It took one minute to figure out the need and the type of solution that it required, but months to give it a proper shape and to turn it into an industrially viable (and cheap enough) product.
It was during an architectural job (the evaluation of the furniture specifications for a school sponsored by the Royal Society of Arts, RSA, in the UK) that the British duo realised that when it came to chairs for education, the panorama was rather desolate.
“The RSA had selected some really beautiful chairs by top-notch manufacturers,” explains Barber. “But these had not been designed to make students hold a correct writing posture, and they were too expensive.
"At the other end of the spectrum, there were lots of affordable, functional, robust products, but they were inherently extremely ugly. We thought there must be a good school chair somewhere. We did a lot of research, but there simply wasn’t. So we decided to design it.”
The Swiss manufacturer of high-end furniture, Vitra, listened with enthusiasm to Barber and Osgerby’s idea of making an affordable, extremely strong and very ergonomic chair specifically conceived for schools.
“When you sit at a desk, you need to keep your back upright at all times,” Osgerby explains. “Yet people always feel the need to move and adjust on the chair, and often they actually tilt themselves forward, hence making the chair stand on its front legs.”
This ‘fidgeting’ has a very important role in school students’ lives (scientific research proves that it actually helps concentration), yet only very costly office chairs have so far tackled the issue. “But these chairs are full of mechanical parts and are too expensive for schools,” says Osgerby.
Their solution is, on the contrary, extremely cost-effective. Manufactured with plastic injection moulding and featuring no mechanisms, the Tip Ton is a single block-like form that, from a resting position, tilts forward until the sitter reaches a defined point – then the chair lands softly in the forward sitting position and its seat is angled several degrees forward, straightening the pelvis and spine and improving blood flow.
Apart from being cheap and stackable, school chairs also need to comply with an enormous amount of regulations regarding robustness and durability. Testing them requires months of work.
Due to the particular way in which the front part of the Tip Ton is built (with the front legs linked to the rear ones) the making of the massive 19 tonne mould was also a very complicated affair, proving that simplicity is, truly, always the most difficult quality to achieve.