Jerry Seinfeld once quipped that life is a succession of different chairs. But when Jeanne Turner, a mobile-app designer in Portland, Oregon, sought a venue for her Interaction Design Association (IxDA) chapter’s annual meeting, she discovered two generic types of seating spaces for groups. “Lots of venues have auditorium seating with movie-theater-style seats,” Turner says. “They tend to feel casual, which is fine for certain events but not something a little classier. Or there are dry conference-room lecture halls with folding chairs.”
Enter Ziba. A Portland-based design group with several members in Turner’s IxDA chapter, this firm provided an alternative: an auditorium inside its headquarters outfitted with rows of its newly created JumpSeat. Fashioned after airline flight-attendant seats, the JumpSeat was designed to be utilitarian, stylish, and comfy. “We needed a chair we could remove and store compactly, but wouldn’t make your butt numb,” says Sohrab Vossoughi, the firm’s president. Yet Ziba—whose clients include Nike, Microsoft, and HP—also wanted the chair to be beautiful.
Principally designed by Ziba’s Mehdi Mojtabavi, the JumpSeat is made without traditional hardware but has a steel sheet at its core: its tensile strength compresses the seat to its back when not in use. Fused onto one side is thinly cut Baltic plywood for the backing and seat; a thin layer of wool padding is on the other. The seat itself uses a vertebrae-like series of angle-cut wood slats that bend in conjunction with the steel. “The patent says it could be aluminum, plastic, or wood,” Vossoughi says, “but the concept is the same: it bends and straightens at your will.”
Designed for the steep, thin risers in Ziba’s auditorium, the JumpSeat folds to less than four inches thick, thinner than a folding chair. “There’s no front-leg structure,” says Bert Good of the Oregon-based Zokko Fine Furniture, which manufactures the JumpSeat. “A folding chair has legs out front to give you support. When you fold it, you still have the structure that supports it all.” In addition to arenas and auditoriums, Vossoughi envisions the compact JumpSeat being used on mass transit.
At Turner’s IxDA meeting, the chair design took on uses practical and intangible: audience members could sit yet also move about. “People know how to use it immediately, but it’s eye-catching,” Turner says. “Because it’s beautiful, almost a piece of art, they aren’t slouching. They respect it a bit more.”