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A chair for higher thinking

May 6, 2022

You are a designer. A person that wields creativity as their ultimate hammer, who uses complex mental models to learn about problems and empathises with the human beings using the products and services you design.

An ultimate chair then should be able to host you and your thinking while you do your best work. When you tame the riddles you’ve been tasked with and put a smile on the face of the users. Whilst keeping you in a proper shape.

That’s a tall list. 

For a chair.

But have you ever stopped for a moment to ask yourself where did the idea for this magical bum holder originated from in the first place?

The word chair comes from an Old French word “chaiere”, which means throne, or chair. In Latin chair is called cathedra. Cathedra on the other hand deriving from Cathedrals where respected Bishops have seats.

One of the earliest chairs were found in Ancient Egyptian tombs. They were made out of wood and leather and displayed the riches of their owners covered with ivory, gold inlays and precious gems. The legs of the chairs carved with care to represent the paws of imaginary beasts. And oddly enough these chairs were at times no taller than 10 inches from the ground. Go figure.

What’s the purpose of the chair for you?

Let’s use first principles thinking from physics Elon Musk has made popular. We’ll do this by breaking down the purpose of the chair into its core elements.

To do your best work, to unsolve the mysteries others haven’t been able to decipher and to build sound solutions that will propel users of that said solution into new heights, you need to be able to think abnormally well. So when you are sitting your lovely jubbly bum down to do deep work (as legendary Cal Newport likes to call it) you need not have any physical disturbances. A nail sticking up your gluteus muscles would create a somewhat uncomfortable disturbance. So the cushioning of your trunk holder should make it comfortable yet supportive. And let’s not forget air-conditioning. I’ll leave it at that. Having the chair be comfy is therefor one of the core elements.

Another is the fact that you are different. Your shape, weight and proportions are different of those of your fellow humanoids walking (or rather sitting) on the tellus. And so your chair should be able to customise to your fitting. Its height, angle of the backrest, lumbar support, height and position of the armrests and the neckrest. Core element number two, right? Check.

Just on a side note there’s more to working ergonomy. Such as your desk height, screen height and angle, proper lighting and so forth.

Now while the above specifications gets us closer to a perfect chair such that companies like Herman&Miller have devoted decades to build, there is one more thing we must consider. 

Gravity. Doh, right? The earths pull on you towards the molten innards stewing in its core is ever present.

To understand what composes a perfect designer chair we need to use Systems Thinking. You need to look at the bigger system the chair exists in and its effects in this system.

Over the eons our bodies went from bacteria to worms with no vertebrae into walking, climbing species with a skeletal system supported by muscles. 

You’re not a worm squiggling in the dirt but a very complex and sensitive creature. One that can support itself upright and do extremely sensitive and highly controlled movements. That’s some serious badassery, no?

But to do that we must keep moving. We were designed to move. Moving keeps our muscles strong and our spines healthy. Movement reduces physical and mental stress your body tends to accumulate. Feeling anxious, stressed out, having hard time breathing? Go for a run, do some light yoga or stretching. Moving around gets the fluids in your body pulsing through it, carrying nutrients with it and removing the gunk. It gets you breathing properly and running optimally. In a way that makes you think better. 

And that quality thinking is your most valuable tool. Care for it well. Give it a good massage. Hire a coach to help you get up when you’re down and perform better when you have the energy for it.

Albeit some smart person came up with the idea to use treadmills under standing desks, rocking chairs, exercise balls, balance boards to stand on while working. You name it, they got it.

And while all that is good it’s not enough. No amount of sitting strengthens your muscles. 

So if you move. If you challenge your muscles. They will stay strong. They will carry you well no matter what chair you sit your pretty bumskis on.

Like most worthwhile things in life, you can’t buy a perfect chair. But you can make any chair the ultimate chair when you care for your body enough. In return you will be rewarded with better thinking which will lead to new opportunities to seize.

A black and white photo of the author Jussi's smiling face with shortcut hair and a short beardJussi Tarvainen

Former pro snowboarder. Author at night. Multi(failed)-entrepreneur. And mostly an awesome designer (said, my five-year-old son).

plenty more loot in the vault

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