Why does furniture force us to sit still? Dr. Patrik Künzler believes chairs should instead encourage small but constant motions that are good for the body. He spent six years developing a product to challenge the convention that a comfortable chair should have a flat seat and a back. The $8,500 LimbIC chair, released in 2011, incorporates ergonomics and neuroscience to stimulate not just the body, but also the emotions.
Made by Inno-Motion, a company in Zurich that Künzler founded after studying at MIT Media Lab and which he now leads as chief executive, the LimbIC chair uses custom-sized, carbon-fiber shells that wrap around each leg. They allow a generous range of movements—stretching, leaning, twisting—while supporting the spine.
Striving for ergonomic perfection, Künzler, now age 43, threw out traditional sitting rules such as the expectation that people should sit upright, with knees bent at a 90-degree angle. That science was developed in the 19th century, he says, and in fact, most LimbIC users prefer their feet to be suspended in air.
They should feel weightless and bouncy, an effect achieved by stimulating different body points that send signals to the inner ear. The result: a feeling of happiness and increased creativity, says Künzler, who extensively studied the limbic system, a part of the brain involved in emotions (including pleasure) and instinct. These claims have not yet been verified, though customer feedback so far has been extremely positive, he says.
In concept, the chair acts as an extension of the body, adjusting subtly to the user’s movements, such as picking up the phone or using a mouse. This keeps the body constantly engaged, improves circulation, and keeps the back’s vertebrae lubricated. The longest Künzler has sat in one is 16 hours, including getting up to eat and use the restroom. (Sitting for 16 hours? The man must have a death wish.) You can even make dancing and skiing movements while seated, if you’re feeling particularly animated. (Watch the video.)
“I could sit and concentrate for extended periods of time even with my acutely herniated disc,” one finance expert writes in a testimonial. “With other chairs, this used to be impossible.”
Still, the design is so radical that it’s barely recognizable as something to sit on. “Some people think: gynecology chair,” Künzler admits. “It doesn’t look comfortable. With a human in it, you recognize it as a chair, but without it you don’t.”
So far, Inno-Motion has sold about 50 chairs—mostly to customers with desk jobs, as well as dentists, athletes, and artists. The price makes it somewhat of a luxury item, but he says, “Most see it as an investment in their health and in themselves.”