So okay, in my other capacity as occasional furniture designer in a world where very little that is original is allowed enough oxygen to catch fire, I give you the Session. It’s a chair and by extension a sofa. I can’t pretend that chairs are original, they are everywhere, and the more successful ones tend to be defined by our ceaseless determination to sit, and like gloves, have to be function shaped. In this case the function is to comfortably accommodate the human body whilst semi-supine, hopefully with a modicum of style. If a chair can export some style to its human import then all the better and I can cheerfully report, having sat in the Session, that not only is it comfy but it also made me look fabulous, though admittedly I look pretty fabulous anyway. How can you not want that in your life? Simply by sitting you look cool, slightly distant, mysteriously engaged in your own inner workings, and when you get up the human shaped hole you leave behind cries out with yearning.
Am I over selling this? Wouldn’t be the first time, but designing lovely new things is difficult. I am of an age now where I have seen it all before, even my own designs, when finished, inevitably remind me of something else. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, not when the thing I’m reminded of is great, I’m happy to bask in the warm glow of my unintentional yet preeminent plagiarism. Just so long as my designs aren’t defined as retro.
Retro is indicative of imitation, the ardent aping or copying of something that, though never acknowledged, is better. These days almost everything is retro. Industrial design has become comfort food for thought, nostalgic and easy to digest, like mum’s rice pudding. Sometimes this is manifest through sentimental simplicity but it can also mean new products being burdened with sacrificial signifiers from countless periods, all vying for our approval. This is rarely more obvious than with technology where familiar design flourishes are constantly repurposed so that every new electronic device looks like a fifties sci-fi raygun as imagined by a winklepicker wearing steampunk Victorian extra from Stranger Things.
Mobile phones are perhaps an exception but they are not immune to a surfeit of deliberate redundant design. Its reversal is incremental, by subscription and with each expensive iteration these extraneous elements are slowly peeled away to finally reveal little more than the original purpose, like a cross-dressing robot butler doing a strip tease. Apple is possibly the worst offender, doing everything it can to delay the inevitable moment when the iPhone arrives at the point of pure function, is nothing but a container for our information, is all screen and looks like every other smartphone in the world.
Apparently we are now officially living in the anthropocene, a period when human activity has a measurable effect on the climate and environment. Well as far as I am concerned we have been in the anthropocene since the first caveman decorated his dwelling with a picture of a bison, ‘Look honey, wallpaper!’ Just by noticing our environment we have changed it, we call it the environment for goodness sake and we sign our name underneath. The planet we have laid claim to is suffocating under the fickle nature of human design, why bother to make something future proof when the future is now? Form is supposed to follow function, well not anymore, now function follows form while form runs away screaming. Make it smaller, make it faster, make it lighter, make it float. Soon everything we own will not only be throwaway but will last forever, our oceans bobbing with empty smartphones as light and disposable as coke bottles and eventually, when the anthropocene is excavated, it will be nothing but a strata of plastic.
Did I mention that my Session chair is heavy?