In 2012, Helsinki will be the World Design Capital. To celebrate, Eero Yli-Vakkuri and Jesse Sipola of Ore.e Ref. have a simple challenge for designers all over the world: Don’t design a chair.
As the designers write:
We believe that the world already has enough chairs. Designing new ones only takes time away from renovating the ones we already have. Consider this the ultimate challenge for you to rethink how sustainable design should be manifested. If not that… Then think about the amount of time you’ll save when you don’t have to design chairs for a year.
In case you are having trouble with the challenge, they’ve prepared a delightful step-by-step guide to not designing chairs. (Step 1: "Find a place to sit in the wilderness.")
Like the lamp and the teapot, it seems the chair is a thing that every designer (and more than a few architects) will design at some point in their career. Yli-Vakkuri and Sipola suggest that maybe we already have enough. They ask us to consider the time that’s devoted to chairs and the things that those designers could have been designing instead.
Behind the lighthearted tone of the campaign is a serious point about sustainability that applies to far more than the ubiquitous chair. The tutorial asks, "Wouldn’t it be just possible to imagine that we already have enough chairs for everyone and it’s more a logistical problem to get those chairs to places that people want to sit?" We already have enough food on the planet to feed everyone, yet people go hungry. There’s a design problem for you.
Design redundancy is tricky to untangle. The discipline of design is about building on previous knowledge and finding cleverer solutions to problems. Can you decide if a problem is solved well enough? Sometimes, things which seem to be solved aren’t and a better solution is waiting to be found. Consider the Aeron chair, a device that genuinely helped the ergonomics of countless office workers. That said, in the context of a demented economy that’s in the midst of wrecking the planet, there’s a real value to spending some time considering when enough is enough.
[Top image: Paola Pivi's chandelier made of Vitra’s series of collectable miniature chairs]