ConWork – from biro to office / conference chair

“A chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier.” – sometimes I really do agree with this quote by German-American architect and designer Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. After all, one of our latest developments, the ConWork” office and conference chair, has been a major focus of attention for me. In total the design and development process took three years, during which time we made more than seven prototypes and models, as well as carrying out numerous trials. The critical factor in the development process was ultimately a small and insignificant detail – a rather special clip on a biro pen. It was this from which I drew inspiration for the mechanism of the chair. But let’s start at the beginning…

In the beginning was the uncomfortable conference chair

These days, many people spend more hours in conferences, meetings and on project work than they do at their own desks, yet at the same time many people are complaining that conference chairs are uncomfortable – at this point we see a large potential market for Klöber. So we set ourselves the task of creating a swivelling conference chair that makes meetings more dynamic and promotes health.
It’s particularly important for conference chairs that they are simple and intuitive to operate. If chairs are so complex that users can’t cope with them, the result is that the adjustment functions are not used. Then employees spend hours sitting in meetings and complain of muscle tension and backache. Ergonomic office chairs – which many workers have at their own desks – would be one possible solution. So why don’t we put that into practice? Because first impressions count! The conference room is an important advert for the company – this is where customers and guests are welcomed, so it’s important to have a representative setting. The chair design must also be as clear, transparent and high-quality as possible. There are some design classics that despite their good looks are not at all comfortable. So the big challenge we faced with ConWork was to combine these requirements: we wanted to design a chair that was intuitive to operate, elegantly designed, but at the same time offers a high level of ergonomic sitting comfort.

Inspiration from everyday life results in the perfect office and conference chair

An idea needed to be born. As soon as I start work on a new project, my perception automatically becomes more acute: form, colour, function – if I see something, I always try to make it link in with my work. In this way I can stimulate my imagination even through objects that are supposedly unrelated in function. The actual creativity is then all about recognising potential and translating it for new things. The science of bionics incorporates a similar principle – here, functions that occur in nature are converted into technology. That’s why I am keen to take inspiration from all the things that surround me in my everyday life. It could be a torch, welder’s mask or even the clip on a biro I was thoughtlessly fiddling with one day. As I did so, I observed that the clip had two offset pivot points, causing tension to build up in the clip. A useful spring principle, I thought.

A rather special biro clip inspired Jörg Bernauer, one of the Klöber designers, to create a new chair mechanism © Klöber

Automation of the mechanism

I couldn’t forget the discovery of how tension developed in the pen clip and I began to apply the principle to the mechanics of the new chair.
We started off with simple functional models, which we used to establish the approximate forces and dimensions involved. By “we” I mean myself and my colleagues in development and model construction, with whom I always collaborate closely. In any case, the spring principle of the biro clip used in ConWork consists of the combination of a wooden backrest and a wooden spring element. The chair balances the weight between the seat and backrest. The higher the weight on the seat, the greater the pressure from the backrest. This turns the mechanism into an automatic one. However there were still a few working steps left until the idea finally became technical CAD data; for example the seat load had to be transferred to the backrest pressure. We also optimised the motion sequence further. The pivot points were adjusted in such a way as to avoid the “shirt-pulling effect”. This is when the backrest slides up the sitter’s body as they lean backwards, pulling their shirt up. And again and again we had to test the chair, then optimise it, and test it again. But our efforts were worth it in the end. We conducted extensive field trials with people of various weights and heights. All of them confirmed the constant support, as well as appropriate backrest pressure in every position – with no fine adjustment whatsoever. The chair only has one lever, which is to regulate the seat height. All other settings adapt of their own accord, in other words automatically.

Designer Jörg Bernauer and model builder Peter Fetschak test the ConWork’s motion sequence © Klöber

Designer Jörg Bernauer and model builder Peter Fetschak test the ConWork’s motion sequence © Klöber

Designer Jörg Bernauer and model builder Peter Fetschak test the ConWork’s motion sequence © Klöber

Designer Jörg Bernauer and model builder Peter Fetschak test the ConWork’s motion sequence © Klöber

A first-class design for a representative office and conference chair

For the design, I felt it was important that the chair has clear styling with flowing lines and smooth transitions. To achieve this elegant look, we integrated the mechanism into the chair in such a way that it is barely visible. It was the details that were most important to me: I made sure that the quality and comfort of this range could be seen and felt by using natural, premium materials. I created a Chesterfield-style upholstery quilting, which has a comfy, inviting feel. The small surface sections ensure a luxurious experience as you sit down, and the cushion is also aerated at the same time. The upholstery is also available with a simple straight-seamed quilting option. The backrest is made of moulded plywood, which has bending properties that are ideal for the spring function. It is available in real walnut, black and white, all of which can also be supplied with upholstery. This allows different chair configurations depending on the space being furnished.

Designer Jörg Bernauer and master upholsterer Leo Kiefer specify the seam position and upholstery curvature for the ConWork chair © Klöber

Designer Jörg Bernauer and master upholsterer Leo Kiefer specify the seam position and upholstery curvature for the ConWork chair © Klöber

The ConWork secret:  functionality and styling right from the start

It’s true that chairs made by other manufacturers can score points with a well-designed, high-quality appearance. However, they usually have very simple rocker or swivel mechanisms, and thus provide inferior sitting comfort in terms of health. But it’s not like that with our ConWork. Why is that? Our products are designed “from the inside out”. Function and style are closely connected with this approach. A development process like this is rare these days, because we as designers are usually not involved with highly complex products until much later on, and then we have to cover up a so-called “pre-development” phase. Firstly it was integrating the design into the development, as has occurred here with ConWork, which made this original design process possible. Details, functions and mechanisms are constantly questioned with this method, which ultimately led to a convincing result in terms of both looks and function. That’s just what a designer wants.
If you wish, you can take a closer look at it right now – as there’s also a film on the!

Jörg Bernauer

Jörg Bernauer, in-house designer. I’ve been at Klöber since 2008, accompanying each new product right from the start. For this I work closely with my colleagues from different departments, which…

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