Design Philosophy

Seeing Things the Martin Keen Way*

There are two essential facts you should know about Focal’s founder, Martin Keen.


  1. Martin Keen is a perpetual fidgeter. Growing up, little Martin was constantly told to sit down and stay still. But that brings us to the second fact:
  2. Martin Keen is a rule breaker**.


Fast forward to the year 2000, Martin was working long hours getting his first company, KEEN Footwear off the ground. One problem: he couldn’t find a comfortable working posture. He did his best thinking while standing up, but he could only stand comfortably for an hour or two at a time. So, Martin set out to design himself a new kind of chair that kept him both physically engaged and comfortable.

In a moment of inspiration, Martin spotted an old, rusting stool made from a metal tractor seat in the corner of his barn. He tipped the stool forward and began leaning against the seat. Martin had found it: that place between sitting and standing seemed like the perfect posture.

The initial seat hardly looked like a chair to anyone but Martin. One friend said it looked like a medieval torture device. His own wife (now Focal’s managing director) rolled her eyes at the design. Yet, Martin remained undeterred and kept iterating. Twelve years, four hundred and fifty-six drawings, forty-two scale models and twenty working prototypes later, Focal Upright and the Locus Workstation was born.

Keen’s designs look radical, yet behind them is a close affinity with an A-team of ergonomics and health experts. Dr. Galen Cranz, author of The Chair: Rethinking Culture Body and Design and a pioneer in the field of body-conscious design, is a member of Focal’s Advisory Board. Inactivity physiology researcher Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., a professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La, has collaborated with Focal, as well. Josh Kerst, an ergonomics expert who has consulted for major corporations worldwide, is now part of of our very own team, serving as Focal’s Principal Ergonomist.

Though Focal’s product line has grown, Keen’s simple design philosophy has stayed the same. Your body is a tool, and your products should support it. ‘Nuff said. Keen’s products offer a stripped-down, modern aesthetic that balances well-being, functionality and fun. His designs, whether a pair of durable sandals or an upright workstation, support your body in a healthy, neutral posture so you are able to focus on what matters most.

Watch this video from Inc. Magazine to learn about Martin’s evolution
from a footwear designer to a active furniture entrepreneur.

* Black chunky glasses not required.
** At least when it comes to design principles. He has no criminal record to speak of, unless, of course, you count his criminally smooth dance moves.

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