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Behind the Design: the Keyn Chair Group

The Design Guild Mark judging is now over for another year and the 2018 holders have been selected.

While you wait to find out which pieces will join the ranks of the 196 awarded pieces that have come before, we thought we’d take a closer a look at last year’s most outstanding product, the Keyn Chair Group.

Designed by creative agency forpeople, the Keyn Chair Group was designed for international office furniture manufacturer Herman Miller.

Out of the 34 pieces awarded a Design Guild Mark in 2017, the Keyn Chair Group was judged to be the most outstanding and awarded the Jonathan Hindle Prize for Excellence.

We sat down with Joohee Lee, one of the creators of the Keyn Chair Group along with Richard Stevens, to find out more about it.


What initially inspired you to make this product?

The initial brief from Herman Miller was to design a family of side chairs for the collaborative workplace that delivers a market leading comfort and a unified aesthetic vocabulary throughout the range. We also set our own goal to create a chair that is 100% born out of Herman Miller DNA and we spent many days to understand what is the real ‘Herman Miller-ness’.

Can you explain the concept for the design?

To deliver wide chair choices with the minimum part, all Keyn versions created based on four modular parts: the base, the cradle, the seat shell and the upholstered pad in a wide choice of fabric or leather. One of the main challenges was to ensure all versions are uncompromised in terms of comfort and visual appeal.

One key insight from our initial research was the boring meeting syndrome, people consistently change their postures during a meeting, about more than 50 times in an hour. We developed ‘CradleFlex’ movement that allows users effortless posture shift with consistent support in any position by simultaneously moving the seat forward and reclining the back up to 10 degrees.

How have you struck the balance between function and design with this product?

Function and design is a symbiotic relationship. One shouldn’t be ignored or compromised because of the other. The only way to achieve the perfectly harmonised solution between function and design is to work together closely with engineers from the very first stage. It was a privilege to collaborate with the talented Herman Miller engineer team throughout the development.


Who does this design appeal to?

With its adaptable system, Keyn offers a wide choice of vocabulary for the workplace, hospitality, higher education and, to a certain extent, for home as well.


How long did the design process take, from initial sketches to roll out?

Overall, it took about five years. Considering more than 20 years’ life cycle for most Herman Miller chairs, every single day was worthy. These days, everything is so fast and a product development is getting shorter, from few months to even few weeks. It was a special opportunity to craft a product for 5 years, a slow but ‘proper’ design process. I believe people will notice consideration and craftsmanship gone into the chair while they use.

What modifications did you make along the way?

During five years, there were consistent explorations and modifications for various reasons. For instance, the pedestal base and the cradle are connected by the ‘Y’shape two arm cantilever piece. It makes the seat visually floating in the air. One point in the process, I was asked to consider conventional four arm connection due to the engineering challenge, however by modifying the materials around the junction, the original design intent was protected.

In what way do you think this design is different from anything else available on the market?

With the smart modular system, Keyn is versatile to offer vast ranges, from a simple casual seating to an executive solution, while none of the chairs isn’t compromised in terms of visual appeal and ergonomic well-being.


What was the most challenging aspect of the design?

There were three major challenges. First, providing the equal level of visual appeal and ergonomic comfort on all versions of the chair. The second was seamlessly integrating the kinematic movement without the aesthetic compromise. The initial kinematic movement rig was bigger than actual chair. Finally, keeping Herman Miller DNA while creating the new and unique visual identity.