Friday, January 03, 2014

The Story of the Tip Ton Chair*

*This is a copy of my article published earlier on

Do you know what 'dynamic seating' means? It's what the Tip Ton chair offers. Its kinked bottom rail allows you to tilt it forward nine degrees and shift positions back and forth. Great news for your inner child, right!
Indeed, the Tip Ton was originally conceived as a school chair by British design duo Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby for Swiss furniture manufacturer Vitra. Weighing only 4,5kg, it is made from polypropylene, a low-cost plastic that is 100% recyclable. It is stackable and makes very little noise when moved around.
With so many requirements, it took more than two years of reserch and experiments to come to the final design.
Ed Barber and Jay Osgerby in their London studio. Ed is sitting on two Tip Tons. Photo by Felix Friedmann
The chair’s name hides a double reference. Of course, it hints at the characteristic dual seating experience, but it also refers to Tipton, a city of around 47,000 inhabitants in the West Midlands of the UK. It was there the Royal Society of Arts chose to open its first Academy, structured around the RSA-encouraged principles of Opening Minds. With innovation at the core of its very philosophy, the school needed a new approach to its facilities and installations. The RSA called on Royal Designers for the Industry for help and they left it to design duo Barber Osgerby to choose the furniture for the school. “Because we’re closest to remembering what education was like. We’re the youngest,” Jay Osgerby jokes.
In 2011 Tip Ton was honoured with the Good Design Award for furniture, chosen annually by the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design in cooperation with the European Centre for Architecture, Art, Design and Urban Studies.
Starting their research, the duo found a gap in the market. “How children and young adults are taught these days is very different to how it was in the 1960s or 1970s, when the previous generation of furniture was developed,” says Osgerby. The designers knew that Vitra had been conducting research on office environment for decades. They contacted them and found out that the issues debated in the office sphere overlap with those discussed in the education field. This marked the start of the collaboration in 2008 that produced the Tip Ton chair launched at Milan Design Week 2011.
The product had to address flexibility reuirements, allowing students to move around in a dynamic type of seating. It also had to be recyclable and to have minimum components, i.e. never to fall apart. 'Durability, longevity and zero maintenance are key aspects,' says Edward Barber. After some tests they came to the conclusion that they needed a one-piece, monobloc plastic chair with movement defined by the crank on its skids, able to stand a heavy-use scenario. Getting to the final nine-degree angle and tilt was a process of trials and errors.
The rewarding result was an all-round chair for all kinds of situations - indoor, outdoor, dining, learning, working. Dynamic seating proved healthy too. In the forward position, the sitter moves closer to the table or desk - movement occurring in an intuitive way - while their spine remains straight. Increased muscular activity in the abdomen and back regions increases the flow of oxygen around the body and that also aids concentration.

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“The idea that design is the development of a series of progressive sketches is romantic and not very accurate,”

Charles Eames noted back in 1964.