Designing a sustainable piece of furniture is one thing. Designing one that can hold 300 pounds is another. Such was the challenge for David Malina, the founder of the Santa Barbara, California-based design firm Happy Royale. He’s also the creative director at FluidStance, the office-category winner of Inc.’s 2015 Best in Class Awards. That company’s product, the Level, is a work platform that allows for constant movement, so your body doesn’t get stuck in any one (unhealthy) position for too long. Below, we asked the designer to share his experience helping create one of the best products of the year. -As told to Diana Ransom
I met FluidStance’s founder, Joel Heath, through a mutual friend. He had a really cool idea for a platform that would complement a standing desk. The design challenge was to create something more like a piece of furniture for your feet--that is to say, balancing on the platform shouldn’t be difficult; it shouldn’t be used for sport.
I agreed to put together a concept, which he jumped on.
We strove to produce it sustainably and locally--not just in the U.S. but also as local to Santa Barbara as possible. I’ve also done a lot of work with consumer electronics, so I know how environmentally unfriendly packaging can be. We wanted to minimize our environmental impact.
The big challenge was that the platform needed to be able to hold 300 pounds. We looked at every possible top-sheet material--from carpet paneling to different composites that could be broken down. No material really satisfied the structural requirements like bamboo, which is incredibly sturdy and plentiful. We sand-casted a model, and moved to a die-cast tool once the concept was proven in the marketplace. (FluidStance’s Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign blew past its initial funding goal by 405 percent in March.)
We also wanted consumers to be able to take the platform apart and swap things out and recycle it if need be. So another big design challenge was to break it down into as few parts as possible.
Consumer electronics have a level of complication to them, so it’s only natural that they’ll be more difficult to deconstruct. I think that Apple has suffered from this criticism for quite a while now: You create a product that when the battery is dead, your product is basically dead.
Still, the criticism has merits: Manufacturers have to start thinking more about sustainability. They have a big responsibility.
We thought of it more in terms of being able to swap out the deck. It has four screws that everyone can open. It’s very easy. If the bamboo is broken, you can replace it, for instance. We’re currently working on a variety of top decks that can be swapped out for decks with different finishes.
I try to just engage with clients. Oftentimes over the past 20 years, the small companies with the big ideas were the most successful at bringing a product to market. We worked with a lot of small companies that had the gall to disrupt an industry: to do things differently than everyone else.
In a way, FluidStance is a very traditional company, in the sense that it makes a physical product, created with steel, heat, and pressure. It harks back to the concept of inventorship in this country: Think of your Dad or Granddad’s garage; they would make things.
That’s kind of like what’s going on today. When we look at the number of design entrepreneurs who have popped up over the past couple of years, it’s astounding. I love it. No longer do we have to wait for a company to build a product that we love; we can build it ourselves.