The Maker, the Buyer, and the User

As a creator (in my case, of designs, artwork, furniture and writing primarily), it is necessary to understand to whom one is accountable.

The maker doesn’t want it, the buyer doesn’t use it, and the user doesn’t know they’re using it. What is the object?

This classic riddle illustrates the difference between three types of people: makers, buyers, and users.

If you are a professional, the number one person you must satisfy is the buyer. It is their needs that you are responsible for fulfilling. Whether they have hired you, your company or your boss’ company is irrelevant. If you are unable to provide a product or service that is of value to them, you will likely find yourself out of work rather quickly.

If you create for yourself, you are the maker, the buyer and the user. You are accountable to yourself. What you do and what you make needs to satisfy your own needs before anybody else’s.

This means that you don’t have to, and should not, do things in a way that is not aligned with your way of working. This doesn’t mean that you should not try new things or listen to other people, rather you should not do things just because somebody thinks you ought to – especially if they are not invested in your work.

When you free yourself from the expectations of the world, I trust that you will find the creative process easier, more enjoyable, and more rewarding.

Be bold. Challenge yourself. Learn.

Insanity 2: Figuring Out The Back

Before gluing up the cabinet, I must first decide how I will add the back. Some methods require the back to be inserted at the same time the cabinet is assembled while others can be added afterwards.

To assist my decision, I study traditional techniques, think about why they are used, and make a list of the pros and cons of each method. Here are some ways to attach a back to a cabinet.

  1. Fasten the back panel directly to the back of the cabinet. Screws, nails, staples and/or glue can be used. This is quick and easy, but the edges of the panel are visible from the sides which can be undesirable. Glue isn’t an wise option if the back panel is solid wood because seasonal movement will likely cause something to fail. Screws, nails or staples allow a little movement and can be used successfully to attach a back made of solid wood or sheet stock to the cabinet. However, the heads of the fasteners are usually exposed; plugging isn’t usually an option due to the thinness of stock used for the back.
  2. Set the back panel in rabbets. The top, bottom and sides of the cabinet are rabbeted to receive the back panel which hides the edges and makes the back panel invisible from the sides. This method provides some registration for the panel which can help keep the cabinet from racking. The cabinet looks tidy from the front and sides, but the panel must fit perfectly to avoid showing any gaps around the perimeter if viewed from the rear.
  3. Set the back panel in grooves. This results in a tidy-looking cabinet from all angles with the edges of the back panel hidden. A built-in tolerance allows the panel to be somewhat undersized without revealing a gap and this will also allow expansion and contraction. However, the appearance from the back looks like a compromise, in my opinion.

I realize that these techniques are designed for cabinets where the back is meant to be hidden. Cabinets are often placed against walls and their backs hidden from sight. Now that I think of it, almost every cabinet I see, whether a utilitarian kitchen cabinet or a finely-crafted one at a furniture/art show is positioned either against a wall or within a few inches so that the back is effectively hidden.  Cabinets are almost never photographed from the back.

Since Insanity 2 has ignored every convention about what a cabinet is, I do not intend to make it with a boring back that would be an embarrassment to the otherwise adventurous piece and therefore should be hidden against a wall.

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Purpose Helps Define a Design

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about chair designs.  Last week, I wrote about my wishes for a modern chaise longue sofa and that got me thinking about why I liked that particular form.  I decided that it was partly due to my admiration of the elegant form, and my appreciation of the function.

Chaise Longue (Photo from http://multay.com/)

Chaise longue sofa. (Photo from http://multay.com/)

I realized that this style of chaise longue with a flat seat and half back not only made for an elegant, asymmetrical design, but helped define its usage.  The combination of flat seat and corner back rest made it easy to sit upright with your feet on the ground or, by rotating your body, to sit slightly reclined with your feet elevated.  Slouching allowed a more reclined position.  The tapered back allowed full support for only one user at a time, discouraging a second person to sit upright on the sofa (thus leaving the option of putting your feet up at any time).

Since then, I began thinking about conversation chairs (two chairs built as one unit, side-by-side and facing opposite directions).  I have always liked the idea of the unique design which was pointed towards a very specific intended use.

Conversation chair (photo from http://www.1stdibs.com/)

Conversation chair (photo from http://www.1stdibs.com/)

However, the conversation chair had a very specific design with a clearly-defined purpose.  It did not work well as a dining chair.  It was not intended for use by more than two people.  It could not be placed in a corner or flat against a wall without impeding its function and, therefore, it could not be used in a narrow space.

There were also a few things that I didn’t really like about the design.  While thinking about my own rendition, I first had to rethink the classic design and establish my goals for the design.  Then I had to customize the design so that it made sense to me.

As much as I liked the fluid design of the conversation chairs which often incorporated a flowing S-shaped armrest, I never felt that the design fully lived up to its name.  To me, it seemed like more of a conversation piece than a piece that promoted conversation between its occupants.  I always thought that the design seemed more suited to two people doing their own thing and simply facing in the general direction of each other, with a barrier between them that is not a table.  Eye contact was not promoted and was easy to avoid, since the two people sitting in the chair had to turn their heads to look at each other.

When I began designing my version of a conversation chair, I began by thinking about what I wanted to achieve.  I wanted it to:

  1. comfortably seat two people (and only two);
  2. provide intimacy (dictate close proximity);
  3. promote eye contact;
  4. remove physical barriers (no table, no arm rest between the seats);
  5. minimize and discourage distractions (books, newspapers, phones, laptop computers);
  6. be strong and light enough to be moved around by one person; and
  7. look good.

These goals helped me determine the form of the chair.  The first goal was the easiest to achieve and the last one took the most work (I’m still not there yet).