appealing chair. Best case there is a clean design that draws interest and the comfort / usability is the pay off?

funny - there’s another thread on how uncomfortable the Eames lounge is, and how it’s looks alone are what made is great.

There have been so many chairs that tried pure visual novelty that really had no lasting influence, (although they consistanly show up in the histories)
the Reitveld Z chair is crap, but I wish I’d thought of it.
Lots of experiments with what “sitting” is also led to short lives (that “ergonomic” half kneeling thing, and everything from the 70’s)

Greatness can only be measured after the fact, in how much the innovation influenced other designers or the market. To focus any attention in one direction is to take it away from another, when too much attention for too long is placed in one direction - then there is opportunity for change.

ask yourself what has not changed for awhile? what is most undervalued today? what can be exaggerated that hasen’t in the past?

How many people here have had designed chairs either for themselves or a client? Can you share some of your learnings?
Thanks

Last time I sat on an Eames Lounge, I thought it was comfortable, but it was a long time ago, in a store, so I didn’t get to try it out for any prolonged length of time (don’t have enough money for one). After an hour of sitting on it, it could make your legs go to sleep, I wouldn’t know, so I could be wrong in stating that its comfortable. For the time I parked my a$$ on it, it was nice.

Every year at design shows, I see rafts of chairs, slews of stools, great vistas of seating and they nearly always leave me feeling empty. The human body changes very little and apart from designing an office chair with masses of adjustability or orthopeadic chairs, childrens chairs or one offs etc, most chairs have to be generic in that they cater for the mean percentage of the population. So they conform to a set of very well established dimensions (+ - 5cm here or there) especially with seat height. This is particularly true with dining furniture that has to fit under a table, allow people to sit close to one another etc. So if there are so many chairs in the world and the human body is evolving so slowly, you could argue that there’s no need to design any more. Yet there’s something in most designers that makes us want to have a go (and funnily enough – chair manufacturers), for me I felt it was a bit of a bench mark – I’m a designer, so I should have designed a chair or two.

At the moment, there’s a chair posted on Core’s home page the Hara chair. An orange fiberglass construction. If it’s not comfortable, then in a few years time when the fashion has moved on what will the buyer be left with, a rather expensive decoration (which you can’t recycle). I guess you could use it to hold piles of magazines or dirty washing or donate it to a museum! For me, good chairs, are almost like silent family members, for years they support you at meals, witnesses moments of joy and pain, comfort you when you have a cold, hold you whilst you watch TV and as they bear witness, they build up a patina of use. Using that as a starting point for a design, rather than setting out to design a cool looking chair that’s ruined as soon as it gets scratched by a stud on a pair of jeans (back to the Hara chair) is for me a better starting point.

Greatness can only be measured after the fact, in how much the innovation influenced other designers or the market. To focus any attention in one direction is to take it away from another, when too much attention for too long is placed in one direction - then there is opportunity for change

Its true that if you only focus on function and ignore aesthetics then there will be a reaction - counter culture. But I always think there should be a slight bias towards function ie comfort, because if you go too much towards aesthetics, then all you’re left with is uncomfortable sculpture. For me greatness (of chairs) isn’t measured by how much a chair design influenced other designers or the market. If the first thing I want to do is slump into it as soon as I get home after work, that’s a great chair.

Known collectively as the Hardoy Chair, Butterfly Chair, and BFK Chair by Argentinian architect Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy. Through the fifties and sixies it was a modernist icon; minimalist design, form over function. It’s been emulated countless times ever since.

1938 original

1970 Edition

I grew up with two of them, wedding gifts to my mom and dad. They were to be found everywhere over the years; in the living room when I was very young, on the covered back porch by the time I was in high school, one went with me to college for a few years, and finally, in their seventies, my parents relegated them to the garage attic.

For me greatness (of chairs) isn’t measured by how much a chair design influenced other designers or the market. If the first thing I want to do is slump into it as soon as I get home after work, that’s a great chair.

A poor design really, in terms of ergonomics; it didn’t support any portion of the body well, and it’s hard to get out of, especially as one’s years (and waistline) advance. But as a kid I lived in that chair. You could sit in it and have your books and stuff on the floor and still be able to reach them; an end table or coffee table wasn’t needed.

There have been so many chairs that tried pure visual novelty that really had no lasting influence

But it’s psychological factor was great; futuristic (at the time) feel, womb-like embrace. Totally cool visually. And still essentially in production; it will probably influence designers for another seventy years.

http://www.knoll.com/museum/prod_museum.jsp?prod_id=375

i’d perhaps argue the butterfly chair is not form over function but the reverse, but i’ll maybe leave that for another post…

anyhow, this got me thinking about other chairs that have made the leap from revolutionary, designers objects to common day seating in part perhaps due to their ubiquity or perfection in that balance of factors.

as such, i’d like to submit the “sacco” beanbag chair designed in 1968 by Piero Gatti, Cesare Paolini and Franco Teodoro for Zanotta. By now it’s somewhat a cliche in rec-room living and has spawned countless imitators/replicates, but this chair did indeed start as a designer object that no doubt was priced sky high in the 60’s.




discuss amongst yourselves :slight_smile:

R

I like the idea of the relaxing fall into it at the end of the day chair, but can a chair designed with that ultimate comfortability in mind and still be considered great? Or is it the lazy boy paradigm, everyone wants one but they are far from being looked at as great design? This sounds like it could be good challenge thou. Designing a chair that defies the Lazy Boy paradigm? What do you think? Does it sound interesting or am I just hung over from too much turkey?

Why isn’t a LazyBoy great design? It suits a user’s need/want very well. I read this statement to mean “great design” needs to pass a beauty competition that doesn’t have any criteria other than a subjective one.

I’ve sat in an Eames Chair and its nice…but it isn’t something that made me instantly understand all the hubub over it. As I understand it, it was revolutionary b/c of its manufacturing technique. How well did it sell? Who was it targeted as wrt an end user?

If we look at it in context of what we have been talking about here it may be.

  1. The form of the chair highly functional
  2. Ergonomic for specific application / use [drinking & watching the game]
  3. The environment it creates is desirable [who hasn’t passed out in one]

Does it deliver on the following:

  1. Innovative use of materials and processes
  2. Simplicity
  3. Clever interpretation
  4. Is like a silent family member [product tank]

I am conflicted classifying lazy boy as a pure chair (what ever that is). To me it is like a tweener chair half chair / half napping machine. Which is not a bad thing. Also the prototypical Lazy Boy is excessive comfort and to me that detracts from the form. It does lead to a distinct look and feel for the Lazy boy but are there cleaner more controlled ways to the same feel??? Thoughts…
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a5f1adc3fbeef6a9e1d2dc5f84a6ee0f.jpg

A poor design really, in terms of ergonomics; it didn’t support any portion of the body well, and it’s hard to get out of,



i’d perhaps argue the butterfly chair is not form over function but the reverse …

I think what I was getting at is that as the human body changes over time our seating needs change with it (we all grow old, many gain weight, the joints stiffen, muscles weaken, etc.). " … the idea of the relaxing fall into it at the end of the day chair" is still appealing to me (at 57) but neither the butterfly nor the bean-bag (we’ve had a few over the years) would be my choice of seating; nor would any chair that requires “effort” to get into or out of. Is part of seating “comfort” diminished by having to climb into, or out of, it? I think so. “Function” (comfortable seating) has been degraded by the user not being able to get into the chair (form) easily … form over function.

But the form/function-function/form issue would seem to be a mute point. Greatness of any chair appears, to me anyway, to be time oriented, from the user’s point of view. Perhaps, quite literally, the test of time?

Or as no_spec put it,

Greatness, is what best suits the needs and wants of the buyer.

great / adj. 3) remarkable in ability, character, etc. 8) an outstanding person or thing.

Well I thought I would dust off this thread and post my first true attempt at designing a chair. This design is for the Yankodesign.com relax furniture competition, kind of fitting based on our discussions here. Let me know if you have any thoughts…
Thanks,
c2c

nice concept, but…

i don’t know, it’s a setee with a barrel chair profile?


seating, to me, has always been a pure form of human interaction with an object. it’s a simple action with a complex set of tertiary associations and actions.

the beauty is in the details and often go unnoticed individually.

you forgot to mention one thing, point #8; naked women. naked women will always help sell any chair.