Re-Building My Portfolio | Part 4 | Tread Chassis


This post is part of an on-going series that brings you behind the scenes as I Re-Build my personal design portfolio from the ground up. Each entry in the series is intended to be both a glimpse into my process and a reflection on what it means to design one’s body of work.

Chair 2_Studio Montage.jpg

If you recall the last post, you’ll remember that we’ve established the first three steps of the five portfolio steps.

  1. Gather your work

  2. Assess what you have

  3. Plan the overall vision

  4. Build what you still need

  5. Assemble your work for display

This time, let’s take a look at the second project, a concept chair design for a competition called One Good Chair. The design is called Tread Chassis.

Project Background

A few years out of school, I entered a contest to design a sustainable chair. The premise was actually quite simple - make a chair in the most sustainable way possible while maintaining a high quality in design aesthetic. Ok, well, it’s not THAT simple, but it is how I remember it.

Side Note: If you enter a competition, keep all of the design brief info for just like I did below. It can come in handy later, like when you miss a few details because it’s been almost a decade and time has done quite the number on your memory. ;)

Per the Original One Good Chair Design Brief:

The focus of the competition is the lounge chair or similar casual seating—simple objects to assist the body in repose. Commercial office chairs and other specialized functions are not appropriate, but otherwise you have as much latitude as you can explain and illustrate in a convincing way.

Successful entries will be clear, compelling ideas that expand on accepted sustainable practice by demonstrating an innovative use of new or conventional materials, traditional or emerging techniques. Particular attention will be paid to innovative ideas for materials, comfort, fabrication, and shipping (including packaging). Judging will focus on the three principles of One Good Chair

  1. Make good (Material conservation). How can shape optimize resources in design, fabrication, and shipping? What forms create little waste but lots of taste?

  2. Feel good (Physical comfort). How can shape aid the body in the act of sitting? How do different people sit? How might they?

  3. Look good (Emotional resonance). What kinds of images create emotional bond between viewer and product? What is the intersection of sustainability and sensuality?

The Story of Tread Chassis

So yeah, maybe I missed ONE or TWO details. But the great thing is that this description jogged my memory and now I can fill in the gaps of how we got to the Tread Chassis design.

I researched like crazy, scouring the far reaches of the internet and my local libraries for inspiration. I wasn’t just looking for ideas about chairs, I was primarily interested in fabrication techniques that could help the design stand above the rest. After bouncing back and forth between a few different concepts, I arrived at two techniques I wanted to implement:

  1. Re-using Old, Discarded Tires by Cutting them Up for the Base of the Chair

  2. Fabricating the Primary Form of the Chair by Waterjet Cutting Plywood

And so, Tread Chair was born. You may have caught that, yes, I said Tread Chair, not Tread Chassis — I’ll explain, don’t you worry.

The first iteration of the design (or the Tread Chair) was very flat in order to take advantage of a single piece of plywood. The wood frame would be waterjet cut and assembled to fit within the form of an old tire. The thought was that the tire would be discarded to a landfill otherwise and in this form could provide some cushioning for the wood frame.

In the end though, the whole thing looked a bit too much like a cheap lawn chair. There wasn’t enough structure built into it to realistically support a person. Just because I drew a person sitting on the chair in elevation, that didn’t mean that physics would just give me a pass.

After the submission went in, I regretted the design a bit for obvious reasons.

I took a month to sketch out new ideas and think about it some more. Then Tread Chassis was created out of the ashes of Tread Chair.

I started modeling complex geometry in 3D Studio Max and developed a mesh that could be transformed into a series of skeletal ribs to complement the structure of a person sitting down. The overall look of the Tread Chair had evolved and become more robust.

Tread Chassis was just that, a chassis created by combining the best elements of the wood frame and the rubber tire base.

The Process

So now that you know the story of Tread Chassis, it’s important to note that there’s not much more I had to do to any of the drawings I found in my archives.

If you’re wondering why this is the case, it’s because this project is one of the more manageable designs I had and I was able to quickly generate all of the typical drawings and models I needed. Sometimes having a precedent project like this in your catalog is worth it if only to set the baseline for the rest.

Model Updates

As it turns out, the model is pretty darn great as is. No updates this time around boys and girls.

Drawing Updates

Same goes for drawings.

Project Layout in InDesign

Now that the drawings, renderings, photos and other assets have been created, I started placing them all into the InDesign portfolio template that we created back in Part 3. Rather than building out separate files for each project, for the time being I’ve simply added pages to the previous iteration with the Zig-Zag Library.

Side Note: We’ll likely break the portfolio up later into pieces later (you’ll see why when we get there), so don’t get too attached to the current InDesign file if you’re following along.

InDesign // Integrating Assets

Now that we have a series of photos and drawings, we can populate the layout templates.

It’s important to note that this is just a draft version of the Portfolio section for this project as we’ll need to understand how the remaining portions of the Portfolio lay out as well. For example, we may find that some of the template pages we made in Part 3 don’t work as well across all of the projects and we will take them out of the design altogether, while we may need to make new ones that can apply more organically.

Pro Tip: There’s no real rhyme or reason to how I started adding the different types of information, but I’d recommend starting with a type, completing a first pass and then adding the next type of information. For example, maybe you start with the graphics and then add text or vice versa. It makes it a bit easier to make a clean break and then move to the other type of content.

InDesign // Integrating Assets

Now that we have a series of photos and drawings, we can populate the layout templates.

InDesign // Integrating Assets

Now that we have a series of photos and drawings, we can populate the layout templates.

You can start to see how everything lays out into the template in the examples here.

It’s not perfect, but that’s ultimately not the point. We’re trying to make progress consistently over time. As long as we take these steps, we can have something to react to, learn from, and build into the next project.

InDesign // Integrating Assets

Now that we have a series of photos and drawings, we can populate the layout templates.

Side Note: The Exploded Axon on the Right is one my favorite drawings I’ve ever made. I’m not sure what it is about it, but it’s special to me. That might be something to strive for as you build up some of these documents.

The goal is to end up with a portfolio that works for us on many levels. So far, I’m really excited at the results.

Next Time

In the next series post, we’ll go through the third project and mark up the portfolio content to show you how I edit my work as I go. As before, I’ll print a pdf draft of the portfolio as well to see where I’m at and share the results.

For now, you can download a copy of where I ended up by clicking the button below.

Let me know in the comments how your own portfolio is coming and if there’s anything specifically you’d like me to follow up on or address in a future post.

Thanks for coming along on this journey with me. I think we’re really making some good progress!

SkillsMichael LaValley