A New Designer Manifesto: Stop Designing Chairs!

A fun campaign for a year free of chair design asks you to think about sustainability.

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]

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  • poly

    lord I don't get the hype with chairs!

    a lot of furniture design seems a lot more like well designed pieces of art rather than something that was made at a decent cost with a good function and happened to look good!

    it's this sort of design that makes people think that design is just about making something look pretty, and it's art that has the real meaning arghhhh >.<

  • Chris

    Right. While you're at - lets encourage culture to stop all together for 2012. No more new music should be written - we already have enough! No more new paintings or sculptures - there's museums full of them already! And lets stop being creative when it comes to food and cooking - there's already plenty of decent things to eat. Oh, and cease production on any new movies for 2012 - so many to choose from already. Regardless of how capable or interested all of these creative folks are at solving the problems described, everyone should stop doing anything that doesn't solve these problems. After all, someone who can design a chair should be able to solve the problems of global food distribution. Same set of issues, right? I'm sure the folks who are properly trained to deal with these issues and dedicate their lives to this work won't be insulted by all of the chair designers who join in on the fun.

  • Marco P

    Why stop with chairs what about iphones or cars?  There are more than enough of them in the world.

  • Martin

    I think it's wrong. Trying to make something new out of something that have been done a trillion times is a good exercise. Maybe you just shouldn't go head with its physical manifestation in large quantities. 

  • Pete

    I am a furniture designer/maker. For years I have suggested to clients not to have custom chairs designed and built (unless there is a HUGE reason)..

    Good, long lasting chairs are amongst the hardest thing to design and build, and depending on the design can be very material-intensive. This makes them very expensive.  There are thousands of production designs out there, so I feel that my clients are better served at a lower cost/impact if they buy "off the shelf" even though it is sales lost by me.

  • pk langshaw

    love this challenge...first thing i say to my 2nd year students in social design is...why would we need more chairs designed in this world?
    now i can relate this to your step by step guide to not designing chairs.
    design dept concordia university montreal canada.

  • designer mark

    I enthusiastically applaud this thinking – and why stop there?.   I am more and more appalled at Designer’s [my] willingness [and culpability] to contribute to our earth-destroying planned-obsolescence consumerism.   If I were King of the World, I would make a law that Car designs had to last 10 years.  But, you say: we only design/produce what people want.  To which I reply: what if we didn’t?  So you say: I only want to make a living doing what I do well, and I say:  the earth would be better off if designers were all waiting tables.  Save your creativeness and best work for beautiful, well functioning objects [services, etc.]  that will last and that the world really needs.  Who decides what the earth really needs?  I’ll volunteer – it’s good to be King.

  • RagonettiDesigns

    OK, I am in. No chair designs in 2012 unless I am getting paid to design them.