The Fern chair by Holland-based Haworth has been endorsed by United States Ergonomics. Courtesy Haworth
Haworth’s award-winning Fern chair was four years in the making and required a blended digital and analog process to develop.
Michael Welsh, one of the designers who worked on Fern, was on hand at NeoCon, a commercial interiors trade show being held in Chicago this week, and he discussed the process that brought the chair to Haworth’s showroom floor this year.
Welsh said the process began with a desire to design a chair that maximized comfort and allowed for greater mobility as a person worked throughout the day in the chair.
“We were focusing on how do we get to the comfort,” Welsh said.
He said nature was a great inspiration for designing the chair, but also created challenges.
“When you try to mimic nature, you better hang on for dear life,” he said.
Chairs typically include a hard-edged support system that is similar to the structure of a tennis racket.
With Fern, the support system was moved to the center of the chair, where a person’s back is supported by “fronds,” which come out from the chair’s center.
“There is still a connection along the outside, but it doesn’t have to carry any of the support for the chair, so it gets really flexible so it can move with you,” said Julie Smith, PR manager, Haworth.
“It was an interesting intersection of disciplines that helped us come up with this chair.”
Welsh said to achieve a support system with the necessary flexibility, designers went through a process that included several 3D models, which he said is unique in furniture design.
In fact, one of the chair’s designers, Kyle Fleet, has a sculpture background, which he put to use at several stages in Fern’s development.
Welsh said as the team worked on designing the chair’s mesh system, using a computer wasn’t possible.
“It really becomes a hands-on material exploration,” he said.
Welsh said designers used everything from string to duct tape as they worked to create the chair’s structure.
“We got heavily into early prototyping and 3D modeling,” he said.
Eventually, Welsh said Fleet “hand milled a simple matrix and these slides came in to have an undercut, and it captured the edge.”
With Fleet’s prototype, the engineers could digitally capture the design and had a path forward to manufacture the chair.
The final product is a sleek, comfortable chair with relatively greater mobility and individual control.
The chair has up-and-down controls for height adjustment, a seat-panel control for movement forward and backward and a forward-tilt capability.
It also has a tension-control system, which in 20 cranks can create either the rigidity needed to support typing or other more focused work postures, as well as a flexibility that allows the back of the chair to move with the body in collaborative or less formal situations.
“It’s really intended to support you with this great comfort and encourage movement as well,” Welsh said. “As you move, it’s going to move with you.”
Welsh said while the product can be used in many different situations and environments, it’s really intended for personalized use, because of its ability to be individualized through its control system.
“It’s hopefully creating no distractions, because you aren’t being bothered by the chair,” he said.
Fern became available for order earlier this month.
Welsh said he would like to see at least 50,000 units sold in the first year.
“Obviously, this will be a higher-volume product,” he said, noting Fern’s “great performance” and “aesthetic.”
Fern received a HiP Award (Honoring Industry People and Product) from Interior Design magazine at NeoCon in the category of Workplace: Seating, Task.
United States Ergonomics, an independent organization, recently endorsed Fern as well.
To earn the endorsement, a certified professional ergonomist evaluated the chair.
The evaluation included pressure mapping on both the seat and back, qualitative assessment from a user’s perspective and a long-term sit test with more than 20 individuals in a workplace setting.