Chair No.14, designed by Michael Thonet and launched in 1859 is considered the first Modern chair. Its shape and properties are the optimised trade-off between design and production. Thonet envisioned the future of furniture design and was a pioneer by developing the first mass produced chairs. To accomplish this endeavour, he designed, engineered, and developed the production methods for bending solid wood.
Could a customer customise the shape of the chair before buying it?
This is one of the questions that led to the research focusing the methods for achieving mass customisation in the furniture design industry.
Thonet chairs were selected as the case study because they are symbolic of the mass production paradigm. Their original formulation permitted a degree of customisation for consumers, who could select from a list of predefined options, available in the company’s catalogues. This condition provided a solid base to assess the evolution from customised standardisation into tailored customisation, the main purpose of the present research. In tailored customisation, consumers have access to a higher degree of customisation by tailoring a generic layout defined by the company. Given the specific goals of the research, Thonet chairs offered the possibility of studying whether an existing design style could be encoded to devise a generative design system capable of assisting in the customisation of design solutions.
This is the site of the PhD research entitled “Mass customisation in the furniture design industry: the case of Thonet chairs”, developed by the designer Mário Barros in the Faculty of Architecture, University of Lisbon. The research was supervised by José Pinto Duarte and co-supervised by Bruno Chaparro.
The final two years of the research were financially supported by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), under grant SFRH/BD/91059/2012.