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The Breathing Chair is a speculative design project that looks at the future relationship between humans and nonhumans. With the growing trend towards objects becoming smarter, the boundary between humans and objects is becoming blurred. This project discusses the likely changes that will occur in human behaviour when objects become more like humans. The Breathing Chair is used as an arthrological artefact projection.


The world is full of objects created by humans. The industrial revolutions and new technologies have dramatically changed society. Nowadays, with the development of artificial intelligence (AI), objects are becoming smarter; some robots and AI systems are even able to understand and speak different languages. The future trend is towards objects having the same feelings as humans and also being able to communicate with each other as well as with real people. The relationship between humans and objects is worth discussing.



Artifacts → Machines → Products → Gizmos → Spime → Biot

“Spimes are manufactured objects whose informational support is so overwhelmingly extensive and rich that they are regarded as material instantiations of an immaterial system (Sterling, 2005, 11).”

“A Biot would be the logical intermeshing, the blurring of the boundary between Wrangler and SPIME (Sterling, 2005, 134).”


“Things moved through networks of spaces, times, and relationships, thereby not only occupying multiple ecosystems but also being the connector among these ecosystems. A thing perspective reveals that things possess qualities of motility and can move on their own, thereby changing the states, spaces, and times of their own existence and of other entities with which they come into contact (Giaccardi et al, 2016).”


I chose a chair as the metaphor, as it has a unique level of interaction that not only allows a physical connection to its user but also triggers an emotional response. The development status of the object proposed by Bruce Sterling  was linked to the evolution of chairs throughout history and a typical example of a chair for each development stage of the object was found.  According to Charlotte and Peter , ‘the chair reveals not only the visions of its creator but also mirrors the wider cultural context of the era in which it arose’ (2012, p. 8).



I proposed the idea of a chair that could breathe. In the design stage, I used sketches to explore possible shapes and forms. The chair is designed in a flat-pack minimalist style, so that the its appearance does not attract too much user attention before it starts ‘breathing’. I made several small models in order to test different structures and a rough  cardboard model to test the size of each constituent part.

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Initial prototypes and testing sensors


Technician drawing → Cutting → Sanding → Gluing → Sanding

The technical drawing was lasered on to the plywood board. The plywood board was then cut into pieces, using a bandsaw, and then sanded down and glued together. Once built, the chair was sanded again and oiled. The pressure sensors were embedded into the chair cushion.


Making processes


To realise the design function, pressure sensors were used to detect how long a user sat on the chair. An Arduino was used to read the data from the pressure sensors and control the music shield, to produce sound when necessary. A battery box, with four AAA batteries, supplied the power to the Arduino.


Electrical Components



If people sit on it too long, the Breathing Chair will feel tired and start breathing heavily. If the chair is not given time to rest, its heavy breathing will increase, and it will sigh if the person sitting on it makes it feel uncomfortable.

Final artefact



If the chair rests more than 20 mins, it would get tired after people sitting on it for 30 mins; but if the chair rests less than 20 mins, it would get tired quicker which is after 15 mins.

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Interactions of the breathing chair


I invited three friends into the studio to test the chair. They were asked to sit on it and study for one hour. They were not told about the interaction before sitting down. All of them appreciated the chair’s breathing sound. Over time, the male user found the chair’s heavy breathing very irritating. However, the female users gradually ignored the breathing sound. It is interesting to note that when the chair started to sigh, both of them stood up and tried to turn off the sound.


Video of the user testing


1. When an object behaves like a human, it may be used or treated by people in a different way.
2. The addition of breathing sounds to the chair aroused controversy between the tutors. The sound a chair makes needs to be considered more seriously.
3. Object-centred and human-centred design methods have different functions, which could offer useful insights for designers.
4. Rather than looking at a single product, future research may focus on a group of interconnected objects.
5. The chair’s inherent function needs to be considered when the designer gives it life.


The image above  demonstrates a fictional design, based on the Breathing Chair artefact. The fictional image envisions a space full of objects with human behaviour as well as emotions. The objects communicate with the user in a human fashion. In this space, through fictional design, I attempted to stimulate people’s imagination and open discussions and debates on human-nonhuman relationships. If I develop the project further, I will strive to physicalise the fiction, by creating several objects with human behaviour traits.




Sterling, B. (2005) Shaping things, Cambridge, Ma.; London , MIT Press.


Giaccardi, E., Speed, C., Cila, N. and L. Caldwell, M.L. (2016) ‘Things as co-ethnographers: implications of a thing perspective for design and anthropology’, in Smith R. (ed) Design Anthropological Futures, London; New York,  Bloomsbury Academic.

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