Nicholas Baker designs instant icon with Damiano Latini using virtual reality
The industrial designer’s collaboration with the Italian furniture brand experiments with emerging technology to create the stackable, monobloc “Super Chair” made from 100% recycled polypropylene
“Many factors go into creating something timeless and recognizable: good marketing, a savvy business strategy, a unique design, and a bit of luck,” says Nicholas Baker —the Brooklyn-based designer whose recent collaboration with Damiano Latini is a case in point. Defined by its sculptural design and organic silhouette, the Super Chair is a monobloc design made from 100% recycled plastic and developed entirely through VR 3D modelling.
“My specific goal was to create a design that was unique enough to be instantly recognizable, but also simple enough to be memorable — a good test of this is to design a chair that could be noticed from its silhouette, like a literal icon or symbol.”
Nicholas Baker has an inventor’s mentality, paying attention to those ideas, whether bizarre or mundane, and finding ways to transform them. Over the last few years, this approach has influenced his practice to include Virtual Reality as a way to bridge the gap between traditional sketching and CAD modelling, and ultimately, make the design workflow more efficient.
“I’ve used VR in my practice for the past six years, mostly through a program called Gravity Sketch,” he says. “There are so many aspects that have been beneficial to my process, but the two main ones that stand out are mixed reality and the speed of iteration.” Mixed reality allows Baker to refine the scale and proportions of a design as if it were a real object in the studio.
“Being able to project a chair in my space or a lamp on my desk and walk around it like a physical mockup is a game changer,” he explains.
“Oftentimes, especially for chairs, I will build a rough functional prototype and overlay the VR model on top so that I can sit down with my headset on and feel like I’m sitting in the real thing.”
Baker also jumps back and forth between pen and paper and VR, which he says gives his mind a reset and helps him come up with different types of ideas. “In the case of the Super Chair, the concept began on paper with that single diagonal line,” he recalls.
“The idea seemed so simple that I quickly jumped into VR to translate it into 3D. The ease of pushing and pulling surfaces really made the Super Chair feel like it was flowing from a singular plane.”
“On a fundamental level, we make objects that exist in three dimensions, so it makes sense to design in a 3D space. When I’m in VR creating with my hands, I feel like I can design and iterate 10x faster than with a mouse and keyboard. This allows more time to evaluate concepts and let designs distil.”
“With the Super Chair, we had to ensure that the thin surface was structurally stable and ergonomic,” Baker explains. “VR is still lacking some of these engineering parameters, but as the technology improves I predict one day we may not even need to use a mouse and keyboard anymore.”
Pushing the concept to its limits, the minimal silhouette of the cantilevered chair has fascinated designers and consumers for the past century. Of course, there are many cantilever or “S” style chairs, but the addition of the diagonal line through the profile of the Super Chair gives Baker’s design a distinct character.
“From the front, the chair becomes this monolithic surface which contrasts the side view. It’s this balance of simplicity and uniqueness that I really wanted to land on, and certainly hope that over time it will become a design staple,” he says.
Backed completely by Damiano Latini, Baker was able to embrace this part of his practice, whilst having access to SPM SpA, a Brescia-based company whose patented RE-LIFE® technology represents the latest in plastic manufacturing. “I couldn’t have achieved this design without the great team at Damiano Latini and their art director, Antonio Lanzillo,” says Baker.
“Damiano himself has a true founder’s mentality and is willing to bet on wild designs. There are very few companies with the tenacity and determination to bring a design like the Super Chair to life. Most companies would much rather produce a traditional design or something safe that doesn’t make waves.”
Damiano Latini has been designing and manufacturing furnishing accessories and fully customizable modular systems for more than 20 years. The brand has made a name for itself by combining aesthetics and functionality to create furnishing accessories with a contemporary design that allows the customers to follow their preferences in a simple and functional way. It’s an approach that, naturally, celebrates the flair of designers whose work exists in the contemporary world and embraces modern technology.
Here, the Super Chair uses SPM SpA’s moulding technology and is made from 100% recycled polypropylene, a filled technopolymer which is 100% recyclable, resistant and long-lasting. The polymeric part is obtained from the recycling of offcuts and industrial waste without the use of fossil resources, which make it possible to create environmentally friendly products that help to clean up the system from scraps and industrial waste, reprocessing them into raw materials instead of using fossil resources.
“I think evaluating a product on its level of sustainability is always tough and comes with a lot of subjectivity,” says Baker. “For me, the goal of sustainability is to create a great product that contributes to humanity, lasts a long time, and minimises its impact on the environment. Damiano Latini is working with one of the best Italian injection moulding manufacturers, which I was able to visit during my stay in Milan, and it’s incredible.”
“They have automated a lot of the production with robotic arms and conveyor belts to keep everything as efficient as possible. The chair is made of 100% recycled polypropylene using their patented RE-LIFE technology where they process and filter post-industrial plastic on site.”
“Of course, the material choice is just one part of the equation, and oftentimes designers don’t have the final say in where the material is sourced,” he adds. “Personally, I strive to incorporate other sustainable and efficient attributes into my work when possible.”
“I enjoy creating stackable designs like the Super Chair not only for its added functionality but as a way to reduce shipping costs and transportation emissions. The one-piece design is also efficient both in terms of production and avoiding multipart designs which could have more failure points.”
“I believe the most sustainable designs are ones you use for a lifetime. I hope the boldness and simplicity of the Super Chair is something that stands the test of time and lasts many generations.”
Nicholas Baker and Damiano Latini recently exhibited the Super Chair during Milan Design Week, alongside several other iconic products. This was Baker’s first time exhibiting at the internationally renowned design fair: “It’s been a dream of mine to exhibit during Milan Design Week, so turning the corner and seeing the rainbow of Super Chairs will be a moment I will never forget.”
“I have to thank Antonio Lanzillo for art directing the chair and designing Damiano Latini’s booth. Antonio played a pivotal role in overseeing the project from its inception to the final production. Overall the feedback from my friends and the design community was overwhelmingly positive.”
“Sharing the journey of the Super Chair online allowed people to witness its evolution from the first sketch to seeing the chair roll off the production line. It’s a very rewarding experience for everyone involved.”
“My mission is to design objects that embrace a delightful future. I’m a big believer that in order to build a better future we must believe in one. Every object, no matter how small, is a moment to make someone smile and craft an optimistic world.”