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LEAD Innovation Blog

Read our latest articles on innovation management and innovation in a wide range of industries.

Date: 03-Jul-2019
Posted by: Wolfgang PAUSER

The role of product analysis using the bench as an example


The office furniture manufacturer Wiesner-Hager took an unusual path to create an innovation for the furniture genre "bench seat": Before he announced a design competition for young designers, he asked me to explore and think through the product bench. Wiesner-Hager followed the idea of not only rationalizing the first step of each designer's work, but also ensuring a degree of intellectual penetration in order to raise the quality level of the submissions, make the competition more efficient and thus achieve a better result. Thinking at the beginning has seldom hurt, and a small investment in preparation is always worthwhile if 140 designers can use it for the company. This is how the product analysis of the bench was created...


The bench, a space zone for the meantime

The term bench does not distinguish the bank on which you sit from slaughterhouse, database, workbench, sperm bank and credit institution. Rather, he means the special type of seating that is neither a bench nor a chair, but a hybrid of the two. A row of chairs fused into a bench. A bench divided into chair units. This hermaphrodite has its occurrence in public spaces, waiting rooms, offices and workplaces - never before has it been seen in private living spaces. In the bench thus our modern, urban conception of the public sphere, understood as the epitome of all those non-familial, non-intimate and non-private spaces that are specially designed and furnished for the simultaneous presence of several people without suggesting a certain interaction or a common relationship between these people. There, then, where people are together as isolated individuals in a proximity that calls for means of distancing.

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The bench is hardly to be described as furniture, because its construction is concerned with a restriction of mobility. She wants to fix the places of sitting as immovably as precisely as possible and is often herself fixed to the floor or to the wall. This also makes it a hermaphrodite in another sense: it is half architecture, half furniture. This was already undecidable with their ancestor, the choir stalls of Gothic cathedrals.
Modell neunzig°
 Model "ninety" by Wiesner Hager 
Why does a bank pretend to consist of individual chairs? The theme of the bench is individualization, which is to be emphasized where people gather without gathering. It reacts to the specific social configuration of modernity: mass versus individual. Identity is no longer derived from a position in a systematic structure (such as the serf of a lord of the manor), but from the empty detail in general, the closer definition of which the individual has to take care of himself, whereby a bench can support him. The modern form of the identity of the bourgeois subject was constituted in a centuries-old body politics of singularization and dissociation. The history of the restaurants - as an old form of public transitory space - makes it easy to understand the steps of separating the bodies: The fact that the traveling guests of a medieval hostel slept closely together in straw and used the body heat from each other as the only heating feels to us modernized individuals as bizarre and unimaginable, although only in the second half of the last century in the hotels the common bathroom disappeared, because the advanced separation of the bodies demanded undivided use of the bath. We have to assume that until recently social and physical distance were connected in a different way and felt correspondingly different from what we feel today. In certain contexts, closeness to the body was apparently meaningless, both in terms of social distances and intimate.
On the other hand, the benefit of this long-term cultural strategy of body detachment was the development of a differentiated cosmos of intimacy. A new code semantically coupled body proximity to that "proximity" which experienced a significant cultural differentiation as situative interpersonal "feeling" and "relationship behavior", as a psychosocial construct of "intimate communication" (as Luhmann calls love). The soul, the interior of the connection between people also needs external signs and things from which it can be determined and read. Sitting together on a bench is not only charged by the family room of the farmhouse parlour with its corner seat, but also by the modern TV sofa, the couple and family furniture since the 1970s. These two private family benches are characterised by the fact that the absence of predetermined seating positions allows and forces the transitions, approximations and fine dosage of that intimacy that is at stake within the family, not least in the horizon of regulation of reproduction.

The figure of the anonymous individual only exists in the big city and in places of transit. Not only in rural and village law firms, but also in the medieval city, those who are not personally known are recognizable as strangers. The transformation of the foreign into the meaningless anonymous neighbours outside all social references is due to the inflation of its presence as a result of transport technology and the growth of cities. Being able to pass someone without greetings, without signalling contempt, is the core and main gain of the phenomenon of urbanity.

Innovation needs reflection

This is why we find the bench particularly often in use in airports, where increased transit creates more acute forms of urbanity. Under the wide sky of the waiting hall, the rows of benches divide the terrain into pedestrian streets and seating accommodations. The seats make room. They are minimum residences in the maximum building. Who sits, clears the passage for the walking people who enjoy priority here. One could speak of human parking spaces, an interim storage facility for the transported goods in the congested and empty zones of the time scheduled by the timetable.

The bank's sedimentation compensates for the hypertransitoriness and hyperanonymity of the malls, passages and third places. It relieves you of questions and communications that would only stop: How much space amidst the mass pressure do I have? How close must and may I sit to my neighbor, so that he neither feels me as pushy nor as avoiding? This undecidable question can only be answered without communication by a frame that determines distances. The materiality of the bench disposes of the guilt from the violation of all rules of social and interpersonal proximity-distance-behaviour, which the traveller carries with him, and here must forget or wander off in order to stay as a cosmopolitan monad in an appropriate way. 

If only the international conventionalisation of physical distance between strangers were at issue, symbolic markings could be cheaper, more open and more playful, which is forced so laboriously by the division of the bench into seats. But it is also about the relation of the seated person to himself, which can no longer be derived as a social identity in the sense of an attribution from the missing relation to the neighbor, but only has to be produced from the reflexive self-giveness of the isolated, from his body-emotional subjectivity. Looking back into the cultural history of sitting, the predisposition of the chair form to solve all the psychosocial needs raised by the bank can quickly be explained: from the sacrificial cane to the king's throne, judge's chair and bishop's seat, this furniture was always about highlighting an individual for the purpose of symbolic representation of his community, and not about sitting as a function. Only the figure of the citizen, who on the one hand stands out from the peasant bank and on the other hand, from the monarch, appropriates the dignity of the unconquered detail in order to claim it for himself in the future without any genealogical derivation. 
ZaZen bench by Harald Auer
In the movable, positionable chair, the bourgeois subject shows his self-assertion and immediacy as an abstract whole of the state after overcoming the feudal system. The citizen is king in his detail as an equal citizen among others as well as an economically independent customer of goods. He is as single as a hero, though not in the field of history, but only as the protagonist of his unique autobiography. He is only identified by his nationality, he has to make all other contributions to his identity formation himself, as long as he is not supported by a bench where his identity - as a difference without reason - comes under pressure or even into crisis. 
Until a few years ago, the modern cosmopolitan, the nomadic monad in the waiting loops of global lounges, usually gave the typical image of the waiting. The bench was mostly a waiting bench, an embarrassment solution in the sense of solving the problem of embarrassment in situations of forced functionlessness. With its fixation of the upright posture, the bench made it clear that it was only made for short-term stays, fully awake and always ready for further action. Not only unsuitable for lying and sleeping, but also preventing deep relaxation, she kept away from the idle seated any accusation of laziness. Rather, it brought his body into a middle position between tension and rest position, from which it can potentially begin to act in every possible direction.  


Entwurf von Roland Ruf
Design by Roland Ruf, picture source Behance
The waiting position becomes clear as the starting position of the ready to use. You don't dream on a bench, you're eagerly awaiting departure. The tonus is a bench that is directed towards the general dynamics of the waking working day. Accordingly, the bench denies all relationship to the sofa bed, the chaise longue, not least to the tranquil park bench. You sit on it in a completely different condition than on those narrow wooden benches in front of traditional farmhouses, which serve as a dormitory that is no waiting. This bench seat, decoupled from all purposes and in itself, as a tense of pure existence, has disappeared from the accelerated world of appointments, time scarcities and time plans. The bench deliberately lacks any suitability for contemplation. Peace on it wants to be an active passivity, a peace at the service of performance, mobility and acceleration. The ancestor of the upholstered bench, the ottoman from the Turkish harem, is not only forgotten, but with good reason all his traces have been erased. Lolling around voluptuously is not the topic, but rather the optimisation of a clocked time economy. The bench fills the gaps in the space-time continuum of fully mobilized societies.
implemented: nooi / Wiesner Hager
Modernity has often been accused of having imposed the burden of permanent waiting on the individual under the pretext of general acceleration. All the waiting benches in the world are correspondingly unloved compared to other furniture. But the era of waiting has recently come to an end. Microelectronics accompanies and supplies us with any desired interface at any place at any time. This means that the time of the bench's narrow definition of function is also over. Depending on which program is called up in the notebook or mobile phone, it turns into an office chair, a cinema chair, a telephone stool, a music relaxation chair, a TV sofa, a casino and the like more. And unless the seated person himself provides for a media counterpart that fills his empty time, he has become the goal of communication ever since we have been living in an economy of attention, in which time not used for communication has become a commodity for sale to the advertising industry.
Edelweiss Industrial Design
Edelweiss Industrial Design, realized by Wiesner Hager
The office became more open and public, conversely, the public space became a potential office throughout. Since office technology became mobile, there is no longer a non-office - offices are everywhere where there is an opportunity for immobility. The future of the bench has thus gained new perspectives. They set the direction for the next steps of innovation.


At the event for the presentation of the winners, the author reads his text about the bench seat, which is used as a second use for the spectacle and for the press folder.

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Image Source Cover Picture: https://pixabay.com/de/photos/sofa-m%C3%B6bel-couch-modern-auto-3112115/

Wolfgang PAUSER

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