Inclusive design means that the workplace should adapt to the person, and not the other way round. We don’t make complicated furnishings. We make comfortable furniture – for people,” says product developer Arne Ekbom. With over 30 years’ experience in our development department, he knows everything about human diversity.
“People sit differently in different cultures. The local differences can also be substantial. Take the Dutch, for example. They are actually the tallest in Europe – but also the shortest. Many generations of immigration have contributed to the extremes. That’s the kind of thing you need to know when you develop a task chair,” says Ekbom, who specialises in seating furniture.
The fundamental principle is that all task chairs must be flexible, with adjustments that take account of variations in weight, height, gender and so on. Apart from that, height is distributed unevenly across our lower legs, thighs and back. The centre of gravity is also distributed differently between the lower and upper body. That’s why the height of the chair must be adjustable, as well as the depth and inclination of the seat and the height of the backrest and headrest. And, perhaps most important of all: the level of resistance of the tilting function must be adjustable according to the user in order for the chair to give optimal support. A task chair is one of the most complex products you can set out to develop.
“Compare this with the car industry. Regardless of the make of car, the fundamental principles are the same. But in the case of task chairs, there can be really big differences between solutions. For the user, every chair is a new experience. It’s not just a case of sitting down and “driving off”. That’s why it’s so important that we get it right. And that it becomes simple. A decisive factor for us has been that we’ve had the resources to develop our own platform,” Ekbom explains.
The platform was designed by Kinnarps’ own development team in the early 1990s. We started work by gathering lots of information from ergonomists, physiotherapists and users. In close cooperation with the industrial designer Björn Alge, the classic Kinnarps chairs 6000 and 8000 were created. They were basically the same chair, but what differentiated them was the actual mechanism or tilting function. The 6000 was equipped with FreeFloatTM, a mechanism which creates a very active way of sitting.
“Ergonomists like to say that your best position is your next position. The seat and the back follow the body’s movements completely independently of each other. The body is stimulated the whole time, in a natural way. That was a big innovation at the time, but today it’s an industry standard.”
The 8000 was equipped with SynchroneTM, a mechanism customised for users who did not feel comfortable with “floating around” but who nevertheless wanted to sit actively. “It was our own variation on what’s called ’synchron tilt’, where the chair’s seat and back follow each others’ movements. There were already synchron tilts on the market, but many people had the impression that they were ’tipping over’, that it felt as if they were lying down in a dentist’s chair. Our version was designed with smaller movements. The user hardly notices the opening of the hip joint that the tilting movement causes, but nevertheless gets a safe and healthy variation in the way they sit.” When they were launched in 1993 there were already 52 versions of the 6000 and 8000, with two mechanisms, two seats and four backrests, headrests and a number of different armrests. So that everyone could find the perfect combination.
“Today we have sold almost 4 million task chairs with this platform and we are the biggest in Europe. The principle is still the same.” “The customers should feel confident that they have made a longterm and sustainable investment. If the chair needs to be repaired or freshened up after being used for a long time, it’s easy to get hold of spare parts and replace them. We help the customers to economise with resources and avoid throwing things away.”
At the same time, Ekbom and his colleagues are continuing to develop task chairs to keep pace with working life. The internet has brought about many changes. Suddenly we can work wherever we like, whenever we like. The need for traditional individual workplaces is declining. Instead, employees share a number of desks between them, and many of them also change their workplace several times a day.
“In the activity-based office, intuitive design is especially important. A chair should be easy to adjust and customise to the individual. So this year we launched an entirely new chair, developed for the activitybased office. Capella, which was designed by Johan Larsvall and Nils Löventorn at Idesign, has a new mechanism which we call FreeMotion. Here, as well, the idea is to have active sitting with as few adjustments as possible. Among other features, the seat has an inbuilt function with micromovements which counteracts the tendency to sit still.”
The only question is, where will it all end? Will we become so mobile that we no longer need task chairs? “Oh, no!” Ekbom laughs. “We’ll always want to have a chair to sit on. People are lazy by nature.”