// BarryBlog //

A creative dumping ground for issues that interest me personally and professionally, with the thought they may interest you too. Issues such as the business of design, the design of business, the design of objects, design strategy, creative direction, innovation, creativity, thought leadership, observations, as well as recommendations, mid-century modern decorative arts and architecture, and the state of my thinking (and currently the state of my heart).

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Interesting To Me: Allsteel Acuity Chair

BarryBlog posts on ideas, issues and objects that are really all over the map. This is a reflection of who I am as a thinker, a designer, a christian, and is how I originally envisioned the blog from day one. I post on things which have caught my attention and which I find interesting and at times important. Things I observe by intention, by happenstance, by referral, or by The Spirit, as a way and a place to file interesting things away for future consideration. And for you too, if you find them interesting. The feedback I get in these regards has always been a high point of the process.

The last few months I've been posting less, but with more frequency regarding my flea market finds and the collection I am curating 50 cents at a time via St. Vincent DePaul, Goodwill and other local flea market haunts. Judging by my stats, this is less interesting to some, though ironically my core reader still remains rather solid. It is always fun to see which posts spike readership, but I never set out to gain a following or to boost readership. In fact my blog can best be summed up by a quote from Samuel Butler from The Way of All Flesh which I discovered in reading my book by Herman Miller called "Notes on Attention" by Ralph Caplan."

Butler says...

"The literacy instinct may be known by man's keeping a small notebook in his waistcoat pocket, onto which he jots down anything that strikes him, or any good thing that he hears said, or a reference he thinks will come in useful to him." (I would add: "Or to you").
One thing I never tire of and always find interesting is contract and residential furniture. Furniture industry insider I am not, but having grown up in Mid-Michigan in a small design boutique that was furnished predominately in Herman Miller, then calling Grand Rapids home for a few years as a communication designer, I have developed a passion for contract furniture. All furniture really. I always seem to find incredible furniture and decorative art finds at garage sale prices, which has only fueled by desire to learn more. Perhaps it's learning I enjoy mostly about furniture, not the finds themselves. Maybe that could be another blog post.

Anyway, what I really appreciate the most about the furniture design industry is the leadership role it has earned in the overall design landscape. Furniture design is approached holistically, and design is considered and relied upon at every level of thinking— from the board room to the retail floor. Those who have followed BarryBlog know the business of design is an issue that's been discussed here frequently.

All that to say, the new Allsteel Acuity chair has caught my attention. In a big way. Mainly because of all it isn't. It sits quietly and expectantly for it's user to draw near. In my estimation, the chair's personality takes on the personality of the user, not visa versa.
In some ways I see the Allsteel Acuity chair more representative of Audi than BMW, if you will. The Acuity does what it says, the Aeron says what it does.
You get the picture. Do understand I am a major Herman Miller fan, but like the Aeron, I see the Allsteel Acuity chair in a really small group of excellent products. Perhaps the reason this chair is so excellent, and has so little, is because of Bruce Fifield at Continuum. According to Allsteel's president Eugene Sung, Bruce is a relative newcomer to chair design. I have always been a relative newcomer to each industry I have designed for, and often find this to be a distinct advantage. Mainly because of so little preconception. But as always, you must have a client who trusts your intuition, instinct and voice. After seeing Continnum's previous work, I can see how this would not have been a stretch for Sung.

In reference to paying attention, and to all that this chair is not, here is a great quote by Ralph Caplan from the same publication On Attention I referenced earlier in this post...

"Pay attention so that people are free to attend to what they care about. Ironically, though, the freest societies invariably create environments that militate against attention. Visual pollution is harmful not just because it is ugly but because it is distractive. And therefore destructive. Like other pollution, it destroys the balance of nature–in this case, human nature. A climate loaded with designs clamoring for your attention is a climate in which you end up paying attention to nothing."
Bravo Eugene and Bruce and team. Thanks for paying attention. It made a connection. With me, anyway. And that's why it's on BarryBlog.

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Anonymous Federico Ferretti said...

It's nice that a chair that was designed to be "silent" is grabbing your attention.
I liked what you say:"Acuity does what it says"...

I like because Acuity was designed to be silent but at the same time we worked hard in order to have a product able to talk in a forthright manner with the user.
Acuity gently open a duologue with you. It doesn’t want your attention but only requires your presence, your weight, your body.

I was the senior designer responsible for Acuity project in Continuum Milan.
As you mentioned our team of designers (Bruce Fifield, Federico"Chicco" Ferretti and Dagmara Siemieniec) was a newcomer to chair design.
We didn’t have any preconception but just a respect for an object that has a privileged relationship with the human body and in a certain sense has absorbed its dignity.
On the other hand we where lucky having a team in Allsteel who trusted us and supported our ingenuity and “innocent” approach.

Most of the design of the chair is just based on the common sense of the people who we interviewed in the early stage of the program:
- Simplify the controls and bring them where you eyes can see and where your finger can touch.
- Design a back that instead of pivoting is flexing as your spine does.

The result is something that as Bruno Munari used to say is “aesthetically functional”.

Two quotes were on the wall of our working area (they are still there..) and I hope we were (and we will be) able to partially follow them:

"The degree to which designers has a style is the degree to which they didn’t solve the problem (Charles Eames)

"Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful (John Maeda).

Thank you for putting Acuity in your blog and for the interesting things you wrote.

Chicco Ferretti

3:22 PM  
Blogger studiosmith said...

Federico — I'm honored and appreciative you made time to add to this discussion. You saw how I mentioned ..."and team." That's because as a senior art director, I see how very often one or two people are credited with the thinking. I could sense this was a special group effort, which is why I included that.

I'm a big Charles and Ray Eames fan too, yet had never heard that particular quote. Also a Maeda fan and am proud of his recent acknowledgment and career move That sure changes things in many ways. Obviously Eugene showed a great deal of confidence and trust in your Continuum Milan team, which as we both suggested is crucial to any successful effort.

Having been emersed for a few years in the Grand Rapids contract furniture market, I can really appreciate the stage you and your team were on here. You certainly rose above the fray with the Acuity. I can't wait to sit in one at Neocon 2008.

If you will be at Neocon let me know. It would be a privilege to meet you.

5:11 PM  
Anonymous Federico Ferretti said...

We will be in Chicago in a couple of weeks.
I will be proud to see you sitting on the chair and a pleasure discuss with you.
Our primary intent was not designing a good looking chair but, easing the comfort, design a good mental and physical experience: while sitting in Acuity you don't have to care about the chair but you are just taking care of yourself.
I hope to see this happening to you and to all the other guests at Neocon.
Thank you again for paying attention to our work.

4:26 AM  
Blogger studiosmith said...

:: Federico ::

For the record, the chair is strikingly attractive. Well don on all fronts. I'll look you up at Neocon.

7:39 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Barry - Bruce just wrote up a great commentary on the Acuity design process on our blog. Thanks for the interest.

1:08 PM  
Blogger studiosmith said...

Mike - Thanks for the heads up. Also, I had no idea Roger was a Continuum partner. Very cool. I am a big Rotman wannabe, if I could afford I would get additional education there. What a thrill to be working with such a talent. You guys are so fortunate. I wish you all continued success. Thanks again for the heads up.

8:58 PM  

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