Manchester Internationa festival - Seating Competition

An optional completion for 3D design BA final years and MA Product designers to take part in. I jumped at the opportunity to get involved.

Manchester International Festival - The arts festival

24 Design – Manufactures – industrial scale CNCing

Centriforce – Providing the material - Stokbord

Whitworth Gallery – where the benches will end up after the festival

We have been given a design brief to design 50 chairs initially for a Manchester International Festival and after the event for Whitworth Art Galleries outdoor space. Because there is a brief it is design rather than art. Because the brief requires our outcome to have a function it is design not art. But are designs not art if they are within the boundaries of an art gallery?!

Sitting on a design to observe art. What if the chair was art? Would you sit on a sculpture? Would that feel wrong?

Ben and Oli are both 3D furniture designers in their final year of a 3D design BA. They have extensive experience working with CNC machinery, have previously designed furniture and know each other’s design style inside out. This is in direct contrast to my experience within the greetings industry, and my textile background.

At our first meeting we meet in the canteen over a coffee. Our initial discussion clarified the time line for our brief, and we further broke down each area of the brief given. We also explored each of our design processes. Trying to get an understanding of how we each approach a brief. (See images below)

We have had a few meetings and I’m finally designing again! God it feels good! I love to develop ideas, brainstorming with a team is how I worked at Tigerprint, and it feels like putting on your favourite jumper. The new team dynamics will take a while for me to full relax, and working with new materials and the associated restraints is a source of discussion. I am so used to working with paper that as I deign I don’t consider key limitation that material and human weight being. The boys are keeping me on my toes!

Over Easter I was in the Lake District with my family. My Dad, Roger Crabtree is a designer too and is MD at FWDesign. We have a lovely afternoon designing together, below are my sketchbook pages from our brainstorming. Designing with Dad was lovely; we know each other inside out and know what each other is about to say/ thinking.  Only problem is, we both think we are right! HA! Family dynamics bring pros and cons! Here’s to the future Crabtree&Crabtree designs ltd!

Back in Manchester with Ben and Oli, our design development of the bench concept moved forward inline with Crabtree&Crabtree ideas! And some feedback we received from Dave Grimshaw.
We also have the opportunity to touch, bend and examin the stokboard within the meeting, which shone new light onto our current design.

Dave’s main contributing thoughts - development of the perch seat; morphing into a family of sizes, reassurance that we are on the right track, and attaching the ‘skin’ with screws.

As a group the dynamics are improving day-by-day, each able to be more honest, able to understand where the others come from. This group has all the best features of a team. Each member benefiting from other members strengths and knowledge, while feeling comfortable enough to raise any concerns or questions

Some of the key elements within high performing teams are synergy and unity but these elements must be nurtured and grow. The potential of becoming a high performing team may be realised upon completion of this live brief.

Despite ones level of experience, ‘team building skills sets’ or commercial experience, it appears, time is the magic wand needed for team building. Or at least an understanding of the individuals within the group, an understanding of their practice, an understanding of their preferred design methodology or just a understanding of their personality and characteristics?

Fukasawa’s discussion of a chairs affinity to its surrounds provided inspiration throughout the day “A chair in a bedroom, whether the same shape as other chairs in other rooms or not, is used in a ‘bedroom-like’ manner.” Naoto Fukasawa, Affinity chairs and their relationship to each other inspired the consideration of a family of benches nestled together, and their combined appearance. Acting almost a lego pieces, the family of benches become their own example of a team; together becoming something more, something better.

Each member of the family will have their own strengths, own appearance and individual characterises; yet all will originate from the same form.

It is worth considering how and why we would know these are chairs. Assumptions around our objects purpose, function and integrity, how will a user know each of these objects are part of a family, will it be due to the material, the form, the construction method?

One point of reference could be that of Plato’s theory of ‘ideas’ or ‘Forms’. Plato holds that what is experienced with the five senses on planet Earth is an inferior copy of a perfect template that exists in another dimension. “These forms are the ultimate reference point for all objects we observe in the physical world” (Vlach, no date)

When observing a chair, what is seen is its innate ‘chairness’ “take any property of an object; separate it from that object and consider it by itself, and you are contemplating a form.”(no date) Plato holds that it is this point of reference, ‘idea’ this one true example of perfection that enables understanding and categorising of objects.

D Sudjic however feels this understanding, of an object cannot be found purely in their aesthetic. Sudjic’s discussion in ‘The language of things’ around archetype’s as “a category of objects that does not need to be explained”(Sudjic 2009, pp.60-61) gives food for thought when considering the objects are, designed.

Do Plato’s forms and ideas move to another dimension as and when they are designed?  Do we have a backlog of reference, objects that communicate intuitively to the user giving a sense of its form?


Vlach, M. (no date) Plato’s Theory of Forms. Available at: (Accessed: 18 March 2015

(no date) Available at: (Accessed: 18 March 2015)