It’s like a chair that isn’t there, but magically appears whenever you need it. It’s called the Chairless Chair and you wear it on your legs like an exoskeleton: when it’s not activated, you can walk normally or even run. And then, at the touch of a button, it locks into place and you can sit down on it. Like a chair that is now there.

It’s a perfect example of the Subtraction Technique, one of five in the innovation method, Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT). It’s also a great example of Ideality, a property of innovation solutions that appear only when the problem appears.

From CNN:

“The idea came from wanting to sit anywhere and everywhere, and from working in a UK packaging factory when I was 17,” says Keith Gunura, the 29-year old CEO and co-founder of noonee, the Zurich-based startup behind the device, “standing for hours on end causes a lot of distress to lower limbs, but most workers get very few breaks and chairs are rarely provided, because they take up too much space. So I thought that the best idea was to strap an unobtrusive chair directly to myself.”

The device never touches the ground, which makes it easier to wear: a belt secures it to the hips and it has straps that wrap around the thighs. A variable damper engages and supports the bodyweight, which is directed towards the heels of the shoes. These are specially designed and part of the mechanism, but an alternate version works with any footwear and touches the ground only when in a stationary position. The user just moves into the desired pose and then powers the device, which currently runs for about 24 hours on a single 6V battery. (CNN)

“In addition to resting your leg muscles, it also provides optimal posture,” adds noonee CTO and co-founder Bryan Anastisiades “it keeps your back straight and can reduce the occurrence of bad postures for both healthy workers and those recovering from muscle related injuries.”

The Chairless Chair is attracting interest and production line trials are set to start in Germany with BMW in September and with Audi later this year. An aluminium and carbon fibre frame keeps the overall weight of the Chairless Chair at just two kilograms, so it doesn’t burden the wearer with too much excess weight and only marginally impairs movement. And in the future, it could be fitted with smart motors able to infer the user’s intentions and offer the ideal posture without even the need to press a button.

To get the most out of the Subtraction Technique, you follow five steps:

  1. List the product’s or service’s internal components.
  2. Select an essential component and imagine removing it. There are two ways: a. Full Subtraction. The entire component is removed. b. Partial Subtraction. Take one of the features or functions of the component away or diminish it in some way.
  3. Visualize the resulting concept (no matter how strange it seems).
  4. What are the potential benefits, markets, and values? Who would want this new product or service, and why would they find it valuable? If you are trying to solve a specific problem, how can it help address that particular challenge? After you’ve considered the concept “as is” (without that essential component), try replacing the function with something from the Closed World (but not with the original component). You can replace the component with either an internal or external component. What are the potential benefits, markets, and values of the revised concept?
  5. If you decide that this new product or service is valuable, then ask: Is it feasible? Can you actually create these new products? Perform these new services? Why or why not? Is there any way to refine or adapt the idea to make it more viable?

Learn how all five techniques can help you innovate – on demand.