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.
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
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|
|Design by Roland Ruf, picture source Behance|
|implemented: nooi / Wiesner Hager|
|Edelweiss Industrial Design, realized by Wiesner Hager|
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.
Image Source Cover Picture: https://pixabay.com/de/photos/sofa-m%C3%B6bel-couch-modern-auto-3112115/