A Front Row Seat to Chair Design

Updated: Dec 5, 2019

Furniture design isn’t easy, presenting many challenges when it comes to teaching the next generation of designers. For this month’s blog we spoke with 2 designers, a design educator and a student to understand how they interpret the learning process when it comes to furniture design with a particular focus on seating.

In addition, they discuss the ways in which technologies impact this process. 

Interview Judd Brown III, Owner / President

Studio JBD

Custom Occasional Chairs Designed and Purchased by JBD Design

What is the most difficult part about seating design?

The primary issue is comfort and scale, especially when it comes to seat cushions for different age groups enabling an individual to push out of a chair. The density of the foam from a comfort level perspective and of course code compliance issues all play a key role.

What is the easiest way to make seating more comfortable?

We are not a catalog firm and we work with Samuelson to gain inspiration in the marketplace from what we feel is new or coming back into the market. We draw it and send it to them for a style we want. As a designer you can reflect other product dimensionality that makes it work and that will make it feasible, assuming you have the right manufacturer to execute the design.


How do you address posture in seating?

It depends on the use of the seating. In lounge seating design, for example, you have to consider the various user groups and what is being done in that chair; if consideration is  given to small plates served for those in lounge seating versus sitting properly for dinner where the user wants to sit up to the table.  

What elements must be accounted for when designing seating?

One must regard the structural frame, the deck or seat, the type of strapping and the internal seating components as well as the back. You must consider where the top of chair hits you in the back and think about ADA considerations for arm compliance and whether that arm also goes under a table or desk or whatever. Finally, be sure the dimensionality of the product is correct.

In public area seating, why would you design a bar stool with no back?

At a community table, as opposed to bar, we use backless bar stools, so someone can swing their leg over and do half side seating. Community tables present a different opportunity to sit. At the bar we must think about clearance, if it should it be swivel or fixed, and if swivel causes a change in numbers of seats. Then, of course, there are style issues to consider.

How do you provide stability in seating design?

We think through the engineering and density of the wood to make sure legs don’t split, and decide if there will be a stretched straight [connector] between legs or diagonal in the bottom for support. The best thing is to work with a vendor like Samuelson who has done this for years because they have the expertise for what will and won’t work. Samuelson will make a sample or prototype which we will give to our client who will then sit and review it. That prototype should allow us to understand if it will work.

How do you make sure the chair or sofa can hold the amount of weight it will be under?

We keep the engineering issue with the manufacturer because they put certification on the chairs, but we can tell quickly if something will work.

Have you noticed a disconnect between the standard seating measurements and the average human body size? Do you design seating differently in other countries based on body types there?

In Italy, for example, chairs may be sleeker and tighter because of their body types. Here in America body type is more bulbous. Italian chairs are not as padded, deep, or as full as Americans may want or need.