Looking at modern office environments today, the Aeron Chair by Herman Miller is the icon of contemporary business seating and the object of desire for many hipsters of the new media age. Writing this post sitting on an Aeron myself, it’s time to have a closer look.
The Aeron is the result of a collaboration between Don Chadwick and Bill Stumpf. Chadwick, with a background in innovative materials and molding processes was surely the driving force between many of the clever material decisions on the project. While Stumpf, an expert for ergonomics and a restless researcher in the field of improving environments and the way we sit, contributed to the overall design of the chair.
The final product is a very well built and in fact heavy chair, that combines an overall appearance of robustness with the lightness of the the semi-transparent mesh-material called Pellicle which is used on the seat and the back. Rounded edges, the trademark stretch and shape of the seat shell in a kind of forward-tilted Tulip form make the chair resemble bionic forms and help sell the furniture’s claim to be orthopedic, ergonomically correct and in some way different than other, cheap and simple office chairs. The hefty price tag did the rest on letting the Aeron stand apart and made it the symbol of entrepreneurial dynamic and success.
While from today’s perspective the design of the Aeron does appear like a scoop, the actual product history is one of evolution, predecessors and design optimizations. Since the 1970s, office furniture manufacturer and supplier Herman Miller was doing research in the field of office ergonomics and work seating. Building on a history of ties within the industrial design scene throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s, HM hired Don Chadwick and Bill Stumpf in the 70s to rethink traditional designs. Their first product was the “Ergon”, a still traditional looking office chair but with clever tweak on the seat that supported and corrected the hip, pelvis and spine position – a twist that many of today’s office chairs have adopted. The Ergon is still available today as the Ergon 3.
That was 1970-1976. Bill Stumpf first was assistant manager of HM’s research division from 1970 to 1974. After that Stumpf formed a practice in Winona, Minnesota. In 1977, Don Chadwick, who previously was freelancer for HM, joined the outfit which became Chadwick, Stumpf & Associates and gave their successful past collaborations a corporate blanket.
Back to work, the next evolution in the process of refining the results was a chair titled the “Equa” presented in 1984. In its essence the Equa combined the ergonomics of the Ergon with a new back that was mounted on a flexible dual-beam construction. When you look at the current reincarnation of the Equa, the Equa 2, the similarities between this earlier model and the Aeron become obvious. A bit of interesting trivia is that the Equa was also available with a rocking chair base that made a forward tilt possible which is common for computer or desk based tasks and working positions.
The commitment for Herman Miller continued. An example of non-chair developments, was the also in 1984 introduced office system “Ethospace”, developed by Bill Stumpf and Jack Kelley.
Finally, in 1994, Herman Miller presented the Aeron chair, a radical redesign of the Ergon and Equa principles. Equipped with the breathable (and officially trademarked) polyester fabric Pellicle©, adjustable lumbal support (Lumbar©), natural tilt kinematics and the option to choose between 3 sizes to fit the users body size, the chair further complies with ergonomic, functional, anthropometric and to top it all ecological standards. A reasonable employer just had no other chance than buying this office workhorse to perfectly nurture workers.
Now, let’s raise the curtain for the nineties, the era of the dot-com bubble. Among the goals of the IT companies of that time, besides inventing the mainstream internet and earning some money on the way, was the strong urge to impress investors. The weapon of choice, back then and today, is investing in hip environments and, of course, expensive attributes of power. And the throne of the new economy was the Aeron.
Soon it was everywhere: offices, hipster agencys, web firms, board rooms and most important in films, music videos, and tv commercials. The type of multi media presence only the Apple-brewn iPod cross-promotion hype can top.
Now, a few years later, year 8 after the bubble and after many workers used the chair to actually roll out their belongings onto the parking-lot of a bankrupt company, the hype around the Aeron has cooled down. What is left is an actually quite comfortable chair still true to its design principles and a trooper in terms of robustness. Admitted, there are many alternatives today, HÅG continues to produce equally ergonomic chairs, and many others, like Vitra and Steelcase with its LeanChair, have joined the bio bandwagon.
But let’s be honest: no other chair can beat the unique feeling of owning a piece of modern dot com history. So, unlock the backrest, swing back and enjoy an issue of Fast Company.
Among the numerous awards given to the design, the chair gained a place in the New York Museum of Modern Art‘s permanent collection, Attendees’ Choice Award from the National Ergonomics Conference and Exposition and among many more “Designs of the Decade” Gold Winner in “Office Furniture” from the Industrial Designers Society of America & Business Week magazine.
If you enjoyed this post, why don’t you buy an Aeron now and donate a few bucks this way. Of course, if you don’t already own one…