We noticed the fabulous chair on display outside of Brooklyn Tech’s auditorium and wondered about the story behind it. So we checked in with Industrial Design (ID) teacher Mike Fisher, who put us in touch with the students who designed it: Ernest Braun, Cassie Lim, Conor Hartley and Carmen Tang. They’re all seniors now in the ID major, and they made this project last year starting in March and ending in June as juniors in a class called “Product Design and the Methods of Fabrication.”
Here are some excerpts from our conversation with this student design team (paraphrased in some cases):
Tell me about the assignment that led to this project. What were you asked to do?
Ernest: The assignment was a “flat pack furniture” project. To design a piece of furniture out of one 4’ x 4’ sheet of plywood, with no screws or joinery or fasteners that could be easily assembled by the consumer.
Had any of the four of you ever designed a piece of furniture before?
Group response: No!
Ernest: We had done some 3-D models.
Carmen: But we never brought a creation to life.
Conor: The assignment before this was a desktop organizer, to familiarize us with working with wood. But that’s not load bearing.
Cassie: We were familiar with the concept from IKEA. And Mr. Fisher explained that at IKEA, designers think about how to make an item and how to develop it for the consumer. He showed us references from IKEA and then what the finished product looked like.
Ernest: Our project includes an instruction manual too. The teacher put it together to make sure it works.
Cassie: At the end, one of the grades was based on the stability of the chair and how much weight it would take. The teacher was the one who took the risk of sitting on it for the first time. Of course our team had tested it first.
How did you form your group?
Cassie: We sat at the same table. Some of us had worked on the desktop organizer together, and we had admired each other’s work. So we chose to work together on this project.
How did you come up with this design? What were the design influences for the chair?
Group Response: LAUGHTER
Cassie: We were a week behind in our class because we couldn’t come up with a suitable design that we could agree on.
Ernest: Our plans were ambitious. We started out wanting to a make a bookshelf chair but that was not compatible with the materials we had to work with. So we came up with final design kind of randomly.
Conor: It’s a short chair. It’s only one foot off the ground. We used the curves [for the frames] because it’s hard to get the proper height using 90 degree angles. And right angles made it hard to fit onto a sheet of plywood. The disadvantage was we had to cut freehand and we had to be very careful. If we didn’t get the shape right on the two parts of frame, they would be different sizes and parts of the chair would not line up.
Cassie: And we only got one piece of wood so we had to get it right the first time!
It looks like a mid-century modern design to me — including the dark, wood stained color. Was that something you were thinking about?
Group response: No not at all. We’re familiar with mid-century modern, because we looked at a lot of designs. So maybe, but not explicitly.
Conor: There was no explicit style. Strength was our first concern, style came in after we figured out how to make it presentable. The dark color was a bit of an accident; we thought the stain would come out lighter.
Carmen: We intended for the frame and planks to have more contrast, but the stain turned out to be similar. And we considered painting, but staining is faster, and we didn’t have enough time. Also, painting adds thickness which would have meant the slats would not have fit into the holes as well.
Why did you choose the ID major, and what do you plan to do after graduating from Brooklyn Tech?
Cassie: I chose ID because I liked creating stuff but I didn’t want to be an architecture major because it’s too much work. Because we got the chance to be in this class, I have made a lot more stuff for my room. Another reason I chose ID was people told me Mr. Fisher doesn’t give homework. It’s not that the work is not hard – it is! But you can’t take home a sheet of plywood or a 3-D printer, so you have to do a lot of it at school.
Conor: I started off in sophomore year not at all interested in design. But I wanted to do something out of my comfort zone. I have never been good at art or construction – I have always been more of a social science person. I probably won’t pursue design or engineering, but I’m not sure.
Carmen: I was debating between the Software Engineering major and ID. I’m glad I chose it because we got to do a lot critical thinking. But I’m not artistic enough so I plan to pursue computer science in college.
Ernest: It just seemed fun as a sophomore who was not sure which major to choose. I’m not thinking of pursuing ID later on; I’m interested more in writing. But the things we learned in ID are applicable to much more than just ID. I think I’ve become a much better group worker by doing this major. The advice I would give to sophomores who are choosing majors is that your decision is not likely to stay the same later in your life. So instead of being scared of making the choice, think of it as a great time to test something out. That’s what’s so great about having a major in high school and then getting to choose again in college.