THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY: THE DIGITAL AGE

In many interior and building projects, the design or selection of furniture has significant value in the generation and development of architectural and interior work. Academic and professional environments reinforce the notion that furniture design is a significant com­ponent of interior spaces. However, furniture design encompasses disciplines extending beyond architecture and interior design. In the context of expanded disciplines, the depth, breadth, and evolving body of knowledge of industrial design have inspired new work and new ideas about materials and production processes. Philippe Starck, Karim Rashid, and Marc Newson are contemporary designers who have been inspired by new materials and production processes, and their work, in turn, has inspired other designers.

Interesting parallels can be drawn between the historical context of the emerging field of interior design during the twentieth century and that of furniture design in the twenty – first century. Furniture design is concerned primarily with objects in space designed and fabricated for a range of uses. Interior design is concerned primarily with space, interior construction technology, and the composition of elements in which a wide range of func­tions occur. Both fields engage material, detail, and joinery. Both address social use and function within a given cultural and societal context. Nevertheless, each field places an emphasis on either the spatial frame or the modified imprint in design.

Furniture design is a practice specialty, but it emerges from several specific disciplines, depending on how and where the designer is educated. From an academic perspective, furniture design is an interdependent activity. It is one part of what an industrial designer does, but it is also an important aspect of interior design, architecture, craftsmanship, and fine art. Furniture designers venture into all of these fields. Primary relationships and paral­lels between industrial design and furniture design are timely in comparison. Industrial design developed from industrial engineering and the rise of the industrial arts movement of the nineteenth century. Industrial design infused the applied arts and the applied sciences using design to solve problems using a combination of engineering and aesthetic means. Many innovations of the twenty-first century come from industrial design, and furniture design is a perfect vehicle to adopt such innovation.

The field of furniture design continues to cultivate knowledge in the areas of ergonomics and human factors, fabrication technology, and material research. These areas are shaping and reforming academic and professional fields, including (but not limited to) archi­tecture, engineering, interior design, industrial design, fine art, applied arts programs, and vocational craft-based programs, as well as scientific research and advances in the fields of aerodynamics, medical science, sociology, and cultural anthropology. The history of furni­ture design, by default, embraces these areas of study and contributes to evolving knowl­edge in the fields of human factors, digital, and material technologies.

Today, computer science, digital technology, and nanotechnologies have begun to influ­ence society in general ways and the discipline of furniture design in specific ways. Why has this occurred? Furniture design encompasses many far-reaching and specifically focused disciplines, technologies, and professions. It seems likely that society and furniture designers will continue to embrace these new digital technologies.

Despite the growing interest in digital technology, craftspeople ought to have a central role in design and fabrication, as they have for the past 5,000 years. Craftspeople will con­tinue to help shape contemporary works, but they will need to share the field with a broader range of professionals due to the emergence of new materials and technological advances.