It goes without saying that furniture plays an important role in our lives. With many people spending more or equal time away from home, functional, ergonomic and aesthetically pleasing furniture design is equally important in our homes, our offices, boardrooms, lecture theatres, cinemas, restaurants and hotels. While some consumers have a non-committing attitude to aesthetics and merely interested in function, most of us prefer beautiful, well-crafted pieces, which combine function with comfort and safety.

While the market is flooded with low cost, mass-produced furniture designed for people with temporary habits, a well-executed concept can result in a timeless piece of furniture that never goes out of style.

For decades, furniture pieces have featured in art museums and exhibitions as functional pieces of art, but rarely the function and safety of a product was considered more important than its aesthetic appeal. Some bespoke pieces may never live to serve their function, but exist only as an “objet d’art” decorating an interior and invoking visual reactions, while others incorporate both aesthetic and functional attributes which makes them true classical examples.

Furniture is often seen as an extension of oneself and one’s image, even though design evolves, tastes change, and consumer desires realign. Today’s furniture customers are vastly different from those of years past. Their new preferences have been shaped by society, trends and greater exposure to international design through travel and use of social media.

Designers and manufacturers today, need to have an understanding of consumer habits and their interaction with furniture in everyday life, yet most of the time, they have different views about what the customer needs and/or wants. So what is the dialogue between designer and manufacturer?

Designers often come to their craft from diverse backgrounds and find inspiration for colour, texture and form in the most unlikely places. They draw their influence not only from historical and international origins, but also from sources such as the natural environment, seasonal variations, urban architecture, literature, theatre and street culture.

The biggest criticism we hear from manufacturers is that designers don’t understand the commercial realities of production and often design something that cannot be manufactured in an efficient or cost effective way. One of the many challenges within the design industry is balancing creativity with the demands of cost-effective and innovative construction.

Manufacturers rely on training providers to incorporate and address both design and materials and manufacturing technologies when designing training programs, to ensure that graduates (the designers of the future) have the necessary skills to enter the job market.

From where I stand, the responsibility should fall on both training providers and industry to maintain a dialogue and work together to design training products that ensure quality outcomes, which benefit both students and the industry. Exchange of knowledge should take place in the planning, delivery and assessment of skills, and culminate in the facilitation of work integrated learning for students, and opportunities to consolidate their knowledge and skills through practical placements.

If furniture is to be designed with the customer in mind, the process must begin with dialogue and collaboration.

Written by Simona Jobbagy - Chair, Australian Furnishing Community of Practice Network