'Let’s just do it'

A Talk on the Stool-Tool

At the London Design Festival 2016 Vitra joined together with Konstantin Grcic to present the new Stool-Tool. In a talk with Victoria and Albert Museum curator and Disegno founder Johanna Agerman Ross, Konstantin Grcic spoke about influences from a trip to the Silicon Valley, the role of observing in his designs and the naming of the Stool-Tool. An extract.

Johanna Agerman Ross: We are here tonight to speak about a specific project. It is called Stool-Tool. The Stool-Tool explores how contemporary works in public environments shape the way we are sitting and also how the changing pace in formal work prompts us to reconsider what we expect from a seat. Konstantin, what is the Stool-Tool?

Konstantin Grcic: The Stool-Tool is a monolithic volume with two levels. Both levels can be used in whatever way you want – for example you have one to sit on, like a chair, the other one to use as a table. The object is conceived like a bucket upside-down. It’s slightly pyramid shaped and hollow inside because I wanted it to be stackable. The design basically represents the process of finding just the right balance between ‘how big is the footprint on the floor?’ – we wanted it to be as small as possible – and ‘how could we have the largest possible kinds of surfaces to sit on and use for work?’.

JAR: For you, where does a design process actually start?

It all starts with an observation. In this particular case it was the simple observation that in any office environment – whether it’s kind of a cool, informal start-up or a more traditional workspace – there are situations where you are in need of an ad hoc activity. You want people to group together for a short conversation or you want to get away from your desk and sit somewhere else to make a phone call or take a note. I saw a need there, a niche.

JAR: For you and your studio the project is quite simple, both material and manufacturing technique are very straightforward – quite different from other projects you have been working on.

KGC: Of course, projects are very different. If other projects have more technology or more complexity, then it’s because they needed that or required that. I am very much for simplicity, always. In this case it was key to the success of the object. We had to break the Stool-Tool down to a very simple formula: the formula of a bucket. It can be produced industrially –injection molding, polypropylene-plastic. It has an easy maintenance and a light weight. You can pick it up and carry it around, basically you can use it in any way you want. A lot of offices have good enough chairs and good enough tables and good enough lounge furniture, all of that, but I think what is needed is something much simpler. That’s the kind of niche I was talking about.

'Let’s just do it. And once we’ve done it, we learn from it.'

JAR: Your research for this particular project actually has its origins in a trip that you did together with Vitra to California two years ago, to visit tech start-ups. Can you tell us a little bit about that trip and what it triggered in your mind and for your designs?

KGC: We went to Los Angeles and San Francisco researching the new type of office. We met with all sorts of new companies: start-ups, small companies that had grown overnight into very large companies, companies that had grown and then were in the process of shrinking again. It was a really great insight, most significantly into the Silicon Valley mentality. Marc Zuckerberg says: ‘Done is better than perfect.’ For them, it is rather about putting ideas out early in order to have them tested and to get feedback. And I think that this project – the Stool-Tool – is trying exactly that. Doing a very simple project, a quick one. You can put it out and get feedback. This form of working I brought back from Silicon Valley: Let’s just do it. And once we’ve done it, we learn from it and we can later on implement our findings into other projects.

JAR: I think it is also very interesting to speak about the aesthetics of the workplaces you visited on your trip to California – how do these companies use furniture and what kind of furniture do they have in their offices?

KGC: They told us: Furniture? Not really relevant. For them, furniture has to do the job quickly; the way they buy furniture is 24-hour delivery. You call, you need another ten desks, you want them to be there the next morning. You don’t carefully pick a colour and then wait 6 weeks for it to be delivered. But they still need furniture. Furniture enables what they do, enables the type of new office structure and a new form of working. I think for us, the response to this trend is not to be frustrated but to understand the changing needs as an exciting paradigm shift and as new opportunities. A niche is opening there – and I, as a designer, enjoy this very much. And I think – again – that this little thing, the Stool-Tool, sits in these new niches.

'The functional idea of the use gives me all the elements. I just have to design the details.'

JAR: You were talking about that observation of the environments that you design for, but there is also a kind of observation of the user once your projects have reached the market. Many of your pieces somehow enforce an interaction with the user.

KGC: Anything we do is for people to be used. The great thing about furniture, in particular furniture that we sit on, is the physical contact we have with the chair. You sit on something and you really are in contact with it. The chair becomes an extension of you or dresses you. I like this physical, even frictional confrontation. I learned some years ago that the true meaning of the word “object” comes from Latin and more or less it says ‘to put – or to even throw –something in your way’. I thought that was nice, because it had a little bit of aggression. I am putting an object into your way, almost as an obstacle, and you deal with it.

JAR: The name Stool-Tool indicates that this is more than just something to sit on. How do you reflect on furniture as a tool?

KGC: My interest in a piece of furniture turning into a tool dates back to really early, probably student work. I think it was actually an easy way out of having to decide on a style or what a design should look like. I could always argue: Well it’s a tool, it just works in that way. Of course a tool has its own aesthetic, and therefore also gives shape to something. For example, the May Day lamp, that I designed for Flos, has a handle on it and a long cable and you can pick it up and carry it somewhere and it has a little hook and you can hook it somewhere. There, my idea of how a design can be used turns into very clear elements: the cable, the hook, the handle. The functional idea of the use gives me all the elements. I just have to design the details. It is the same with the Stool-Tool. You instinctively interact with it.

Publication date: 23.09.2016
Image: Florian Böhm - Konstantin Grcic on the Stool-Tool. Copyright: Vitra