If you have a desk job, a long commute, and like to spend your spare time online or watching TV, you may spend 12 or 14 hours a day sitting down. Despite the popularity of standing desks, most new technology is still designed to keep us lazy: Smartphone apps, remotes, and wired devices make it easy to do anything and everything without ever leaving the couch.
French designer Benoît Malta, by contrast, is creating products that are purposely a little less convenient, so people are forced to get up more often. And even if they stay seated, they’re forced to sit in an active way.
“Domestic activities are less and less physical,” says Malta. “I decided to work on different typical daily situations like turning on a light or reading email on a computer, and I tried to design objects that modify our habits and try to engage the body differently in everyday life.”
Working with physical therapists and ergonomic experts, Malta designed a two-legged chair that makes users balance gently as they sit, so they’re suddenly using muscle groups that would normally be passive in a chair or on a sofa.
“My will is to introduce a ‘bearable discomfort’ for our well-being,” Malta says. “The aim of the project, beyond the idea of promoting mobility, is to raise awareness of people about their bodies.”
In another design, a lamp gradually turns itself off, so you have to frequently get up and reset it. A series of shelves are designed to be placed just high enough on a wall that you have to reach and stretch to get your keys or glasses.
The products, Malta says, take only a little adjustment to get used to. “All the people who tested these products they say they do not have an unpleasant sensation, they are just a little different. At the beginning the chair looks like it’s dangerous and unstable but when they try it they don’t feel in danger.”
Unlike home fitness equipment, which many people buy and then rarely use, Malta’s designs are intended to make exercise automatic. “Fitness practices are totally disconnected from our daily lives because they are not related to our uses and habits,” Malta says. “Therefore they are unsuitable with our everyday lives . . . But if we design our home space differently, I think it’s going to be natural to use these products.”
The designs, created for Malta’s master’s degree at the École Boulle in Paris, are only prototypes at the moment, but he hopes to produce them. He also hopes to help challenge the way designers typically think about building convenience into products.
“The designer tries to offer to the consumer as much well-being and pleasure as possible . . . and tends to erase every effort or physical activities, and thus becomes the creator of inactive environments and stationary postures,” he says. “I think that discomfort at home can be considered in order to create dynamic spaces, and to modify our habits.”