A couple of years ago, I posted some progress shots of this chair while I was at Anderson Ranch.
Once I got it to this point in construction, I took it over to a friend and mentor to ask his opinion. His opinion wasn’t just unfavorable, it was scathing. It was the first time I have received a negative opinion on my work since architecture classes in college. Those didn’t bother me because in all honesty, I didn’t have much invested in the work, (but that’s another story). This time, it hurt bad. I had had some success recently with other chairs and thought this one was fantastic. I worked hard on it conceptually and it really seemed to come together during the class. The instructor gave me positive and enthusiastic feedback. My friend, however, (whom I very much respect for his design and craft skills), really let me have it. He had nothing nice to say. I’m sure my face registered the impact. I was crushed.
But, what I received what the first really, 100% honest critique of my furniture work by someone who was qualified to give an opinion, (sorry Mom, your opinion isn’t exactly unbiased). It wasn’t for lack of soliciting a critique. Even judges at shows hold back their whole opinion, or just don’t really know how to express it. My friend had taught design, so he could articulate what he thought.
After the hurt to my pride wore off, I realized he was mostly right, or rather that I agreed with most of his observations. There were some craft issues that don’t belong on a show piece. There are some ergonomic issues that do inhibit its functionality (the arm is too high). The back works out such that the top two ends of the back splat are on different planes. A lot of the lines just don’t work.
I also realized that I didn’t agree with him on everything he said. I am still infatuated with the back splat and especially the negative space created in the middle. I still think the shapes of the individual parts will influence me for a long time to come. And, I still like sticking the odd leg on the front and the asymmetrical nature of the composition.
Without the experience of the honest critique, I would have moved forward with an inferior chair, and that would not have been to my benefit. I wouldn’t have understood what was holding the design back, which would have hindered my progress as a designer and maker. Most importantly, I would not have known what I wanted to move forward with. For all of that, I’m thankful for what was initially painful.
Now I’m moving forward with the next iteration, trying to incorporate the design elements that I like with the lessons of the critique. The prototype is under construction now and I’m pretty excited about it.