A chair, the future & BattleField 4

What do a chair, the future & BattleField 4 have in common?

It must have been in the spring of 1994 when our industrial design class at De Gerrit Rietveld Akademie got the assignment to “design a chair”. As often in those classes, the assignment was broad and not very specific. The goal was probably to allow for the creative process to emerge rather than to engineer your way through the assignment. The result was rather surprising and it became reality when I discovered Battlefield 4 (BF4)…

So here I was, sitting in our classroom and my mind already drifting off into another dimension, reality or take your preferred metaphor. As has become the default start on any creative venture, I got a set of often returning types of questions:

  • what does design mean?
  • what does chair mean?
  • why should I even do this?

Each of those (and many more) I investigated in my own way. Sometimes getting to the core of it, sometimes getting distracted and moving on to a sub-question:

  • what does chair mean?
    • is this about sitting?
    • what does it mean to sit?
    • what is the intrinsic value of a chair
    • why would we sit?

For me, this is like scanning the question and solution space. No direction but gathering a broad spectrum of data points and concepts to hang on to. While everyone was drawing lines, making something “unique” Jeroen was contemplating on abstract and philosophical matters. At some point, I realized what “to sit” meant to me.

To sit was about feeling safe. To sit was not so much about being elevated from the ground or another surface level. To sit was not so much about raising yourself above others (throne). To sit was not so much about comfort either, not about physical comfort at least. Even though all those are very relevant reasons to design a chair for me it was a boring, old hat and been-there-done-that. I was exploring the bigger picture.

The result was based on the notion that I could sit anywhere as long as I felt safe. As long as the surroundings could be observed or understood by me easily. Or, as long as something did that for me. This something became my “chair”, a collection of balls that I could spread around me and which would notify me if any danger was approaching.

Far fetched, right? So everybody thought back then as well and once again my project was met with scepticism and smirks. Not all teachers thought this was far off, some saw what I was after (thank goodness or I would have lost my sanity). So fast forward about 20+ years and Jeroen begins playing BF4. Here I discovered a gadget in the recon class called “motion sensor“. The description reads:

“Thrown motion sensor which detects enemy movement in 25 m radius and reports it to your team’s minimap for up to 14 seconds after deployment”

Replace “team’s minimap” with a smartphone and we are in modern reality.

Darpa did not consult me but got their own stance on this concept: http://www.defense-aerospace.com/articles-view/release/3/4998/us-marines-test-darpa-technologies-(apr.-9).html