Karman, the ultimate ergonomic mesh chair from Steelcase, represents an elevation in seating innovation and Steelcase’s contemporary vision for the workplace.
July 31st, 2023
To look at Karman is to marvel at the fluidity, lightness and softness that a high performing task chair can achieve. Karman, recently launched in Australia, is a distinct departure from task chairs of the past. Heralded as the ultimate ergonomic mesh chair, its most eye-catching feature is the supple textile (in fact a revolutionary proprietary performance textile called Intermix), that moulds around the ergonomic seat frame.
Karman is designed to provide comfort in an entirely new way as it naturally responds to the body’s movements, while also delivering an entirely new aesthetic that subtly elevates its working environment, whether at the office or at home.
The name ‘Karman’ refers to the Kármán Line, where the earth’s atmosphere meets space, where weightlessness becomes possible, and going ‘beyond’ becomes a reality.
And the chair really delivers on its promise. It’s incredibly light to look at and handle – there are no complex levers or mechanisms hidden in its undercarriage. It is flexible to the body and shihs intuitively with our constant and minute movements. This is aided in great part by its systemic approach to comfort and its specially developed high-performance Intermix textile that supports the back and seat.
Karman also shifts the design dialogue away from a ‘corporate’ or ‘executive’ aesthetic statement, speaking in softer, more colourful, chameleon-like terms to a hybrid worker who spends part of their week working from home and the other part in an office. “In a world experiencing fundamental changes in the way people work, whether at home, in the office or both, we need and want a chair that works better,” says Mark Spoelhof, design director for Steelcase.
Navedita Shergill, product management, Steelcase, is in agreement: “Through this whole period of COVID-19, people have really levelled up their personal understanding of what it means to work ergonomically. Also our sensibility around aesthetics has morphed.” This is in response to people’s mass movement, mid-pandemic, to working from home, and their gradual return to the office with a newly developed appreciation for domestic aesthetics and comforts in workplace settings.
Steelcase has spent years developing Karman’s high performance Intermix textile, which appears incredibly soft and forgiving, but emulates the dynamism of athletic performance wear with its ability to flex with your movements and conform to your body’s contours. Notably it never sags.
The textile has also been designed so that the filaments can be spaced close together to create an opaque look, or further apart to create a transparent, more traditional mesh look.
Another feature of Karman is its fluid form. No line is perfectly straight. “The inspiration for this came from organic forms in nature,” notes Shergill. “When you look at Karman from any angle, there is no flat plane. There are no straight lines. It’s naturally dynamic – just like the human body. When you sit in the chair, it becomes an extension of your body.” It breathes and moves with you.
The design is based more on physics than mechanism – and this is notable in the distinct absence of any heavy, clunky mechanisms hidden under the seat base. The ambition here, says Shergill, was to create a shell that responds to how you sit fluidly into the chair, without having to change anything.
“Comfort is built into every aspect of Karman,” confirms Spoelhof. “It’s reactive to each body type and posture and adapts to all the different ways in which we might sit in a chair so you’re not aware of it, but it moves with you continually.”
In creating Karman, “we’ve pushed materiality, shape and geometry as far as we can push them,” continues Spoelhof. This equates to significantly less material than other performance chairs while offering better affordances. “Many of Karman’s parts are doing double or triple duty, allowing it to function with about one-half less material than traditional task chairs, making it as organically responsive to the human body as possible.”
An amalgam of Steelcase’s learnings and its legacy, Karman is the evolution of everything Steelcase knows about seating and the way people work. But it’s also a breakthrough too – its spirit speaking to these times, which are unlike any that have come before it.
Photography – Steelcase
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