Designing the LessThanFive Chair: Q&A with Coalesse Design Director John Hamilton

What was the inspiration behind the LessThanFive Chair?

Boeing and Jim Hackett.

Boeing had just made the strategic decision to use carbon fiber as the structure for their next major airplane platform, and Jim Hackett, Steelcase, Inc. CEO at the time, was also curious about what carbon fiber could mean to our business and how we supply solutions globally.

Jim asked me and James Ludwig vice president, global design and product engineering for Steelcase Inc., to explore the carbon fiber process and how we might take advantage of its inherent properties. This was a dream opportunity for us as our studios are constantly curious about new materials, new processes and how we can push the limits of manufacturing our products.

How would you describe the design process and working with design collaborator Michael Young? 
At Coalesse, the design process encompasses early concepts to the final product being shipped out the door. As part of that process, the Coalesse Design Group does a lot of exploration into new materials and new processes. 

We started by learning as much as we could about the material and who is considered the best when it comes to production of carbon fiber, which led us to our design partner on this project, Michael Young.


The LessThanFive Chair hung on a pendulum with a five pound weight to demonstrate its nearly weightless feel.

Working with Michael was a very natural and easy process as he approaches design problems in a similar way; he starts with smart insights and solves them with simple solutions. He is curious and always looking at how to push the manufacturing constraints, and he aspires to create timeless designs that delight the user.

What was the vision for this product?

This isn't the first carbon fiber chair in the world, but it is the first to approach the problem the way that we did.

Our unique approach was to make a chair that truly leveraged the advantages of the material to be strong and light. We wanted to create something at a price point that consumers would find reasonable yet also incredibly delightful. We wanted the chair to surprise you every time you interact with it and allow you to personalize it in ways that our current offerings don't support.

You’ve said the LessThanFive Chair was your favorite item you’ve helped design. Why?

I love a design that challenges the norms and yet can be a business success. Good design is good business. I feel that LessThanFive will be that.

It is a product that delights anyone that interacts with it, it brings a smile to the face of everyone when they first encounter it, and it exceeds expectations on all points as it is already proving to be a real success in the market.

How does the manufacturing process of the LessThanFive Chair incorporate craftsmanship?

The process of creating anything in carbon fiber is very technical yet very hands-on. It leverages complex engineering knowledge of the unique material properties inherent to carbon fiber as well as precise handwork by a trained craftsman.


A craftsman arranges layers of carbon fiber in the manufacturing of the LessThanFive Chair.

The carbon fiber sheets are arranged in layers that overlap to give shape and strength, heated in a mold with inflatable bladders that define the part’s outer form, and then the multiple parts are assembled and hand-finished to create the final object.

It is a true marriage of technology and craft.

Workers want their workplace to inspire them. They can now choose where they work, so they choose spaces with furnishings that they connect to emotionally and physically. Workers want to control the spaces they choose, and they want to reconfigure their surroundings to support the work they are doing. LessThanFive gives users the freedom to move, to go to alternative locations easily, and to do it as a group. That is unique to the workplace.


The LessThanFive Chair in a casual meeting space.

When our workplaces have settings made up of objects that we have a greater emotional connection to, we are more excited about being in them and more invigorated about the work we are doing. We have better engagement with others and with the problems we are trying to solve. We are more likely to reconfigure them in ways that support what we are trying to accomplish.

What are some of your suggested applications for the LessThanFive Chair?

Everywhere.

Cafés and social spaces, side seating situations, casual meeting spaces, flexible spaces and spaces where you want something special.

Filed under: Design Inspiration

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