With the open office here to stay and workplaces shrinking in both size and numbers, every square foot of office space and every piece of furniture matters more than ever. Seating, in particular, now needs to perform triple-duty, transitioning from task, collaborative, and lounge duties without missing a step.
That’s a tall order for many contract products, but one that the new Clarity series from Allsteel pulls off with aplomb. Designed to serve as a lightweight chair in meeting spaces, lounge areas, conference rooms, workstations, and private offices, the line encourages and enables effortless interaction between employees—making it an invaluable tool for designers tasked with creating collaborative spaces and heads-down work areas with a minimum of pieces.
The line is a collaborative work in and of itself, designed by Allsteel and BMW Group DesignworksUSA following a series of multi-city workshops intended to garner feedback from architects, designers, and facility managers on the needs of the modern workplace. One finding in particular stood out to Allsteel designers: As workers are being pushed out into shared work areas, office furniture typically serves more than one purpose and doesn’t solely belong to one user.
“The goal was to develop a new type of chair that really addressed the needs of the changing workplace and different work sites,” said Darren Keele, product manager for Allsteel. “Clarity isn’t a traditional task, side, or lounge chair, but it can be used in multiple spaces.”
Pulling from BMW Group DesignworksUSA’s experience designing the interiors of everything from private jets to Mini Coopers, and Allsteel’s history of weight-activated chairs, the groups collaborated to create seating with a timeless, lean design. Since both companies focus on user-centric design, it was a natural fit. The partnership, according to Amy Smith, Allsteel product portfolio manager, was “a way to get a fresh look in seating for Allsteel. One thing we were clear on was an honest and intuitive design from a materials perspective.”
Clarity’s architectural and minimalist design exemplifies the team’s reduction philosophy. Stripped down to its most basic design elements, the chair consists of a base, a hub, two arms, and an uninterrupted, breathable mesh panel from seat back to seat pan. There are no visible parts, heat sinks, or mold marks, and with the hub and arms cast as a single piece, Clarity takes on a clean and modern look.
“We wanted to create a structure that was very clear in its intent and uncluttered in its details,” recalled Patrick McEneany, associate director, creative consulting for BMW Group DesignworksUSA.
The team was also determined to create a product that didn’t suffer from feature fatigue. The only control found on the chair is the lever for adjusting the height, while the main feature—being able to recline without doing a thing, thanks to a weight-activated synchro-tilt mechanism—makes the chair no-fuss and intuitive.
“The frame for the seat flexes and distorts to create all of the lateral motion, rather than a traditional hinge-and-pin structure,” said McEneany. “Our chair has a reinforced polymer frame that slides within this aluminum structure, and as it flexes it’s creating the support and formation you’d need for a very surprising level of comfort.”
“In many other seats, the movement or adjustments are visually expressed,” added Johannes Lampela, creative director for BMW Group DesignworksUSA. “Here, we are leaving the ergonomics hidden. This conceals and almost functions as a surprise for the user when you sit for the first time—you wouldn’t expect this minimal kind of design to have adjustments.”
The current trend in shorter workspace panel heights also influenced the design. This makes chairs much more visible, especially from the rear view, so the team decided to keep the seat back clean and open. The sleek, subtle waterfall design at the back’s edge gives a compelling reason to show off the chair from all angles.
Not only does Clarity work for various environments and applications, the chair itself is flexible and adjusts to the task at hand. With open arm rests (armless versions are available as well) and a low back, over-the-shoulder conversations and impromptu meetings are made easy. Available in four different frame finishes, with eight bold and neutral mesh colors, it can similarly take on a new personality for every application and space.
“The material choices can create a unique character and allow it to be specified for many different types of environments,” said Lampela. “For example, the polished aluminum and leather cover over mesh has a very premium, executive feel to it. When painted white with green or blue mesh, it feels fresh and appropriate for an ad agency. Because the form blends in rather than standing out, the finishes add a bigger impact to the overall look and feel of an office environment.”
The Clarity series was the first joint project between Allsteel and BMW Group DesignworksUSA, both of which have hinted at plans for future, yet-to-be-announced projects in other categories. Based on what we’ve seen thus far, expect another brilliant fusion of comfort and streamlined design.