How do you reinvent the monobloc plastic chair — and why would you want to? The answers to those questions and many more are revealed in this interview — via Zoom, of course — of industrial designer Konstantin Grcic. He tells Marcus Fairs, Editor in Chief of architecture and design media outlet Dezeen, about the behind-the-scenes complexity of designing this “simple” chair in the 17-minute video embedded here. Here are some of the key features of the Bell chair along with some takeaways from the interview.
- The Bell chair launched this week by Italian brand Magis weighs 2.7 kg (a little under 6 lb), which is about half the weight of a normal chair, said Grcic, who runs an industrial design bureau in Munich. The retail price is under €80 (about $94).
- The chair is injection molded in a single piece using 100% recycled polypropylene. The parameters set by Magis were strict, said Grcic, in terms of materials and the ultimate price point. To meet the cost requirements, “we had to get the cycle time under a minute, because that is what costs money, more than the material itself,” said Grcic. “And that had many implications on the design.”
- Key to the project’s success was the involvement of an engineering partner at the beginning, said Grcic. He collaborated with an Italian company that had engineering expertise but could also build tooling, do pre-mold testing and production, and even contribute to logistics. One of the ways in which distribution costs are optimized is by shipping and storing the chairs by the dozen in vertical stacks on a specially designed pallet.
- The Bell chair is designed to be comfortable, which it is by all accounts, and indeed beautiful, said Grcic, but that wasn’t really the point, he added: “It’s meant to be a very rational chair.” The eggshell design imposed itself and the C-section legs are inspired by 1920’s sheet-metal design. This construction allows minimal use of materials while maintaining structural integrity. It also permits vertical stacking of as many as 24 chairs, according to Dezeen.
- It’s a simple idea, based on simple principles and a simple geometry, said Grcic, but it still “took a full year of Moldflow analyses and making constant readjustments to carefully optimize the design step by step.” Grcic didn’t reinvent the monobloc chair — he just made it better.