#115 Curve ball
Cyma curves and serpentine sofas 〰
Design Lobster #115 is winding its way to your inbox this week. We’re learning about the mysterious cyma curve and admiring a sinuous icon of mid-century furniture design. Enjoy! ➰
Are you looking for your next Product Design role?
I’m really happy to share that this week’s issue is sponsored by Packfleet. They’re looking for their first full-time designer to help them in their mission to offer the best deliveries on Earth. It’s the kind of role that doesn’t come along very often, designing a great product with lots of ownership, and supported by a 🔥 team.
Plus you’ll get to work alongside my former colleague Hugo Cornejo, a legendary designer and wonderful human being ☺️
Question: What is the line of beauty?
If you have ever admired a gracefully-curved plaster ceiling moulding or pre-Modern cabinet or chair you might already have been affected by the power of the cyma curve. Also known as an ‘S” curve or simply the line of beauty, these types of curve are constructed with reference to an imaginary straight line or “chord” (the dashed line above) that spans the curve’s entire length.
To ensure that each curve flows into the next one “sweetly”, the transition point of the two arcs must sit on the straight line that goes between the two fulcrums (or centre-points) of the arcs. You can see what this looks like in the illustration above. As you can see, there are a surprising number of straight lines needed to ensure a beautiful curve!
The word cyma comes from the Greek for wave, and there is something of a wave’s pleasing rise and fall in a cyma curve’s geometry. Master craftsmen are able to use complex combinations of these curves to add emotion and refinement to their designs. See if you can spot one the next time you visit and antiques shop.
Design takeaway: Where could you add a cyma curve to your design?
Object: Serpentine sofa
Vladimir Kagan was a celebrated German-American furniture designer who learned his craft in his father Illi’s Midtown cabinetry workshop in 1947 after dropping out from a degree in architecture from Columbia.
At that time, conventional sofas consisted of a wire-sprung seat that was heaped with feather down cushions for comfort. Kagan’s technical innovation was to incorporate the comfortable padding within the seat itself so that it the frame of the sofa could take on entirely new forms. The Serpentine sofa, released in 1950 was one of the first results of these endeavours, finding it’s way into the homes of celebrities including Marilyn Monroe and Gary Cooper.
A curved shape makes more sense so that you’re not sitting like birds on a wire, lined up.
Kagan was especially attracted to curved forms as he believed they made socialising feel more natural. A curve also had the effect of disengaging the sofa from the wall, gifting more wall space for his wealthy clients to display large scale art by Pollock, Rothko and the other Abstract Expressionists that were becoming fashionable in the 1950’s.
Design takeaway: Could you revisit the basic structure of your design in order to create something truly original?
Quote: “I was attracted by the curve — the liberated, sensual curve suggested by the possibilities of new technology yet so often recalled in venerable old baroque churches.”
– Oscar Niemeyer, architect
Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer designed some of the curviest architecture of the 20th century, including the spaceship-like Niterói Contemporary Art Museum in Rio de Janeiro and many of the buildings in Brazil’s capital city Brasília. He highlights the way curves both point backwards to nature and Baroque art, and forwards to a technologically advanced future.
Have an excellent week,
Enjoyed this week’s Design Lobster? Let me know by clicking the heart button ❤️