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Design Collaborative: Straight A’s

Inspire, Allsteel’s new seating line, garners high marks when it comes to comfort, durability, aesthetics and value.


Inspire, Allsteel’s new seating line, garners high marks when it comes to comfort, durability, aesthetics and value.

The aesthetics incorporated into the design of higher education facilities are more important than ever before. Details small and large blend to create environments that can help sell students, faculty and staff on making an enrollment or employment decision. Gone are the days when the majority of students gave little thought to materials, amenities or furniture when evaluating the facilities they encounter on a daily basis.

And that is where Inspire—a new seating line by Allsteel Inc.—comes into the picture. Created in partnership with designer Bruce Fifield, Design Continuum in Milan, Inspire meets the needs of facility personnel, staff and students in multiple ways.

"We have been in the higher education market for some time and we identified a need for a new seating line to address what we were hearing from our clients," explains D.J. Heil, director, product management for Allsteel. "Our clients told us that they were looking for something new and different from what was available."

Members of the design team traveled to 25 colleges and universities of varying sizes located around the country. This research, coupled with other analysis, confirmed that designers and their clients were looking for a seating line that was attractive, comfortable, durable and sustainable.

"Our team members learned that there was a gap in the market when it came to comfortable and attractive seating for higher education facilities," says Heil. "In particular, mature students who are returning to school in greater numbers want seating where comfort is maximized. Many of these individuals come from corporate settings where they are used to seating that is very different from what is found on many college and university campuses."

Comfort, however, was only part of the equation. Heil says that budget, durability and sustainability were also equally important.

The decision to partner with Fifield was easy, according to Heil, based on the collaboration between Allsteel and the designer on the Acuity collection. "Bruce understands our culture … our commitment … and brings great ideas to the table regarding product design," he says.

The design team began with the premise that less is more. That is, higher education clients see products with fewer pieces as more advantageous because there are fewer components to break or wear out. This plays out in a number of the line's features, starting with the comfort factor.

The engineering team developed TriFit, a trio of motion technologies that are incorporated into the seat and back and automatically adjust as the user moves. Rather than sitting in a chair for an hour or more that is rigid, Inspire's design moves with the body to support good posture. For example, the automatic recline provides good lumbar support, and the built-in dampers result in a seat-suspension system that adapts to the user when they first sit in the chair and that moves with them thereafter.

"We built upon the lessons we learned with Acuity," notes Fifield. "The TriFit technology is only one piece of a larger equation."

The other pieces, according to Fifield, include the rubber-based, non-mechanical back pivot, a distinctive seat with a waterfall edge to support users of all shapes and sizes, and a range of color and customization options.

"We spent extensive time on the seat," says Fifield. "We settled on a perforated pattern, which allows moisture and heat to pass through. The chevron-shaped cutout motif speaks to the distinctive properties in the line but it is also integral to achieving the flexibility of the seat and for reducing pressure for the user."

Inspire is available in an armless version, as well as with arms (including a flip-up or flip-up-and-fold tablet arm). The welded steel frame is available in silver or black, and base styles include a four-leg stacking, sled or five-star base with casters for workplace seating. Two stool versions, including an adjustable height model, are available for café or e-mail touchdown settings.

Both Heil and Fifield say that color is very important to creating a sense of place, and that Inspire more than makes the grade in this area. The seat back is available in eight standard colors (custom colors can also be ordered). Clients may also specify an upholstered padded back, or seat, in Allsteel's fabrics or COM.

Inspire's upholstery features 100 percent antimony-free polyester and has MBDC Cradle to Cradle Silver certification. Abrasion resistance is to 100,000 double rubs and the upholstery has a standard Greenshield® water- and stain-repellant finish. Allsteel is also pursuing SCS Indoor Advantage, MBDC Cradle to Cradle and BIFMA level 2 certifications for Inspire.

The ability to withstand extensive use, and occasional abuse, is evident in the line's construction. "Facility personnel and members of their design team must be able to justify purchasing decisions, especially if a product costs a little more than other options," concludes Fifield. "We designed Inspire to last 10 years or more, which makes investing in this seating line a great value. Inspire is very durable, but it also has a high aesthetic appeal, features multiple sustainable properties, and will not break the budget."

Early indications show that Inspire is at the top of the class. The team at Allsteel upped the forecast for Inspire after it premiered at NeoCon based on the initial reception from current and potential customers.

Janet Wiens is a freelance writer based in Memphis, TN. She was formerly a marketing manager for HNTB and now works with industry clients to address their marketing and public relations needs. She can be reached at