June 1, 2011
Not Another Coffee-Table Book
In a thoroughly researched compendium on office-chair design, Jonathan Olivares reveals the genius in the details.
of Office Chairs
By Jonathan Olivares
Edited and designed by Nathan Antolik
Phaidon, 224 pp., $40
The industrial designer Jonathan Olivares’s first book is both stranger and more ambitious than it may first appear. Called A Taxonomy of Office Chairs, it borrows the system of classification more commonly used in zoology and botany to create an illustrated guide to the evolution of such contract-seating components as armrests, headrests, lumbar support, seat-stem joinery, and even lowly casters and gliders. But this is not just a wonky repackaging of existing information. Olivares conducted extensive research to determine exactly when and where these innovations occurred, traveling around the world to interview designers, curators, and other experts. The result is an invaluable reference work for industrial-design buffs and a rejection of the coffee-table-book format all too common in the industry. “I look at the book as a prototype for design history,” Olivares says. “I wanted to do something that’s really not fluff. This is some hard-core, real-deal history. I think design deserves the level of precision that other fields have.” In that spirit, we asked Olivares to describe three less-celebrated, but no less important, innovations in office-chair design.