Steelcase Second Life Chair Design Competition

Wow, this competition totally went under my radar. I would not have caught wind of this if I did not get my usual dose of virtual goodness at rebang. In fact it was his 10th post in his RSS feed and probably would have fallen off into internet oblivion if I had visited his site some other time.
Interestingly enough, csven laments that there are no industrial design sites (not including his or mine) that are covering this, as well as there are no Industrial Design forums and hence Designers interested in it. I quickly did a Google search, and true enough only the Second Life related sites like The Arch or SL Reports, were covering it. Even the Steelcase website has no mention of this competition. It’s almost as if this competition does not even exist at all, perhaps at least only virtually. This lack of “physical” presence on the web troubles me. Here’s the press release blurb.

2 July 2007
Steelcase announces its Inaugural International Second Life Design Competition for High Performance Seating.
Steelcase, the global office furniture leader, is sponsoring a Second Life Design Contest for the most innovative and best-designed high performance office chair. Steelcase is looking for SL’s top designers to create the coolest and next prize winning office chair for its Steelcase Store in Second Life.
The winning design will be showcased in the SL Steelcase Store and will receive their choice of a high performance chair featured at (max value of $1599 USD). In addition the winning designers will have the opportunity to present their work to Steelcase’s seating and design teams in Second Life. Quality designs may even be considered for future product development opportunities.
For entry information and to register:
Registration begins on July 1st
Set up dates – July 28th- August 1st
Awards – August 4th
Registered contestants will receive a designated plot location at the contest’s pavilion on Silicon City to display their chair and display.
SL Contact
Kelly Emms, the V3 Group
In-world Contest Event Coordinator

Later in his article, csven argues that designers fail to see the value of this competition as a means to lead and show case what this virtual technology can do. I agree with him but to a certain extent. However my feeling is that perhaps this design competition was never targeted to designers in the first place, but to Second Lifers or the people interested in the Second Life game, i.e. of which the majority are non-designers.
I argue that it could have been never the intention of Steelcase to get designers involved, hence a very sad and limited press release. Personally I find that this smells of a Marketing driven project without any other real world outcomes intended. Just look at the prize, its basically a free chair! If you wanted designers to be interested, give them an internship in the design department or even better, offer to realise the design not only in Second Life but in Real Life as part of the Steelcase collection.
There in lies the problem of the intent of this competition. It seems like they are only just testing the waters of this Second Life phenomenon. As csven rightly puts the majority of the world, including designers, are NOT (yet I like to belief) into Second Life, therefore the logic of Steelcase not having a main stream web presence sounds like a half-hearted effort if you ask me. Steelcase could have used designers to help them stamp their position in Second Life and in Real Life as an advocate of cutting edge, well designed and innovative products. Getting a bunch of potentially great entries into their design competition could give them the exposure they seem to be looking for.
Imagine you could “trial” a chair in the Second Life game and also if you like it buy it in real life! The possibilities are endless. At the end of the day though, they are like many companies, trying to understand this new advertising and marketing frontier and all its Crowd Sourcing goodness.
Regardless, it’s about time Industrial Designers make some head way into Second Life and start creating those fantastic objects we always dream to do. Why not take a stab at it? You will get a chance to forget all about existing manufacturing issues and real world physics. You finally get a chance to be Feng Zhu (of Star Wars fame) or Scott Robertson but getting a chance to bypass George Lucas or Michael Bay. Hey if it’s any indication of the actual “real world” money Second Life fashion designers are making selling their clothes in the game, I think Industrial Designers can have a lot to do, and this competition is the way to do it.
Unfortunately information is VERY light, such as submission criteria and I’ve emailed Steelcase for more. Then again I might have to get back into Second Life and snoop around. I’ll post any thing I get so do stay tuned for more information.

  • Design Translator

    August 4, 2007 at 12:10 pm Reply

    Hi csven,
    Granted, I don’t believe that this went out with out anyone from the design department knowing about it. I think its not difficult to learn, but its still a barrier to get things into 2nd life. Just like blogging though everyone is doing it, it still requires some understanding in html and website navigation. So its not REALLY for everyone.
    But I digress, sure the barriers of entry are low and easy to overcome, but its still a barrier and one after another. I just cant help thing that it could be better done somehow.

  • csven

    August 3, 2007 at 2:01 am Reply

    No telling where the press releases were sent, but again, this is Steelcase. I expect there are designers somewhere (probably principals at design firms) tracking their press releases the way I occasionally track those at companies like PTC or UGS. If nothing else, designers with links to Steelcase probably knew of it; certainly the involved internal design teams were aware. That it doesn’t seem to go anywhere beyond those people is what seems curious to me… though not unexpected.
    Submission criteria is stated: a virtual model for their virtual store. So there is no file format with which to be concerned because SL uses a proprietary format. To make a model for the Steelcase virtual store, people need to use the available format. Anyone who might be interested would be expected to figure that out (and it really wouldn’t be that difficult, imo).
    That said, some of the new capabilities may mean creating parts in a NURBs modeler and then kicking out a displacement image to *sculpt* the base shapes (just the same as a displacement map is used in any typical modeling app). This is a relatively new modeling feature that might not be obvious to new users, but then that’s not Steelcase’s issue as much as it’s something designers should take the time to figure out the same way the might learn how to do something in Rhino for the PDF competition. But using that capability isn’t necessary. Plenty of good real world designs are extremely geometric and don’t require advanced 3D surfacing skills to generate CAD for their fabrication.

  • Design Translator

    July 28, 2007 at 8:29 am Reply

    Hmm I agree, I supposed we can be considered the few that did. But I think if the press releases were NOT released to design websites then the distribution of the information could have had been stopped. I don’t see why design websites would not cover this news.
    That being said, I wonder HOW design sensitive Steelcase is. I wonder does this only apply to the R&D or design departments? Cos if this press released came from a design department the modus operandus would be quite different. Then again I’m just speculating and I my position is still having faith in industrial designers.
    So the question is what now? The lack of information is still a huge issue. What’s the submission criteria? What are the file formats? Rhino images or converted SL polygons? This is my other point, and one of the issues I have with SL, and that is you still need to “jack-in” to SL world and if the submission criteria is only circulated in there then Steelcase is really missing the point.

  • csven

    July 26, 2007 at 10:27 pm Reply

    I don’t disagree that Steelcase’s effort seems to be more marketing driven and thus less effort might have been expended in letting designers know, but Steelcase isn’t like most companies. They’re sufficiently in the spotlight that I would have expected someone in the design world to be aware of this competition (there *is* a press release)… but it was probably ignored as being irrelevant.
    While the prize is pretty low-rent (imo), there is mention of the winner meeting with Steelcase to discuss their design and the (remote) possibility of it being manufactured. That’s better than the other competitions I mentioned. The one on the Product Design Forums has to be modeled in Rhino, but the prize is a seat of Rhino! Wha? And the one’s on the Core77 forum are equally of little value beyond learning and sharing.
    So comparatively speaking, the Steelcase comp looks to me to be the best of the three. And if I were a young designer looking for an internship, I’d see it as an opportunity to not just model something in SL but to show renderings of drawings and other, higher-quality CG models along with the one in Second Life. In other words, use this as an opportunity to interact with people from a design-sensitive company.
    To be fair, there might be some entries from IDers, but I have my doubts. We’ll see.

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