“…chairs are anthropomorphic. They look like us with feet, legs, seat, backs, and arms.” – Galen Cranz (pg. 66 of The Chair)
We sit. We sit in chairs. Chairs are easy to take for granted but are fascinating. Chairs are everywhere we go, with infinite variations. At the same time, those variations and changes hold so much meaning. As a primarily western cultural symbol, a chair has social and cultural meaning. Chairs can communicate status and lifestyle, emotion and comfort. The word “chair” itself can be a metaphor for a respected position, such as “chairperson” or “county seat.” The spaces we inhabit are shaped by our seating. Consider the difference in chair arrangement between a classroom, waiting room, conference room, and living room. The way chairs are organized is related to how people would like to communicate in different settings. Different tasks require different chairs. Humans constantly change position, shifting around while sitting in chairs.
Ergonomics is very important if a chair is to be occupied comfortably. Throughout history, chair design has continued to change, reflecting new technologies and materials, trends in aesthetics and society, and ideas about ergonomics. Early modernists said “form follows function,” yet many chairs designed in the twentieth century were primarily sculptural. Both ideas are important. Line, proportion, shape, material, decoration, and craftsmanship all need to be considered. As a designer, what will you chose to communicate with your chair design? What function will your chair accommodate? Who will occupy it? What will be beautiful about it?
Activity 1 design a fun chair!
We, as humans, like to sit. We sit for different reasons. Sometimes we sit to rest and get off our feet. Sometimes we sit to do a task. Sometimes we sit to socialize. For this activity, design a chair that is fun to sit in! Search around your classroom and at home for pieces of unused material. Look for anything unusual: small scraps of wood, cloth, paper, wire, leather or even plastic! Think about how you can stitch these materials into the form of a chair. How can the materials inform how the chair looks? How will they influence how the chair feels to the touch? How can they inform the form of the chair?
Make a chair that is interesting and inviting. Work with a base (or seat) that is 16-18" off of the ground; create a structure for the seat or structure the setting of the seat. Add arms if needed and a back if that is important. Think about materials, structure, color and aesthetics. Make a small model of a chair that is expressive of the material and inviting and comfortable to sit in.
Activity 2 Design a Pedestrian Chair
In public spaces, seating is important. A place to sit is a welcome sight when you have been on a long walk or are waiting to meet someone, especially for the elderly or small children. Sketch your design for a pedestrian chair or build a small model. What kind of location is your chair for? Consider parks, bus stops, or other places people may be waiting. Is it permanent or movable? Is it inexpensive so that it can be installed in many locations across town? How many people does it seat? Be sure to consider the material, as it will be outside in all kinds of weather.
Activity 3 Grandpa Chair, Momma Chair, Baby Chair
Design three chairs: one for a child, one for a middle-aged adult, and one for an elderly person. Consider ergonomics in your design.
Activity 4 Design Critic
Photograph or find images of three good chair designs and three bad chair designs. Describe why you selected these chairs and why you feel they are good or bad designs. In your description, note what you think the chair designer had in mind when designing. Was the designer considering cost to be the most important? Aesthetics? Material? Function?
Activity 5 Design a Digital Chair!
You have had the opportunity to sit in a lot of chairs, you have looked at chair history and have modeled chairs. Now try your hand at digitally modeling a chair. Watch a SketchUp Chair Demo and then open SketchUp on your computer and follow along. Once you have copied the construction of the Sketch Up chair, experiment with modeling your own. Remember though, that all chairs digitally modeled, still need to be built, prototyped and tested during the design process!
If you consider how the human body occupies a chair you design, you are considering:
Chair designers always follow the rule "form follows function".
Chairs in the future will change because:
When designing a chair, it is most important to:
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- Design Museum Chair Resource Packet [PDF]
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- Thoughts on Design
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- The Sitting Machine: Enrichment Club Pursues Design of a Cardboard Chair!
- 108 Years of Herman Miller Chair Designs in 108 Seconds
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