How Barber & Osgerby pitched their Pacific chair to Jony Ive

Apple’s design guru saw how this 'quiet' piece of furniture suited today's less-formal office environment
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Jay Osgerby and Edward Barber
Jay Osgerby and Edward Barber

How would you sell a product to Jony Ive? “Quiet” was the key adjective British designers Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby used when describing their new chair to Apple’s chief design officer, over a pint of beer a few years ago.

The piece of furniture Barber and Osgerby were discussing, the now-famous 2016 Pacific Chair, was made for Vitra, and ordered by Ive for Apple’s new headquarters in Cupertino, California.

Ive made an astute choice. As we explain in our book Barber Osgerby, Projects, the chair, the pair’s first venture into the office seating, “responded to the idea that the traditional office chair has been reduced to an uninspiring collection of controls and levers.” Rather than crowd their new seat with buttons and stalks, “the designers developed a form that aimed to minimize the visual impact of those elements.” It was an obvious fit for a firm whose overriding design principle is simplicity.

 

Pacific Chairs, Vitra Campus, Weil am Rhein, Germany, 2016
Pacific Chairs, Vitra Campus, Weil am Rhein, Germany, 2016

However, as a new Fast Company article explains, when Barber and Osgerby first began thinking about this modest, informal update of office seating, they did not picture the ergonomic halls of 1 Infinite Loop, but the far more casual interior of the Ace Hotel lobby in Shoreditch, East London, which opened in 2013, and has since attracted a crowd of casual workers, many of whom aren't even staying at the hotel.

“In America, people were already starting to work everywhere with their laptops and coffee,” Barber explained. “But in Britain, it was alien to be designing this lobby for people to work in even if they weren’t staying in the hotel.”

 

Sketch of Pacific Chair arm rest, felt pen on paper, 2016
Sketch of Pacific Chair arm rest, felt pen on paper, 2016

The duo realised that the working environment was changing and that earlier, more adjustable chairs – designed at a time when workers were more likely to spend their time beside their desks, gazing at desktop computers, rather up and about, on laptops, tablets and phones – were no longer a good fit.

“To get the best people you have to have an environment with less formality,” says Osgerby. “The subsequent generation is going to sit different than we did 20 years ago.”

 

Pacific Chair fixed arm rest, Vitra, 2016
Pacific Chair fixed arm rest, Vitra, 2016

If anyone is going create the right chair for them, its Edward and Jay. To find out more about the Pacific Chair, as well as many more of their works, order a copy of Barber Osgerby, Projects; for more of Jony Ive’s design likes order a copy of our Dieter Rams book, As Little Design As Possible – Ive wrote the foreword; and for more on chairs, take a look at this.


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