Amateur Charles and Ray Eameses of the world, rejoice! A pair of designers calling themselves Diatom Studio has created an open-source app called SketchChair that lets you conjure up the chair of your dreams — and fabricate it in real life — with just a few quick swipes of your mouse.
With the explosion of 3D printing and personal fabrication, this kind of app is no longer new, but this is the first one we’ve seen in a while that actually looks fun to use — more like doodling or playing a video game than sternly “designing.”
Like Google’s CAD-for-the-common-man app Sketchup, SketchChair offers a clean, open, intuitive interface that a beginner can get started with just by dragging some lines or shapes across the screen. And in a truly inspired feature, you can bring a ragdoll mannequin into the picture to “test” the comfort and physics of your chair. (You’ll soon realize that those Eames chairs aren’t as simple to produce as they may look.)
Once you get comfortable with the basics of chair design, you can use SketchChair’s more powerful features to tweak its profile, its 3-D shape, and its symmetry attributes. Or you can just treat it like a “big open source IKEA store” (in the words of co-creator Greg Saul) and personalize ready-made designs in the system to suit your own taste, like this “Antler Chair”:
Granted, the general style of these chairs is more startup-loft utilitarian than luxury comfort, but SketchChair’s designers (like most open-source types) are more interested in building a creative community than manufacturing luxe fetish objects. The app lets you export your design files to any digital-fabrication service you like — they suggest ponoko.com — and with the press of a button, you’ll receive neatly CNC-milled plywood parts in a flat package ready for hand-assembling on a weekend afternoon. Now doesn’t that sound more fun than battling the consumer hordes at IKEA?