Design Collaborative: Making Good Even Better

Oct. 8, 2009

Nurture by Steelcase’s redesigned Cura chair provides even greater benefits to users at a lower price, showing that good can become even better.

"How could I have designed it better?” Michael Shields contends that is often the question posed by designers when they see the finished version of their work. Shields was the original designer of the Cura chair, manufactured by Nurture by Steelcase, and posed this question to himself following the chair’s introduction.

“You start questioning little things the day a product is introduced,” says Shields. “Little ideas come every day. In the case of the Cura chair, I had four years of observation after the chair came on the market before we began discussing a redesign. I generated a lot of ideas in that time.”

Nurture by Steelcase introduced the Cura chair and accompanying pieces for tandem seating, freestanding and ganging tables, and an ottoman in 2004. The line was well received, and sales were strong. Like all good companies, officials at Nurture came to believe they could make the product even better.

“We learned a lot following the chair’s introduction, which is true in virtually every instance,” notes Shields. “We saw opportunities to simplify the chair by reducing the number of components and changing the aesthetics. The team believed we could increase the benefits without sacrificing the qualities that are important to users.”

The challenge was to keep the good pieces, which centered around the chair’s performance, while reducing the weight and the number of components, as well as using less material. Officials at Nurture believed that reducing the cost was equally important in order to respect the economic conditions facing the company’s customers.

Based on the economy, the design and manufacturing team worked to reduce the development schedule to a year in order to get the redesigned chair to market sooner. Nurture premiered the chair at NeoCon® this year, where it was reportedly one of the most popular products in the showroom.

The new and improved features include large-diameter stainless steel gliders, a headrest area and the elimination of PVCs in the manufacturing process. The chair also features CuraNet™ (an integrated suspension system), a modular design, and a contouring flexing frame that responds to the user’s movements.

“The redesigned Cura chair is 10 pounds lighter than the original version, which makes it much easier to move in a room,” explains Alan Rheault, director of product design for Nurture. “Anything that we can do to make our products more user-friendly, such as reducing the weight, is very important given the physical demands that are typically placed on hospital staff or even family members.”

Rheault also notes that the chair is more comfortable than the original. In the old version, users sat more upright and it was difficult to relax. The redesigned chair has a more open posture and improved ergonomics. The contoured flexing frame responds to a user’s movements and the integrated suspension system helps reduce pressure points. In addition, the easy-to-grip arm caps, which can be replaced when they become worn or soiled, are firm and facilitate exiting from the chair.

Cura comes in two frame styles—a sled base and a four-leg base—and is available in two widths and two back heights. The frame can be finished in one of four options, and the arm caps have eight finish options.

“We reduced the chair’s components considerably while improving the aesthetics,” adds Rheault. “The chair and the accompanying pieces in the line have a very contemporary and elegant presence that is appropriate for use in any setting.”

Rheault says the available color choices and materials are an important part of the redesign and the improved aesthetics. The CuraNet mesh, which provides excellent air circulation, is available in six colors. Promessa, a smooth, non-PVC vinyl, also comes in six colors and the Ultraleather™ version is available in 30 colors. Designers and their clients may also request COM as an option.

In the midst of all the improvements, sustainability remained a key consideration. The Promessa and Ultraleather headrests surpass 400,000 double rubs, making them durable alternatives to leather and PVC vinyl. Components can be replaced easily on-site, and the modular design allows the entire chair to be reduced to single material components for easy recycling when the chair has reached the end of its useful life—an event that will occur years after it is purchased.

Both Rheault and Shields are pleased that the redesigned chair has been so well received. Personnel at hospitals where the original chair was used are very positive about the redesign, and several customers have already ordered the new version. Based on the response and multiple benefits of the new design, Nurture may discontinue production of the original version in the future.

Customers are benefiting most from the “new” Cura, and that is the most rewarding aspect for the team. “We have delivered a very successful redesign that is more comfortable, easy to use, more sustainable and that features enhanced aesthetics,” says Rheault. “We’ve done all that at a price that is 20 percent lower than the original, which will save our customers money at a time when every cost-saving measure is important. We’re very pleased that we’ve made a good product even better.”

Janet Wiens is a freelance writer based in Memphis, TN. She was formerly marketing manager for HNTB and now works with industry clients to address their marketing and public relations needs. She can be reached at jwiens@ bellsouth.net.

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