Space-first Design

Finding the perfect position.

Quick. What are you doing right now? Yeah, I know you’re reading this, but how are you positioned? Okay, maybe you’re standing up. In that case, what will you have done or will be doing within the next 30 minutes?

That’s right, you’ll be sitting.

How we sit today

Why will you be sitting? Sitting is a natural thing that we do, right? There is no wrong way to sit. We are never taught how to sit. It is inherent that we need to sit in order to experience the world. Any teaching we do receive on sitting typically comes in the form of chastisement from our superiors.

“You sit up straight Johnny!” — Dad

“Move your chair closer to the table Samantha so you can eat without spilling” — Mom

“Tim you better take your head off your desk. There’s no slouching in my class” — Professor X

We believe in maintaining posture and the effects that it can have on our body. It can get bad.

It can get bad. I wanted to put a person here, but felt awkward identifying an individual. This bird-like representation of what we’ve seen feels better. Source

It seems as though this birdie is an outlier. Most of us know how to sit, and sit well. How do you sit? Do you even think about sitting?

Sitting Behavior of office workers, Grandjean and Hunting 1977

Sitting is big business. There are entire companies focusing on building and selling chairs and sofas that you may have heard of.

A very conservative and under-representative sampling of furniture sellers

They sell all types of chairs, but variety exists beyond their inventory. There’s a chair for you. There’s a chair for me. There’s a chair for three. There’s a chair that will let you pee. There’s a chair for an effective soiree. There’s a chair that’s expensive. There’s a chair that’s free. There’s a chair that resembles a bee.

left to right row 1: normal chair, couch, chair for three, row 2: emoji-chair, pee chair, soiree chair, row 3: $ chair, free chair, bee chair. For more weird and expensive chairs see Here Here.

And herein lies the problem. There are too many chairs. Chair innovation has stagnated. It needs to be disrupted! Synergized! Actually, all I really want is the perfect chair. What do I mean by perfect? I mean the chair has to be the right size, height, angle, comfort, rigidity, and rollability. All of that and more. The whole shebang. If that was all that was necessary I could search for and buy the ULTIMATE CHAIR 3000 with all the whizzes and doohickey’s to saturate my thirst for chairs. But, I can’t. Therefore I believe we have reached a local maximum in terms of chair and sitting design. The chair landscape is comparable to the smartphone landscape pre-iPhone in 2006. The next breakthrough innovation is around the corner. We just have to be on the lookout, not sitting still.

The Best Chairs of Today

Often times the solutions to our current “problems” can be found already existing in their extreme form the . For example, the best, most well designed chairs can be found at the highest end of the market. We will take two instances for comparison and enlightenment.

The Emperor

Who would ever buy a chair like this? I wouldn’t. Ain’t nobody got the money for that (Starting at $5305) . Apparently some do. On their website MWE Lab claims their chair is

“ a comfortable, immersive and aesthetically unique environment for people that spend many hours in front of their computer monitors”

If you take a gander at the buyers, they’re corporations who understand the value of sitting (Dell, Marvel Studios, Sandisk). Said differently, these companies have a few people whose rears are really expensive.

There are few things to note about this chair:

  • It resembles a scorpion
  • It moves a lot.
  • The screen is one with the chair.
  • Adjust, Adjust, Adjust
  • Plush seating!
  • It does look a bit crazy.
  • It takes up a whole lot of space.

Space chairs

What? NO way right? Yes way. You should have seen this coming. Astronauts go on long high velocity trips and the chair is essential to making those trips successful. These chairs can’t be bought, but the experience of just going to suborbital space starts at $250k (See Virgin Galactic).

Here are some pics of previous astronaut chairs followed by their modern counterparts.

Apollo 11 Interior Source Soyuz Seat Fitting Source
Blue Origin Chairs Source 2

We notice a few things about these chairs:

  • All the chairs are oriented at a distinct angle
  • The smoothness and sleekness of the newer designs
  • The relative industrial grade design of the older ones
  • Accessibility — okay there’s no picture up there, but watch this famous guy try and get into a space chair and tell me it can’t be improved.
  • Custom Fit — The Soyuz chairs are made to conform perfectly to the astronaut’s anatomy. One wrong point and the resultant forces during liftoff and landing can be debilitating.

Now, I can neither afford nor have the space necessary to accommodate either of these setups.

NeXt Chair © Criteria

Actually before we delve into my proposed design it may be better to ask “Why?” a little more seriously than before.

The future exists at the intersection of our past and extreme present. The present is often an acceptable approximation of the past so long as the core motivations of a context remain the same. Therefore, the future exists where the extreme capabilities of today are placed in a revamped context. — Unknown

With this framework in mind these are the parameters that I believe are most important for the NeXt Chair.

Workflow compatibility— The current model for a working environment is either a laptop or PC setup on a table. Ideally the NeXt Chair would work intuitively within either one, fitting into the currently available work volume. This would include accommodating accessories such as the keyboard, mouse, headphones, and speakers. It would also be nice if it could be used for VR/AR/MR as well.

Comfort— The chair should minimize stress and maximize relaxation. Studies by NASA over various flights have shown that this occurs when the trunk to thigh angle is at 128 degrees. However the chair should be dynamic enough to accommodate other sitting positions. One thing to note is that body relaxation takes into account head and neck strain and angles. Often times bad posture is the result of looking down at one’s work rather than working with displays situated at eye level. Obviously, the plushness and personalization of the chair material would improve the experience.

Cost— Cheaper is not necessarily better. Good office chairs run from $100–$400 and can get as high as $2,000. I believe the cost should be sub $1,000 but the apparent value of the chair should warrant the pricing. The NeXt Chair would be an investment in one’s health and work productivity.

Enables Space— This is where things get interesting. If I kept in mind only the criteria outlined above, I would basically just be building a lower cost, probably lower margin version of the Emperor. I don’t want to do that. That’s boring. If we consider the chair as the connecting unit in the currently developing new transportation infrastructure, it becomes a vehicle itself. What would that look like? How would it fit into larger vehicles like the self-driving car, self-driving flying car, and the eventual personal rocketship?

The Best Chair of Tomorrow

Here are my designs for what the chair could look like. I obviously did not go to design school, but I have come across wackier chairs so I actually don’t feel that bad. Please tear apart the design and my thinking behind it in the comments.

They say a picture is worth … So there’s a monitor behind the headrest that can be pulled out in front of you and retracted when needed.

This took me approximately 25 minutes to sketch out. Note the mentioning of very practical rockets. The screen slides out from behind the headrest when necessary. Likewise the footrest is embedded in the chair’s base, retracting when in use. Ideally a keyboard and mouse setup would slide out of the armrests. There are speakers inserted into the headrests. The upper portion of the chair would be able to rotate along its spherical base. Building a seamless chair like the NeXt Chair is only possible when integration occurs. To create the chair, one would need to have fine control over the data exchanges between the chair, laptops, accessories, and extensions like the external transportation modules (car, plane, rocket). Added functionality would also have to seamlessly meld into the contours of the chair. For now, the NeXt Chair looks barely good enough for today (3D CAD model upcoming). Hopefully, I’ve delved deep enough into my chair needs and desires for you to begin to question the future possible in your everyday ordinary objects.