Nudge people to stand up physically to avoid health risks of prolonged sitting using the concept of the Object-Centered Design.
2018 / Academic Project / 3 months
What I did
Proposed a Breathing Chair that changes its state and shape to prevent current sedentary lifestyle and help in shaping a healthy living habit. It tracks how long people have been sitting, and its surface swells physically like a mammal’s lung when people sit in the Breathing Chair for a long time. After a while, the Breathing chair quietly shrinks to its original state organically. This state-changing aspect of the Breathing Chair is almost physical reminder for people to stand up and leads them to shape a healthy lifestyle.
Role: Interaction Designer, Creative Technologist
Output: Real-size interactive chair
Exhibition: Demo Expo at NYC Media Lab ‘19
Why I did
Recent studies show that our lifestyles have become drastically more sedentary and prolonged sitting increases the risk of terrible diseases and death. Recent healthcare products such as Apple Watch detect periods of no movement of the person wearing it and urges them to stand up and walk. However, the user may not perform the actual operation in some cases because this reminder does not make people to stand up physically. Therefore, I focused on an autonomous object which actively intervenes in people and helps in shaping a people’s better lifestyle.
Contribution: Research, Concept, Design, Build
How I did
My approach is from ontological design, in which objects shape human beings, unlike conventional human-centered product designs mentioned in previous studies. Escobar argues “We design tools, and these tools design us back” in his book of ontological design. I synthesized with and created Breathing Chair based on this non-dualism concept that our individuals, materials and the world are all united and that there is no center.
Design Approach: Object Centered Design
Methodology & Tools: Secondary Research, Iterative Prototyping, Arduino
Our lifestyles have become drastically more sedentary.
In recent decades, there has been a considerable shift from physical labor jobs to office jobs which is due to many factors such as globalization, outsourcing of jobs and technological advances of the internet and computers.
Our body is designed for regular movement, but most people spend the bulk of their day sitting still instead. Especially, knowledge workers sit at their desks during the day, commute by car, and relax on the couch watching TV or on their computers in the evenings.
An independent survey that Ergotron commissioned  found that nearly 70 percent of full-time American workers hate sitting, yet 86 percent are required to do it all day, every day. As a result, they are sitting on the chair for an average of 13 hours on weekdays.
Is User-Centered Product the best solution?
There are two major approaches to tackle this problem. One is an approach from ergonomics. Furniture makers have been developing an ergonomic chair not to get tired even if it sits for a long time . However, the latest studies show that it is more important to reduce the time to sit and increase the time to move. Deborah Rohm Young’s group  suggests that prolonged sitting is harmful to health because sedentary behaviors usually have an little energy expenditure of 1.5 metabolic equivalents (METs).
The other approach is from user experience design to increase the standing time of people. Height adjustable table  enables workers to work while standing. Buckley’s group reports that standing-based office work encourages signs of attenuating post-prandial glycaemic excursion . However, Baker’s research group assessed that prolonged standing might also have health and productivity impacts . Data that it is not good for your health whether you are sitting too hard or too standing has been reported.
Apple watch  provides another solution. It detects periods of no move of the person wearing it and urges him/her to stand up and walk. It can announce to the user at an appropriate timing for walking based on the biometric data, but the user may not perform the actual operation or accept the advice in some cases. In summary, based on the human-centered design, these products consider how to provide comfort and a healthy posture on the premise of human physical characteristics and limitations.
Object-Centered Design where objects design us.
Breathing Chair offers the novel way to prevent prolonged sitting by chair breathing. When people sit for a long time, the chair breathes organically and deform into a difficult shape to sit. It leads people toward a state of standing up in a natural way. After a while, the chair quietly returns to its original state. My approach is from ontological design, in which objects shape human beings, unlike conventional human-centered product designs mentioned in previous studies. Escobar argues “We design tools, and these tools design us back” in his book of ontological design . I synthesized with and created Breathing Chair based on this non-dualism concept that our individuals, materials and the world are all united and that there is no center.
Prototyped and decided an appropriate shape.
One axis we considered was mechanical vs. organic. Mechanical way is functional for users. However, this chair makes people sudden change, and it is not our intention to let the user feel “being forced to a machine.” Sudden mechanical change seems ruthless and irritates users. Therefore, we judged that the organic way is more appropriate in this project and wanted users to think “the chair is also a living thing and so it cannot be helped.”
The other axis is state-changing vs. shape-changing. Chairs in the upper row change state like a cold state and a hot state, a shrinking state and a swelling state, whereas chairs in the lower row are only deforming from a chair to a different shape. We judged that the state-changing way is more appropriate because this way gives users more impression of living things.
Finally chose the idea of Breathing Chair based on the evaluation.
Implemented the real-size interactive chair.
Regarding implementation, it consists of two functions. One is measuring the time sitting. The force sensor on the seating surface measures the time since a person sits on the chair. The other is controlling breathing. In this prototype, we use the balloon, and it stretched when people were seated for a certain period.
According to Patel et al.’s research , it is important to walk up and walk around many times a day. Also, if you stand for two minutes every hour, lipid, blood sugar, and blood pressure will improve. Therefore, we adjusted the balloon to swell for about 2 minutes when the user continues sitting for 1 hour. The state of actual operation is shown in the following image. We confirmed that the bulging of the balloon pushes the user forward.
Got constructive feedbacks from the audience.
Breathing Chair was accepted for the Demo Expo at NYC Media Lab ‘19 and I exhibited my work in there. A lot of audiences came to my booth and I got many constructive feedbacks about future iterations, functions, and use cases. The following is the representative comments I should incorporate:
Timer function to set the interval for the chair to swell
More sophisticated sensing features using not only time but also weight and sitting state
Personalities of each chair
& Next Step
As for a future iteration, there are two considerations to improve the quality of the product. One is the form itself. In this prototype, we were able to confirm that the breathing chair creates the force to make people stand up, so we would like to consider more organic shape such as a breathable fabric instead of a balloon. The other is the configuration of parameters. It is better to adjust the interval according to the usage environment, the age of the user, the use case, etc. Regarding a future application, we would like to install this product to schools and offices and to lead sedentary people to healthy lifestyles by an organic breathing chair.