Electric Chairs

"Full-body boogie board for electronic surfing."
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Nov. 30 2004 4:16 PM

Electric Chairs

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Ideal Chair for Perusing an Online Magazine 

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It seems logical that one perfect chair design would meet human needs--holding a person 18 inches off the ground seems pretty straightforward--but people use chairs not only to sit on, but as symbols, as decoration. Like spoons, there are millions of different kinds of chairs, stools, thrones, settees, etc. The variety serves both physical, ergonomic needs and emotional, psychonomic ones. A smart design is more than clever styling. It's a rare blend of beauty and utility that touches users both physically and emotionally. It's an idea that improves our lives by satisfying a real need.

There are plenty of really great adjustable task chairs that are just fine for working at a computer, as well as wonderful recliners in which to sit back and watch TV. A new design for a chair for viewing an online magazine, therefore, will be more innovative in its psychonomic style than its ergonomic engineering.

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It seems obvious that the future will bring advances in computer-monitor technology. It is conceivable that some day, there will be some hi-tech smart film that feels and looks like paper--but which chameleon-like, will electronically transform its surface to reproduce a page that would look just like a regular magazine's. Or, visualize a projected hologram of a realtime 3-D animation of a virtual magazine that you "hold" in your smart-gloved hands, whose "pages" you flip through, words flying around the little dancing pictures! Less futuristic systems like virtual-reality glasses or flat-screened laptop tablets complicate the need for a special chair, because you can take them anywhere--you can sit on the toilet wearing your virtual-reality glasses, or on a mountain top with your tablet. Although we believe it would be smart to improve the reading experience by creating a piece of electronic hardware that makes the magazine interface itself more accessible, we were asked to approach the issue from the opposite end--to design the ideal chair for reading an online magazine. Our design is based on the assumption that the user will be looking at a regular cathode-ray image rather than at some hyped-up daydream display. Old-fashioned as it may seem, we decided to concentrate on today's technology and to make the chair an integral part of the viewing system.

Our chair is a total environment--a full-body boogie board for electronic surfing. Inside the flexible, rubberized-membrane eggshell, the traveler lies back on a self-conforming foam body chair. The exterior nubs allow the egg to rock without tipping. Inside, the surface is smooth, the visual images are projected from recessed LCD video projectors, and the sound is piped through flush integral speaker audio ports. Mouse and keyboard fit like a glove. A large ventilator port cools the interior with fresh air. The cup holders are better than a minivan's.

The goal is to create an environment for an out-of-body flight through the Net. It's a spaceship for virtual travel. It could look like an ordinary library reading room--but as the White Rabbit told Alice, "Feed your head."

Tucker Viemeister, industrial designer, is vice president of Smart Design Inc. in New York City. Called "Industrial Design's Elder Wunderkind" when he was included in America's hottest 40 by ID magazine, Viemeister lectures and teaches around the world. Smart Design Inc.'s most successful projects include the widely acclaimed Oxo "Good Grips" universal kitchen tools; the psychonomic "Reach Wonder Grip," America's best-selling children's toothbrush; the ergonomic "Home Phones" for Cicena; a breakthrough coffee maker for Cuisinart; the wacky Joe Boxer watches for Timex; and lots of other comfortable, practical, profitable, and fun stuff! 

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