12 Things to Consider When Buying Public Seating

Buying public seating is an important long-term investment. In our newest e-book we break down 12 things to consider when buying public seating so you can have peace of mind you’re making the best,  most informed decision.

1. Quality

“Millions of people visit our building every year. Can my public seating handle that volume? Will it perform well and look good for a long time?”

You want your new public seating to thrive and survive through heavy use. Millions of people will take a seat over the life of your furniture, and it needs to be up to the challenge. For your peace of mind, and for the safety and comfort of visitors to your building, consider seating that meets or exceeds the standards of the American National Standards Institute/Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer’s Association (ANSI/BIFMA). ANSI/BIFMA promotes rigorous standards. Products that meet these standards have undergone extensive performance testing. To enjoy exceptional long-term performance from furniture, choose systems made of steel or aluminum. Cushions made of injection-molded foam or integral polyurethane are more durable and more likely to retain their shape for the long term. Stay away from plastics; they are more likely to break.

For high-traffic public spaces consider choosing vinyl, leather, or faux leather upholstery. These types of fabrics are long-wearing, durable, stain resistant, and easier to wipe clean. Also, consider seat pads with hidden seams, or seams that are not in high-contact areas. This reduces the risk of wear and tear.

2. Modularity

“We like to change our floor plans every once in a while. Will our public seating be flexible enough?”

You should select a public seating system that lets you move things around with relative ease. Your
system should let you re-arrange seats, tables and armrests to support whatever decisions you make
about your space. You will likely be most satisfied with seating that offers different configurations—straight rows, curved beams, and back-to-back arrangements. Your choice of surfaces, textiles and powder coat finishes will also help you achieve the look and feel you want. Consider retrofittable accessories like drink holders and footrests.

3. Physical Distancing

“What if we need to change our floor plan for physical distancing, or the needs of our space change? Will our public seating accommodate the need for more space?”

In a post COVID-19 world, the challenge for space planners is to source furniture that will allow for maximum seat utilization, while keeping passengers feeling relaxed and at a safe social distance.
To accommodate this, space planners should source furniture that is designed with this behavior in mind. This can include products with wider seats, wider gaps between seats, and tables or tablet
arms that help separate individuals as well as encourage people to self-distance. “What if we need to change our floor plan for physical distancing, or the needs of our space change? Will our public seating accommodate the need for more space?”

Perhaps consider a six-seat cluster unit that offers a central table and greater personal space for people, as well as a higher seat utilization rate than other configurations. An expert supplier will help you customize your public seating in way that works best for you.

4. Safety and Security

“Will our public seating help keep our facility secure?”

Select a supplier who can help you meet your security objectives and offer some ideas on how proper seating can enhance your overall security plan. Consider seating where the ends of beams are fitted with secure caps so no one can conceal an item, or seats with hidden ballistic barriers.

Choose a public seating system that allows your security personnel to have a clear view of the floor from the sides as well as from the front and back. You can achieve this by installing seating with a substantial gap between the front and back legs. Ideally, your seating should have as few legs as possible (without
compromising the system’s stability) and provide optional floor mounting glides in high security areas.

Legs should be recessed to avoid trip hazards, and rounded metal corners help prevent injuries. And while choosing finishes, remember that different textiles will offer different degrees of fire retardance.

5. Cleanability and Easy Maintenance

“Once it’s installed, how much work will I have to do?”

Public seating will occasionally face vandalism and you will have to respond. Look for furniture that has been skillfully engineered to be easy to maintain and repair. Ideally, your system should be effortless to clean; and your own staff should be able to replace cushions with minimal training. The following features should be considered:

• Minimal floor contact points: the fewer legs, the easier it is to clean the floor under the seating.

• Slip covers for cushions: replace your covers when necessary, quickly and on-site.

• Gaps between the seat and the backrest: spills run off the seat; debris doesn’t gather.

• Smooth, crevasse-free cushions: no dirt gets stuck in the seams.

• Removable pads: replace seat pads without disrupting the entire unit.

• Seats that are independent of each other and the system’s structure: easy to assemble and maintain.

• Wall-saving engineering: chair backs don’t rub against a wall because the legs extend farther back than the seat.

• Maintenance support: some suppliers offer a maintenance program to help extend the life of the product.

• Finishes and fabrics that are non-porous easy to clean such as vinyl,
wood, metal, or polyurethane.

The best advice? Include your maintenance staff in your furniture decision-making.

6. Comfort and Innovation

“Will our visitors enjoy having a seat?”

Durability and quality are essential, but don’t forget that visitors to your facility really want a comfortable place to sit. Customers will have a more favourable impression of your facility if your public seating system takes ergonomics into consideration. There is evidence to show that seating comfort, including everything from fabric to padding, can have an overall impact on customer satisfaction in public spaces.

New research from Airports Council International (ACI), as part of a 2019 best practice report through their Airport Service Quality program, reveals that the comfort of waiting areas at airport gates
is a main factor for determining customer satisfaction.

Satisfaction with seating also increases based on access to amenities. This includes integrated AC, USB, and wireless charging options as well as drinker holders, tables and footrests. When customers are satisfied by their overall physical comfort and feel they have access to every amenity they need it
helps them feel in control and at ease, which contributes to an overall positive feeling of wellness.
Think about systems that highlight user-friendly features.

The following features should be considered:

• Attached power sources: your visitors need a place to charge their electric devices.

• Drink holders: somewhere secure to place a cup.

• End tables: convenient for beverages or work accessories.

• Urethane arm pads: exceptional comfort for visitors.

• ADA compliance: seating that meets Standards for Accessible Design and is sensitive to the needs of the disabled, the obese and to people using wheelchairs.

• Higher backrests and slightly-reclined chairs: full lumbar support and ergonomically contoured seating will provide your visitors with an even greater sense of well-being.

Ultimately, you will need seating that is well-engineered and that takes comfort, ergonomics and different body types into consideration.

7. Accessibility

“How do we make our seating accessible for all visitors?”

Public spaces should be comfortable and accessible for all types of visitors. Choose seating that meets Standards for Accessible Design and is sensitive to the needs of the disabled, persons with reduced mobility and to people using wheelchairs. It is recommended that 5% of seating in public spaces should be designated as accessible. Accessible seats should have a clearly identifiable symbol on the back, such as a wheelchair logo, and have an arm removed on the end for lateral transfers. To accommodate persons with reduced mobility (PRM) such as the elderly or someone who is pregnant, seating with a raised seat position that is easier to get in and out of is recommended. These seats should also have a
recognizable symbol on the seat back and have stable arm rests on each side of the seat.

8. Total Cost of Ownership

“Will our public seating demonstrate value for the long term?”

Public seating undergoes a great deal of wear and tear. You can buy an inexpensive system and watch your maintenance and replacement costs soar over the years, or you can invest in a premium public seating system today and enjoy years of reliability and easy maintenance. When you punch the numbers on a new seating system, consider more than the initial cost of the product. A well-engineered system is easier to repair and it simply lasts longer. Involving your maintenance staff in the decision-making will help make the business case for purchasing the right system.

9. Environmentally-Friendly Seating

“What kind of impact will our seating have on the environment?”

When it comes to good environmental stewardship, you can take a stand with your seating. Consider installing a system that uses some amount of soybean polyols in its foam, and is built with recyclable materials. Your furniture should meet the ANSI/BIFMA emissions standard M7.1 for indoor air quality—a rigorous standard approved by leading architects, designers, laboratories, scientists, manufacturers and government agencies. And with eligible products, you can earn points toward LEED certification on new or retrofit interiors. Your supplier should be able to help you understand how your furniture can earn points. To help protect the environment, look for systems that will endure over time. Durable, modular systems that can be easily maintained and repaired are better for the planet than systems that need to be scrapped in their entirety every few years.

10. Warranty 

“What kind of warranty is available?”

You should be able to confirm a manufacturer’s warranty of at least five years for any public seating system. But what happens when your top-quality system outlives its warranty? Be sure to purchase your system from a reputable manufacturer that stocks replacement parts for your system for at least 10 years. Some leading manufacturers stock parts indefinitely, which means you can keep the same system for a very long time, even as your building designs and layouts change. Work with your supplier to develop a long-term maintenance program to ensure availability of parts and predictability of costs.

11. Good Design

“Will our public seating system enhance the look of our facility?”

Your public seating isn’t just a row of chairs or just a place to sit. It’s hopefully a smart design anchor for your whole facility. Your seating system should complement the whole look and feel of your building and raise the value of your public space. Be sure to select a manufacturer with significant engineering and design skill, and one who brings expertise in space planning to the table.

Keep aesthetics top of mind and be sure to focus on enhancing the visitor experience. People see furniture as a “second skin”— like they see their cars, their clothes and their homes. They want to enjoy it.

12. The Supplier

“Is the supplier experienced and knowledgeable?”

You need to establish a sound working relationship with your supplier. You don’t just need a supplier who’s responsive; you need someone who is an expert—someone who has in-depth understanding of architecture, design, and engineering; of public spaces and the user experience. You should look to deal with a company that is innovative, helpful and that will be with you for the long term.

Connections 2021

Your guide for specialized high-performance, high-design airport and passenger terminal furniture.


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