A Seat 16 Years in the Making | Focal Upright

A Seat 16 Years in the Making

April 6, 2017  |  Focal Team  |  Categories: Design

Joah IMG_1189By Martin Keen, Founder & Design Director

In 1996, the birth of our son forced me out of my home office, so we built a red barn behind our house in Jamestown, Rhode Island. It was to be my own personal space to be creative and focused (READ: I could make a mess, and my wife, Mary, wouldn’t care).

Pictured: the barn in action (straight out of an old KEEN catalogue):

Instead of a normal office desk, I bought a standing-height drafting table, because I knew from experience that sitting down wouldn’t allow me to be my most productive self. (The chair was invented for leisure, not for work.) I fully expected to stand all the time. However, after only a few days, I realized that was not going to happen.

Now, I consider myself a relatively fit person. I played sports in college and I eat healthy foods. And in 1996, I still had hair on my head and running around with two young children made sure I got plenty of exercise.

Standing didn’t seem like it should be a challenge. But after unproductive and achy workdays, I knew I had to change something.

At this point in time, I was a still designing shoes for major footwear brands. I hadn’t yet had the idea for KEEN Footwear, and certainly was not running my own company. However, I have always been a tinkerer. I’ve always been curious. And I’ve never liked sitting down.

My temporary solution to my standing desk problem was quite simple. I had a metal stool in my barn where the seat was made from an old-fashioned tractor seat. I tilted the seat forward, so that it was balanced on its two front legs, and leaned back against the angled seat pan with my feet firmly on the ground.

Immediately, I felt pressure release from my back and shoulders. This new posture required that I be aware of my body, and yet, it felt much easier than standing.

With my tilted stool, I had my MVP (minimum viable product) for a new kind of seat, but any engineer will tell you that the key to innovation and invention is to iterate, iterate, iterate.

I built dozens of prototypes for my new leaning seat. Some versions were wooden. Some metal. One was even designed to allow me to sleep in an upright leaning posture. I wanted to prove that this new way of working would be sustainable. I spent a lot of time at my desk, so my solution had to be comfortable for me to use all the time.

For years, as my shoe consultancy developed into KEEN Footwear and KEEN Footwear developed into an international brand, I kept building prototypes for this seat. As the years went by, the seat got better and better.


I built a foot ramp attached to the seat.

I made it height adjustable.

I built a base that slid in and out to accommodate users of different sizes.

I experimented with seat cushions, and ultimately found that EVA foam, a product usually found on athletic shoes, made for a comfortable, yet supportive fit.

In 2011, I left KEEN Footwear and decided that this seat, the seat I had been designing and redesigning for a decade and a half, could provide relief for thousands of standing desk users who suffered the same way I had. In 2012, Mary and I launched Focal Upright with the Locus Seat and Locus Desk.

In the past five years, the Locus Seat has been Focal’s best-selling seat. It’s the seat used by the most members of the Focal Upright team. It’s the seat I still use at my desk in the Focal office.

As is the case with all my inventions, my idea was born of need. I had a problem that affected how I was able to work, and sought to solve that problem. To me, the Locus Seat stands as a testament for what iteration and prototyping can do for a product. The first solution to my standing problem was far from perfect, but years of fiddling around with designs lead to something of which I am truly proud.