In 2010 I predicted that we were at the end of an Aeron. I thought that offices were changing and there would be no need for expensive adjustable office chairs, because nobody would be sitting in one place.
The Aeron and all of the other fancy and expensive ergonomic stuff are designed to deal with repetitive stress and being in one place all the time. They don't have a function if you can stand up, move around, go wherever you want to go and still do your work. And that is where the workplace is going. The log on the beach will beat the Aeron every time.
I was certainly wrong about that, as Herman Miller went on to sell over seven million chairs in 134 countries. When it was launched in 1994 it broke all the rules for office chairs, giving up on leather and foam and upholstery. As it evolved it became one of the greenest products on the market; redesigned for Cradle to Cradle certification, you could take it apart to separate its components in minutes, all of which could be reused or recycled. The factory where they were assembled was almost zero waste: “About 45 million pounds of parts, materials and packaging come into the plant every year. Amount of waste sent to landfill every month: fifteen pounds.”
Now it has been redesigned and relaunched. Don Chadwick, who with the late Bill Stumph designed the original, describes the new version in Wired:
“The chair is totally new, from the casters up. For the person sitting in the chair, all that newness should translate to a cushier seat. “It performs better,” Chadwick says. “It provides this glove effect.”
The new version still has environmental credentials:
With its dematerialized design (that includes 39 percent recycled content and is up to 91 percent recyclable), Aeron set a new bar for sustainability when it launched. With today’s update, we’ve taken another step forward by reducing the weight of the chair by 3 pounds, while achieving a Cradle to Cradle Certified Silver status.
The chair looks pretty much the same as it did before, but has been modified a bit:
While the classic Aeron supported numerous positions and postures, the frame angle of the new chair has been adjusted 1.8-degree forward to better support the body in the upright position and across a wider range of postures. Users will find the new Aeron moving with them seamlessly to offer proper ergonomic support across a larger variety of tasks.
It is also designed to promote movement:
They have also redesigned the mechanisms to “scale back the amount of turning, twisting, and time spent customizing a personal fit.” That’s because people move around from place to place, task to task a lot more than they used to.
Staying in one position reduces the natural pumping action of the muscles that deliver nutrients to the intervertebral disks. The Aeron chair’s tilt allows it to move with the body in such a natural way that people can shift from forward to reclining postures intuitively.
In The office: A facility based on change, Robert Propst of Herman Miller described the office as a kind of miniature city. He was writing in 1968; now that we are no longer bound to our desks by technology, the office is more like a miniature city than ever before, as we bounce from the coffee shop to the library to the gym. I still wonder about the future of the expensive personalized ergonomic chair under such circumstances. I wonder if in fact the chair should be designed to be uncomfortable, to get us up, to get us moving, to get us cruising the miniature city that is our office.
I have no doubt that Herman Miller will continue to sell millions of Aeron chairs. However I keep thinking of Bob Propst at his wide Action Office standing desk, perched on a George Nelson Perch Chair (a log is more comfortable, I know, I have one). I wish Herman Miller would redesign and reissue this.