Re.frame is an experimental product design project where we dived into the current market of disposable furniture and tried to solve the existing waste problem by introducing a modular and aesthetic furniture system with beautiful anodizing and electroplating material finishes.
User Research, Product Design, CMF Design
January 2020 – April 2020
Tianhao He, Zeran Yu (Research), Changbo Koo (Research)
Rhino 6, Keyshot, Figma
As one of the largest furniture companies in the world, IKEA is the most prominent proposer of disposable furniture. By introducing flat-packaging furniture which is modular, easy to assemble and well designed, IKEA earned lots of customers' satisfaction. But there’s multiple downsides of disposable furnitures:
• Hard to disassemble
• Different parts for different furniture
• Not eco-friendly
These characteristics seems to be misaligned with IKEA’s eco-friendly idea.
Apart from disposable furniture itself, IKEA’s marketing stratagy is also deviating from its philosophy.
“We used to buy furniture that would last a century; now many of us buy chairs, tables, dressers, shelving units and desks, and then dump them in a few years or less. It’s cheap and looks good initially, but when our tastes change, we kick it to the curb. Buying and disposing these non-durable goods has become a national pastime and IKEA is helping to fuel it.”
Besides secondary researches, I conducted several interviews with current IKEA customers and try to learn their behaviors related with furnitures. I also created a user experience map to mimic their feelings and need througout the furniture using period.
With all of these researches, I further conformed that there are huge opportunities related with the current disposable furniture market:
All of these customers' preferences indicated a clearer path that leads to the possible solution that I can create to solve some of the problems while maintaining disposable furniture's pros.
I aim the vision of improving the disposable furniture market by asking ourselves what changes we can bring to the current situation.
“What if I design a modular furniture system that has all the characteristics including easy for user to change style, disassemble and reassemble without effort, and uses recyclable, eco-friendly materials and process?”
This question became the principle throughout the project that keeps me always on track.
With the previous researches and vision statement, I proceeded to the process of designing the persona for the RE.FRAME. After having a brainstorm as well as tons of style references research, here are two personas that represents the best types of potential customers.
Creating emotional connection and memory while purchasing and assembling is one of the most important aspect of disposable furniture, especially there are young children involving the process. This idea became the foundation of the first persona, which also helped me with finding the corresponding interior style for future design.
Another aspect I wanted to tackle on is the ability to disassemble and reassemble, which are relatively hard for disposable furniture, considering its poor quality. This helped me creating the second persona, which having the characteristics of enjoying getting their hands dirty, and having enough budget for higher quality furnitures.
By determine these two personas, I was able to further clarify the most important design features in this project and started to proceed into the next phase.
Disposable furnitures always have the smartest yet most compressed form design, and RE.FRAME is definitely not going to lose these important characteristics. During this process, I researched not only general form of the furniture itself and how it can be reform or redesigned, but also how the joint of RE.FRAME should work and reused.
I started sketching the preliminary design of RE.FRAME with the inspirations in mind. Combining the idea of reformable, reusable, and eco-friendly, I changed the sketches several times to approach the final design. In the final drawing, there are two types of furniture in this set of RE.FRAME combo: a table and a chair, which allows customers to choose what kind of furniture they need to fit their interior style.
Comparing to the previous sketches and explorations, the final design of the joints features a more simplified design by getting rid of the inner complex structures, which allows easier mass production. Three separate types of universal joints enable customers to explore different combinations in the future.
The technical sizes of the joints are based on a real-life scale, ensuring the perfect sitting and using position for the users.
Besides the form of the joints, I also considered how the users are going to put RE.FRAME together. A strong magnet is placed inside the joint, which allows the user to place and adjusts the placement of the structure effortlessly. Additional screws are also provided for reinforced stability.
Material finishes are one of the essential aspects when it comes to product design. Before determining the final finishes for RE.FRAME, I went through several different steps of explorations to understand the actual feel and texture of different finishes, what are their advantages and disadvantages, and the process of producing these design. The CMF board I created at the very beginning helped me with getting how the real finishes feel like, which further facilitates me making the final decision.
After all the previous information collection and experiments, I finally decided on the finishes for RE.FRAME is going to be the combination of all three different types of finish: sand-blasted / brushed aluminum with anodization, copper-plated aluminum with patina, and painted aluminum with a smooth surface.
The sand-blasted aluminum finish is one of the ideal finish for RE.FRAME, considering it provides a smooth, premium feeling for the customers while adding more durability to the metal itself.
The brushed-aluminum finish, on the other hand, is another excellent representation of industrial production. It gives the customers a cool-temperature feeling while indicating its production process and raw material. Together with sand-blasted aluminum, these two finishes represent the modern manufacturing and design aspect of RE.FRAME.
With all of the previous characteristics, it is ideal for customers who have a preference for the modern, minimalistic, and monochrome color palette design style to purchase this style set, which will fit their interior design style effortlessly.
Comparing to the previous finish styles, the utilization of copper-plated aluminum with patina is much softer and vintage. Such characteristics indicate the opposite sides of the previous style design, which remind the customers old or used material can still be beautiful or even been reused or recreated.
This finish features a more warm tone, which is a way softer color comparing to the industrial style. Combine it with a different painted color finish; it can be fitted into different homes such as a snugger, nostalgic, or retro interior design style.
Besides the offered combinations, the customers can also choose their design, finishes, and combinations. With the full range of colors and designs, the customers can create their styles that fits their needs.
To make RE.FRAME manufacturable, different aspects of details are considered when designing this set of furniture. Here are the final overall form of the chair and table. Besides the frame and joints, different types of silicon pads are provided for scratch preventions, and the customers are also able to optionally purchase materials or use their leftover to make the chair back and tabletop.
In order to simplify the complexities in the manufacturing process, the latest design got rid of the inner wire-like structure. For the material, aluminum is chosen due to its relatively cheap price point and recyclability from used scrap. The process of producing the joint is also relatively easy.
1. Casting / CNC: create the joint system and the bars separately for easier manufacturing
2. Polish / Sand Blast / Brush: create different arrange of preparation steps for different combinations of bars and joints.
3. Anodization / Electroplate + Patina: finalize the finishes separately for different colors and effects.
For the casting and original mold manufacturer, several casting studios around Los Angeles can provide large-scale die casting services, including MES and DyCast Specialist, and General Brite can handle the plating/anodization process at large scale.
Considering RE.FRAME's main aim is to push the idea of disposable furniture further, the selling location is going to be at IKEA, the largest producer of disposable furniture. As one of the IKEA's high-end lineup, RE.FRMAE will elevate the future of disposable furniture.
RE.FRAME is still going to preserve the portability characteristic of flat-package disposable furniture, and there will also be clear instructions for different assembling steps and styles.
Besides the product itself, in the future there will also be different accessories considered in the RE.FRAME product line to make the user experience even more friendly. For example a companion app will be developed and there will be features including style gallery, self-customizing tutorials and examples and AR furniture viewer, etc.