IDEA Award- 2004, Concept Design, Plyber Chair
In 2004 Eric Steigerwalt won the IDEA Concept Award for his playful ply and rubber “Plyber” chair. 10 years on, we were curious to see what Eric has been up to and how the legacy of his design and award win has shaped his ideas.
Clinton: What inspired you to combine games with seating was it purely form or something you felt was needed that seats at the time didn’t have?
Eric: The intention behind the design of the plyber seat was to invoke an emotional response that takes us back to childhood. Games seemed to be a logical first choice to begin my research as it provided a large source of wonderful inspiration to draw upon. I wanted to include the playfulness and notion of games to intrigue the audience to interact with the plyber seat as well as each other.
What was the significance to you as both person and a designer once you completed this project?
A key motivation when embarking on my project was to take it beyond the design and actually manufacture a seat for the purpose of exposure to design within predetermined limitations. It’s one thing to design without limitations, but from an educational perspective, I saw great value in gaining first hand experience in the implementation and manufacture of a potentially utopian design.
Looking back on it, would you have done anything differently?
I would have put more effort investigating solutions to meet marketing and financial requirements as well as more fully considered distribution methods. As a result, the final unit price of the Plyber seat was too high for the market and the only avenue for success was selling directly to the public or other interior design agencies. There is difficulty designing and manufacturing in isolation without the financial support of a distributor/manufacturer to mass produce your design to lower the unit cost making it competitive in the market place. Designer/Makers seem to have the greatest success in Australia when they don’t have to rely upon the additional costs of labour to manufacture their designs.
Have you attempted to re-conceptualise the Plyber Seat using techniques or technologies that have become available since you designed it?
Unfortunately the progress of the Plyber seat has been temporally put on hold but I’m keen to reinvigorate the project when the opportunity presents itself.
Sustainability and cradle to cradle design is such an important factor in design these days. How does this impact your projects?
Material exploration and the use of these materials in the manufacturing process was the primary influence with the plyber seat with sustainability issues being a secondary concern. Having said that, both materials, silicon rubber and hoop pine, have redeeming sustainable qualities; silicone rubber for its durability and resistance to harsh environmental conditions and hoop pine that was sourced from a sustainable plantation in Queensland.
Since the completion of the plyber seat nine years ago, sustainability issues play more of an important role for me when selecting materials. It is important when selecting specific materials to take into consideration ones that have minimal impact if any on the environment. I feel now as designers, we should be aware of the impact our designs may have on the environment during the design process.
We’ve seen a handful of seats with similar ideas behind them in recent years, do you feel you played a part in starting this trend?
Interesting, I’m unaware of any seats that have been designed with similar ideas but then again; I’ve been somewhat living in a bubble for the last six years technically speaking. If I have, that’s great! I think there is nothing more rewarding than influencing other designers with something you have originally created. It’s very flattering.
What’s been the feedback on your design since?
Feedback has been very positive from those who’ve had the experience to interact with it. It’s always intriguing watching how others engage with your designs. Surprisingly, for a seat that was designed for adults, children are the most excited and engaged when they see the plyber seats. So, perhaps the next editions will include a children’s range.
Did winning this award have any effect on you and your career?
Currently I’m not designing furniture but winning the award has showcased my ability to design across a wide range of disciplines. Most are surprised to hear that I won an award for designing a seat as I spend most of my time designing for print or digital environments. But as I always explain, the value of great design is transcendent no matter what it is you are creating.
What does IDEA mean to you and the design industry?
It’s very difficult for any young designer after graduating from University to be recognised and taken seriously by others in the industry. Awards like IDEA help give you the exposure and support to launch your career and provide opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t have existed. The Awards play a critical role in progressing the next generation of design. I’m very grateful for the experience I’ve had with IDEA and am sure other designers feel the same way.
This interview with Eric Steigerwalt was conducted by CATC student Clinton Moore. This piece is part of an IDEA retrospective series of interviews and articles conducted and written by local CATC interior design students, which will feature in the coming weeks in the lead up to the IDEA 2014 event.