In a sea of tricked-out office chairs at Milan Design Week, the Rookie chair designed by Konstantin Grcic for Vitra stood out as a more pared back version. The chair's clean silhouette boasts just the necessities and nothing more, offering only a few simple adjustments and basic cushion shapes. Grcic, known for designing more minimal products, didn't reduce the office chair for no reason, though. The Rookie Chair's simplicity actually stems from Grcic and Vitra's research on modern working styles in offices today, which led to the realization that people aren't always trapped at their desks like they used to be. So, how do you design furniture for people who don't sit often? We spoke with Grcic during Salone to learn more about Rookie and his thoughts on designing furniture for the modern office:
You've designed office chairs in the past. What makes this one different?
I think what makes this one different is its reduction to just a few key functions. For a long time there's been a tendency of adding functions to office chairs, making them more and more complex and machine-like. It stems from the idea of individualization, creating things that can be adjusted to fit perfectly to your size, body, weight, and so on.
"A chair is like a garment—it's something that dresses you, becomes part of you and follows your movement."
But offices have changed, and the way we work has changed. A lot of people working in offices don't have their own chairs or desks anymore. We move around from one work situation to another, and that creates a different kind of need for a chair or a different kind of profile of a chair—one that is not the perfect machine. The customizable office chair is still needed, and don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that that is outdated. But I think that we need an additional concept for a chair, one made for people sitting for shorter periods of time. I sit in the chair for maybe 15 minutes, and then after me, you sit on the same chair. If it had too many adjustments, I'd adjust them for myself, and then you'd sit down for five minutes without bothering to adjusting it, which means you're sitting on the wrong chair.
Taking away a lot of adjustments and keeping just a few—like adjusting the height of the seats and the height of the backrest (and maybe not even that because it doesn't really matter for the short term)—is what we had in mind. I think this kind of chair will be placed in situations where we feel it needs a reduced, less dominant presence. It's simpler to the eye and in relationship to all the other furniture around it.
Circling back to your views on how behavior in the office has changed—how would you describe the modern day work style?
Some people are still doing work that requires sitting down all day, but I think more and more people are changing the way they do it. When you make a phone call, that's work, but you may not want to sit down anymore. So, you walk around the corridor to take the call. When you need to write something, maybe you want move to a clear table because you want to escape all of the distractions piled up on your desk. Then there's a moment where you sit at your desk because you do need all the piled up stuff around you. I think that movement defines what work is nowadays. Technology has made this possible because now we have mobile devices that allow us that freedom.
There's also this new form of non-territorial office. Some workspaces are still real desks where people that sit there every day, but other people may not even come into the office every day, and I think we need to take that into account. The important consideration is that there are many different scenarios and systems in parallel—it's not one against the other, it's one in addition to the other.
You've been working on some really interesting projects outside of the furniture realm lately, like your clothing collection with Aeance. Have you been trying to work on a wider variety of projects lately?
I like the diversification—it's very enjoyable. Ultimately I think working on other types of projects helps me come back to working on furniture, which is still the core of what I do. I think it will always be the core of what I do because I have a great passion for furniture design. But in order to sustain my love for furniture design, I sometimes need to break out of it and work on something else. When I worked for Aeance, it wasn't because I have the ambition of becoming a fashion designer. I just think it's very interesting to work in a different industry.
Konstantin Grcic for Aeance
In the case of Aeance, they asked me to work on the collection because I'm an industrial designer—they don't want me to turn into a fashion designer. They were interested in my point of view from the experiences I have had in this world, which is what I'm able to contribute to the project. The new experience of working with fabric and building something that's still structural was exciting. A chair is like a garment—it's something that dresses you, becomes part of you and follows your movement. In a way, I feel like designing a garment gives me an experience that I can then bring back into a chair or a piece of furniture. You discover the parallels along the way because you are able to step out of one world and hope to change perspectives in others.
Are there any products you've always wanted to work on that you haven't gotten to yet?
Eventually I'd love to design a bicycle. But as a designer, I can't just do a bicycle on my own—that would make no sense. Like with everything, it needs a partner, a company that can maybe produce the bicycle or someone who has the need for a specific bicycle. That just hasn't materialized yet.
Emily is a freelance writer based in NYC with an interest in all things design, specifically the design process. When she's not writing about design, Emily can either be found taking care of her 31 houseplants, going on "nature" walks in her neighborhood or studying Japanese. Before going freelance, Emily was an Editor at Core77.