SkillCoach is a new series where Product Dev Professional, Vince Haley, provides a virtual design critique of a new design or submission we’ve received. Give us your feedback in the comments! Connect with Vince on Linkedin here. Have a design you would like to submit for a review and critique? Contact us here.

Welcome to the first in our SkillCoach series! I’m Vince Haley and, though you’ve seen my writing here on SolidSmack, I’ve been in the consumer product industry for years in roles as a Principal Industrial Designer, Lead Product Designer, and Lead Design Engineer to name a few. I’ve also taught ID at multiple universities. It’s an honor to use this experience to help others making their ideas happen.

For our first post, I’d like to send a big ol’ shout-out to Piotr Zalewski and Mark Kuzmiński–two Industrial Design students at the Academy of Fine Arts Łódź in central Poland for a job well done on their Felt & Wood Chair project!

Felt & Wood Chair – Virtual Design Critique

Their Felt & Wood project came on my radar via Behance, one of several sites I frequent to keep my finger on the pulse of design. Many of the visuals are stunning–like “candy” for the eyes. As a skill coach I naturally gravitate toward creative works posted by ID students and cross-over artists.  As I hone in on their creative works, my thoughts drift to the question “Given the opportunity, what input or guidance would I give to better this design or strengthen the skills of this young creative talent?” Hence, this series, the Solidsmack Virtual Design Critique (VDC) where I spread the design love and sprinkle in a smidgen of SkillCoach design pointers. Hopefully, you, being part of our community, will weigh in with your nuggets of design, engineering and manufacturing wisdom. Having said this, let’s kick this thing off by taking a closer look at Piotr’s and Mark’s Felt & Wood Chair.

Project Description

Felt & Wood is a lightweight, multi-purpose seat made of eco-friendly materials. The form of the backpack allows for its convenient transport. When unfolded, it forms a seat with a backrest and a place for a bottle of water. The chair is designed for outdoor cinema or outdoor rest. The idea of Felt & Wood is to bring nature closer to nature, to allow full comfort, comfort and relaxation. – Piotr via Behance

Judging from the description I gather that the project objectives went something like this:

  • Design a multi-purpose seating solution
  • Incorporate two or more natural/eco-friendly materials
  • Seating must be compact and easily transportable
  • Provide a means for storing a travel accessory
  • Product solution should promote relaxation and the enjoyment of the great outdoors.

If I’m correct, then I’d say the design duo smacked a nice pitch far into center field with their Felt & Wood design solution. Here’s why I give the project a thumbs up:

First, the Felt & Wood Chair more than adequately solves the project objectives (as gleaned from the description).

Secondly, the design solution offers both back and side support. This configuration provides a cradling effort conducive to relaxation and comfort.

Thirdly, in the stowed configuration the chair is compact. The relatively small form-factor and thin profile enables the product to be worn in the same manner as a backpack for transporting.

Fourthly, the combination of wood, felt and leather are a nice blend of eco-friendly materials. The visual and tactile qualities of each material offer both perceived and actual warmth and human appeal.

Finally, the steps to convert from pack to chair is straightforward, Unsnap > Open panels > Secure tension strap > have a sit!

SkillCoach Refinement Pointers

Let’s suppose for a moment that we’ve just attended a midterm crit of the Felt & Wood Chair and Piotr has another round of design refinement ahead of him. We’ve given Piotr a whole mess of kudos and he’s down right stoked about now!

But if we pack up now and all head off to throw down a refreshing beverage, have we really done my man Piotr justice? I’d say no. I think our charge is to coach him across the finish line by providing some insights on things he can do to improve his design. Having said this, I offer up the following smidgen, maybe even slathering of SkillCoach design pointers.

Low Hanging Fruit

First, I’ll offer design refinements that I consider to be low hanging fruit.

1) Seek to reduce the amount of fastener. Why?

  • They are over powering the design and commanding more attention than perhaps they warrant.
  • From a manufacturing standpoint the shear number of fasteners and the type used are cumbersome to assemble. As is, production cycle-time would take a big hit.

The aim is to use the fasteners in a more strategic manner such as at the corners and in areas of maximum stress. Also, they can be used in combination with adhesives or other clever fixation methods.

2) Seek to improve the perimeter detailing and edge quality of the wood panels.

  • Panel edges appear raw
  • Corners are relatively sharp and may act as pressure points when in contact with the user.

Incorporate rounded corners on the panels. In addition, apply a bull-nose or arced perimeter router edge finish.

3) Main exterior panel is at risk of damage when seat is deployed.

  • There does not appear to be any means to prevent the chair from sliding around which could pose a safety issue.
  • Currently the main wood surface containing the product branding will mostly get quickly marred.

Consider incorporating a non-skid protective material on the face of the panel that comes in contact with surface the chair is placed on. Perhaps a die-cut rubberized material could be strategically and aesthetically applied to the surface.

Mid-Range Fruit

Now let’s finish things off by considering mid-range to high-reaching fruit.

One mid-range  or “stretch” mfg. approach would be to employ CNC routing and laser cutting of felt. This would enable the  incorporation of various motifs and negative spaces that could be used for accessory storage or cushion pockets. In general, the overall product could be lighter in weight.

High-Reaching Fruit

Bent wood and press forming of the felt could take the Felt & Wood Chair to a whole new level of refinement. The benefit could be increased ergonomics and greater structural integrity. A contoured lumbar area would immensely benefit the user when the product is worn in backpack mode.

To illustrate the potential advanced materials and processes can have on the aesthetics and function of the chair, I’ve pulled together a gallery of inspirational products and details gleaned from across the web. They each, in one form or another, convey visually some of the improvements I’ve suggested.

So there you have it! The inaugural SkillCoach Virtual Design Critique (VDC). I trust I’ve done Piotr Zalewski, Mark Kuzmiński and other fledgling design students-at-large a service by offering up this VDC. Please feel free as friends of the Solidsmack community to weigh in via our comment section. I’m sure the students who read this post will welcome your additional design, engineering and manufacturing insights.

Cheers, Vince


Vince has worked as Studio Engineer for consumer and medical product brands such as Whirlpool, Newell and ResMed Ltd. Australia. He's garnered 39+ patents and has designed everything from totes to toasters, and fiddles to furniture. He enjoys all things 3D and has carved out a niche as a Class-A Surfacing Guru. Active in both industry and academia, Vince serves as a Creative and Technical Skill Development Coach providing hands-on training and workshops pertaining to CAID/CAD. Vince relishes opportunities to keep learning and sharing what he's learned!