You design a wide range of products. Do you find designing chairs more or less difficult than other objects or products? How does it differ?
Designing a chair is one of the most challenging briefs. Chairs have been around since we first decided to sit down, so coming up with something more comfortable, fitting a wider range of cultures and sizes and more beautiful is, at first glance, impossible – 'it’s all been done before'. However the nice thing about the brief for Abacus was that Forum Seating set really tight requirements on manufacturing method, materials, price and market position, so the chair evolved from this brief quite naturally, with a guiding hand from the process and a heavy seasoning of human factors and architectural aesthetic.
Other products I have designed tend to be unique and innovative solutions to a newly perceived problem, and therefore it’s the first time this product has been designed – not so the chair! With a chair, the user is highly critical since they have pre conceptions of the types of chair they like; they have many around them in the different aspects of their lives, work, eating, travelling etc., so a lot to compare my chair with.
A stadium seat is the one product in a stadium which the visitor is intimate with, being in contact with it for sometimes hours (that and plastic beer glasses!). The seat therefore has to uphold the brand quality of the stadium all the way through from the first sight to the final goal. If it looks fussy or is uncomfortable after 10 minutes, it can really affect the visitors’ experience of that stadium.
What do you take into consideration while designing? Are the materials that the product is made of, the functionality and the ergonomics as important as the design itself?
The single most important consideration of designing a chair is the human factor. From the first moment a stadium client sees and tries out the seat he will make a decision about what that seat says about its brand. If the manufacturing process is too labour intensive, the seat will be too expensive. If it is difficult to install, the opening night is delayed. If it is too flimsy it gets used as a weapon in rowdy games. All the other aspects are considered with reference to how they help the human aspects.
The great thing about materials and manufacturing processes is that they are constantly evolving to give us, designers, a wider set of tools to craft a more successful product for all its user groups.
How are trends in design evolving? What trends do you think will be the most important in the near future?
A trend in design at the moment is simplicity. Simplicity in look, simplicity in user interaction. The technology and design effort to achieve this simplicity can be very complex. Individual user customisation is also a big thing, and getting bigger.
The other obvious design trend is led by the value of materials and labour. For stadium seats the cost of plastics compared to steel has fluctuated making it more or less desirable to design using one or the other material. The cost of labour in the more heavily manufacturing countries, and the typical manufacturing processes they use, can guide the design of a product to utilise one method of fabrication over another. The underlying design can change significantly to accommodate the more economic material and process. It is imperative, but also very satisfying to design for the material and the way it is made.
As for future trends, I think we will be challenging the assumptions of a ‘user group’ and we will be designing for a thousand individuals rather than a specific target user group.
What are the most important distinguishing marks of the Abacus chair? Did you intend to create the whole line of products (Abacus Bronze, Silver and Gold) the moment you started designing or did the project evolve?
To defend copy-cats Abacus had to be patentable. The way the seat gravity tips about the beam on which it is mounted is unique. This reduced the number of components in the seat, eliminating pre-assembly and reducing costs.
The open contours of the seat means it is comfortable to a wide range of body shapes, which was important to Forum Seating as they wanted to have a globally applicable product. The minimal aesthetic means the seat can be applied to a wide range of different stadia's architectural look.
The product range has evolved from the one basic seat design. I believe it is important to get a strong product identity first in the most significant seat – the basic seat (sold in much greater volumes than the others).
How do you feel seeing a stadium with 59,000 chairs designed by you? Do you feel excited that those chairs are in arenas where events like the European Championship will take place?
It’s an incredible feeling seeing so many of my design in one space! The venues are very impressive and I am immensely proud of the design and development teams in Forum Seating for achieving this level of success. I am looking forward to watching the audience jump up and down in their seats at a goal, and seeing the banks of Abacus behind the player’s faces in the press!
As Nowy Styl Group we identify different types of work spaces and we provide furniture that serves them best. What does your work space look like? Could you please describe it?
Open plan, bench style desking (designed by me!). Height adjustable of course. We have low, or no, screens between desks allowing for open team work. The rows of desks have rows of cupboards running behind the chairs for personal and team storage. The tops of the cupboards support models and samples creating interest. At the end of rows we have round tables for informal meetings. Floor to ceiling ‘blades’ of acrylic of different colours denote the different groups making it easier to find a specialist. The overall feeling is of a busy design office.