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The very idea of furniture, sketched in the air, made real.

Sometimes, old-school teachers are just what students need to be inspired to push forward. That was the case with the women who founded the radical Swedish design firm Front. They met at Stockholm's Konstfack college, a school that emphasized "hard-core industrial design"--functionalist and minimalist and all about "what shapes were acceptable or not," says Frontster Charlotte von der Lancken from Stockholm. Of course, that left Front's founders eager to explore everything except "practical questions of function," recalls her colleague Anna Lindgren. (Sofia Lagerkvist is the third member of the trio.) The goal was to find new ways to communicate through objects, says von der Lancken: "We experiment a lot with the design process. We always question what we do and why we do it ... [T]here have to be other values than making cheap chairs."

Their most famous experiment was launched in 2005, the year after graduating. Front's members rejected the laborious process of traditional modern design--moving from a back-of-the-napkin sketch to working drawings to engineering diagrams to a prototype to tooling for production--and passed direct from scribble to final product. They used motion-capture technology from the movies to record their movements as they "drew" life-size, 3-D sketches of furniture in the air in front of them. …

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