The industry calls it the monobloc chair. To everyone else it’s that cheap plastic chair, the squarish, one-piece, stackable thing that populates the lawns and gardens of the world, so ubiquitous as to go unnoticed.
It seems to be everywhere: inside a storeroom in Florida, outside the Uruguay Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and on a boat on the Zambezi River in Zambia, to mention just a few of the places the chair has been spotted, according to the Plastic Chair World Map. No one knows how many exist in their different versions or even who the original designer is, but they clearly number in the millions.
Even before graduation, industrial design students from the National University of Singapore have already successfully sold their designs. They regularly fly between China and Singapore; negotiate with manufacturers and suppliers; handle sales from customers all over the world; and keep up with schoolwork — all at the same time.
These students are the products of Launchpad, a course founded and facilitated by lecturer Donn Koh of the Division of Industrial Design. Over 13 weeks, these design students work in teams of three to conceptualise designs, which they then released on a crowdfunding platform for the world to judge with their wallets.
“Within the confines of a design school, students are seldom confronted with the reality of a product that has to resonate with people and really lead to purchase decisions,” says Donn.
“You can have a thousand and one concepts, and people may applaud you. But will they give you (their) money? That’s the real test.”
Most Singaporeans have sat on one before. Plastic stools support the bums of kopitiam goers around the city as they tuck into their wanton mee, nasi lemak or prata.
They come in all shades and shapes like the customers they serve, and one in particular is the design of Mr Chew Moh-Jin, a Singaporean industrial designer who unexpectedly created what is now an icon of Singapore’s food culture.
Picture a 30-centimetres wide circle bounded tightly by a square. Extend a third of the square to a height of 44-centimetres to create a leg. Repeat for the remaining three corners and you have an outline of the stool Mr Chew designed—a modern solution for a decades-old Singapore plastics manufacturer.