Sitting Pretty: UC DAAP Student Chair Designs

Student designers showcase style that sits well with practicality and comfort.

For the past six years, Julie and Jeff Hinkel, owners of Voltage Furniture, have shown the work of Associate Professor Emeritus Tony Kawanari’s students in the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) Industrial Design program.

“It began with Tony inviting me to a critique,” Jeff says. As a former architecture student himself, he liked being on the other side, evaluating the students’ work. The following year, students brought their work to Hinkel, and an audience, at Voltage.

“The variety of responses you get when you present a single topic—chair design—is what’s fun,” Hinkel says. “And the caliber of work we’re seeing is fantastic.”

Students’ chairs must incorporate three of five design elements rooted in Japanese culture, building on their knowledge of kaizen, a philosophy of continuous improvement. Kawanari’s assignment marries aesthetic impact with a lesson in manufacturing and practicality. “Beyond an understanding of the Japanese design elements,” Kawanari says, “this project pushes the student in the fields of ergonomics, engineering, and universal design.”

It’s essential for designers to learn simple, compact design in a coming era of limited natural resources,” he explains. “I want to give my students a designer’s point of view so they can manage in that future.”

Associate Professor Emeritus Tony Kawanari describes the Japanese design elements students incorporated in their designs:

  • Kaigyaku, “humor,” a sense of cleverness and resourcefulness
  • Shokuningei, “craftsmanship,” making a design work with limited space and resources
  • Kogataka, “compactness,” saving space so products can be easily shipped, honoring detail and technology
  • Hitaisho, “asymmetry,” evokes interacting forces, especially the relationship between people and nature
  • Kanso, “simplicity,” incorporates insight, austerity and sophistication to eliminate the insignificant, communicating as much as possible using the fewest means possible


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