Few objects carry with them the historical and technical heritage of furniture. A chair is not only an object for seating but also a flag-bearer for the cultural specificities of the society where it was made and used. Furthermore, the magic of furniture is that, through daily use, social context is influenced in an ongoing and evolving two-way dialogue.
Given the fact that basically everyone is in constant contact with a wide variety of furniture pieces on a daily basis, it is very strange that designing furniture is not the core theme of several undergraduate and postgraduate programs. One would think that after thousands of years of making, using, repurposing, and disposing of furniture we would have a comprehensive and structured understanding of the lifecycle of these objects. But this is not the case. Furniture is designed by architects, industrial designers, craftsmen, or engineers who learned little about it in school and most of it working with the industry, studying on their own or by good old trial and error.
That was my case. While in my BA I had one amazing design studio with Oscar Hagerman that centered on furniture design and seating ergonomics—but that was it. Even in my ergonomics and materials courses, furniture was merely a footnote. After graduation, I had no option but to improvise. Truth be told, I improvised a lot—and in many areas—as my undergraduate degree in industrial design was as broad in scope as any, therefore only scratching the surface of everything I should’ve learned to become an expert in any field of design. That’s how it is, and one could say fortunately, as one of the great qualities of an industrial designer is being a generalist. If we wanted to be an expert in every field an industrial designer might work in, we would need decades of training.
However, something’s different about furniture design. With such objects as computers, medical equipment, transportation, or even lighting, the designer is but one of many experts in a team where each discipline collaborates on the realization of the product. Furniture designers, however, usually work by themselves and only sometimes at the final stages of the process do engineers or manufacturers get involved in migrating the design to the production floor. Therefore, the designer nowadays needs a very particular combination of knowledge in aesthetics, ergonomics, manufacturing processes, materials, finishes, marketing, and cost analysis, to name a few areas.
After my BA and five years of working independently, I enrolled in a postgraduate degree program, where I had a fantastic furniture design course with Mark Goetz and another one in Denmark with Flemming Steen Jensen, Erling Christoffersen, and Bjorli Lundin. These hands-on courses were magnificent in advancing my understanding of what furniture design and manufacturing was all about. A few years later, I started a furniture brand aimed at creating an environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing platform where designers could learn, discuss, and create furniture that was green, useful, and beautiful. In this context, I frequently encountered designers who were lacking in one area or another, thus proposing pieces that were not feasible in technical or economic terms, or who were not aware of historical and formal references they are expected to know.
Furniture design is indeed a demanding discipline, and acquiring the necessary knowledge is not an easy task.
Jim Postell has compiled in this book a powerful tool for both students and professionals that addresses all aspects of furniture design, from materials, fabrication, and functionality to history, theory, and professional practice. Most importantly, it relates these issues to the design process, thus bridging the gap between the isolated knowledge of specialized courses and the real-world necessities of the furniture designer. With this extended second edition, the author brings us closer to the understanding of this fascinating discipline and the role and responsibilities of the designer in their social sphere.