Mark Pennington, head designer at Formway, designed the Life Chair, one of the best-selling high-performance chairs available on the planet. Over 150,000 units are sold worldwide every year, and to date, total sales have grossed over US$1,000,000,000. That’s right, it’s a one billion dollar chair.
Mark Pennington is a former student, senior lecturer and head of what is now Massey University’s College of Creative Arts. He’s designed everything from playgrounds and stereo systems, to Te Papa’s ‘Awesome Forces’ and ‘Earthquake House’. And, for the past decade he’s been head-designer at Formway.
Mark entered design school in 1963 and was part of a group known as ‘The Golden Year’. Led by design visionary James Coe, Mark holds fond memories of a stimulating, pioneering, collegiate environment, a high calibre of staff, and Coe’s hands-on, interactive, collaborative approach to teaching, where new ideas were transferred quickly into reality.
Coe was also a specialist in ergonomics, and this was hugely influential on Mark as he came to understand human physiology and psychology as key factors in industrial design. On graduation Mark went on to design range-hoods and gas heaters before setting up his own consultancy, travelling and working overseas, before returning to New Zealand. In 2000, Mark and the Formway team set out to produce the best chair in the world. As the ultimate design challenge, it needed to fit bodies of all shapes and sizes, while remaining comfortable. The result was a chair that moves with you, continuously supporting the body and measuring body weight, and auto-adjusting its back support system. Mark sees design as not only a vital component in New Zealand’s economic future, but also as our salvation. He says we need holistic design-led thinking at all levels from the boardroom to the shop floor. And New Zealand’s educational institutions have a major part to play in nurturing the next generation of design-led thinkers in New Zealand, design schools such as Massey University’s.