Society’s technological advancements are rapidly progressing, at all times having a strong influence on our physical behaviours and environments. For many people a typical day now involves sitting down and working at a computer for nine hours, to then go home and sit at a different desk perhaps continuing with some freelance work, browsing the internet or just resting on the sofa (usually with some kind of electronic device in front of their eyes or on their laps). Even lunch breaks involve an inactive, seated position; everybody is tired. Physical activity has become a chore, something we must factor into our lives for an agreed amount of time, but it’s also fine to disregard this if we ‘don’t feel like it’. And for many of us, we never feel like it.
Assisting our aversion to physical movement are the products created to make life easier for us, from autonomous vacuum cleaners to self-making beds (yes, really). There is no motivation to use our bodies as we simply don’t need to. However, the adverse effects of this are endemic, with many people suffering from spinal issues, muscular diseases and other health issues. In making us more comfortable, designers are in fact creating a widespread discomfort. So what is the solution?
For one designer, it is simple: to take this discomfort and incorporate it into products, using it to put the body in motion and thus out of its chronic stationary postures. Recent École Boulle graduate Benoît Malta has developed a collection of objects based on the idea of discomfort, thinking of alternative ways to use products that will create a need for physical activity and stimulation. The French designer wished to question the perception of the home space, altering familiar habits and allowing people to become more aware of their bodies.
The resulting collection consists of a chair, lamp and small shelving system, designed to promote mobility and improve wellbeing. The chair proposes an alternative way of sitting, with only two legs instead of the usual four to stimulate different parts of the body through a passive situation. Malta worked with ergonomists and physical therapists to ensure the structure would appropriately activate different parts of the body affected by daily inactivity.
Malta’s lamp is inspired by Roman scales with a mercury switch that turns the light on when it is horizontal. A weight allows the lamp to balance and remain lit, but this moves often so that the user must switch the light back on with a gesture that stretches the arm out of idleness. Finally, the small ledges for storage are inspired by climbing holds. Placed at different heights, these too require the user to stretch in order to reach the item that is needed.
With ‘Inactivité’, Malta creates activity from ordinarily passive circumstances. The collection is an amazing example of what is now needed from all designers in order to transform sedentary ways of living. In addition to this, it challenges traditional perceptions of objects, creating pieces of furniture without archetypal vision. This is ‘bearable discomfort’; for our bodies and our health, but also for our minds and for the future of design.