• 03.23.11

What Would Happiness and Despair Look Like… as Chairs? [Video]

Tomas Ekström’s “Emoticons” project tries to extract the pure emotional essence of shapes, forms, and music. But his chairs are the most fun.

What Would Happiness and Despair Look Like… as Chairs? [Video]

Psychologists say the infinity of human emotion can be boiled down to six basic feelings: joy, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust. In his “Emoticons” project, designer Tomas Ekström is interested in extracting the same kind of insight out of design artifacts like drawn forms, physical objects, and musical tones — and seeing how one “pure feeling” can be translated between different media. Like, say, chairs.


The video above explains his grand theory in images and music, but trust us, the chairs are the best part. Especially since Ekström’s “basic emotions” are way artier than those boring shrinks’ version: his big four are Despondence, Dread, Rapture, and Repose. So how do you make a chair that expresses the Platonic essence of rapture? Look no further:

“The body of the chair is actually a very stylized swan, while the legs resemble the sea in the way that it carries it, and flows along the body,” Ekström explains. “Extended lines from all four legs as well as the main body all coincide in one point at the tip of the orange cap… Not only the contrasts in color but also the difference in size and shape of the different parts make the object very dynamic.” My idea of chair-rapture is a well-worn La-Z-Boy planted in front of a giant flatscreen with Robocop on repeat, but hey, to each his own.

The “repose” emoticon-chair is a little easier to get down with — “basically one big foam filled form, wrapped in textile”:

And here’s “dread,” which is pretty spot-on. “This huge black, chromed prism plays the part of the bullying mob in the dread shape emoticon, namely as a symbol for a relentless, unstoppable negative force,” says Ekström. The only chair I can think of that’s more dreadful than this is Maximo Riera’s Cthulhu throne from hell, but let’s face it — that’s a little on-the-nose compared to Ekström’s, isn’t it?

Finally we have the chair of “despondence”, a 3D-printed piece of misery which Ekström describes as “a decomposed, dying version of what once was an ordinary rectilinear chair.” Well put! If you have a goth teenager, for god’s sake don’t let them anywhere near this thing:

It’s easy to poke fun at Ekström’s Emoticons, but he’s put a massive amount of thought into them — a whole book’s worth, in fact — and, weird though they are, his essential chair-forms actually do have the ring of emotional truth to them. That said, I’d prefer to just plant my butt in “repose” and admire the others from a safe distance.

[Read more at | via Design Milk]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.