The Aeron chair was introduced by Herman Miller in 1994, the design of the team of Don Chadwick and Bill Stumpf who had previously designed the Equa chair for them. The Aeron was and has been a tremendous success, both providing an outstanding task chair, and a disruptive market force that completely changed the offerings of task chairs across the office furniture industry.
It did this by simply being exceedingly good at its job. Its appearance at the time of its introduction was completely alien, an odd transparent frame in a field of two-pad chairs, many resisted it on its appearance alone. Yet I've seen many people retire their apprehension after a week spent in a sample chair. Once one Aeron chair infiltrated the office it spread to the other executives like a virus. But there were good reasons for its success and we'll review some of its distinguishing characteristics.
• The appearance of the chair is immediately technical, or functional. There is little in the way of a nod to traditional chair forms, yet it has an organic feel that fights off any impression of the chair as simply a piece of equipment.
• The first thing you would notice about this chair is its transparency. Instead of an upholstered pad this chair has a transparent mesh. Closer examination reveals that the mesh, while taut, is resilient and stretchy. The frame supporting the mesh seems almost organic, like the bones of some strange sea creature. It looks contrary to our assumptions about comfort. No thick pads, no soft fabric, a hard frame and dark appearance. But the just the opposite is true. The mesh is soft and accommodating, like a hammock it does not create pressure or pinch points where you contact it. The mesh breathes more than any seat pad. It allows air to circulate to your body, so there is no build up of heat. It is deceptively comfortable.
• The chairs tilt mechanism uses a unique pantograph mechanism which creates a knee-centric tilt geometry while keeping the mechanism close to the vertical lift cylinder. This mechanism also controls the relationship between the back and seat. The result is a tremendously comfortable tilt action, by which the chair can instantly transform from a vertical task posture, to a generous recline. The ability to serve up this kind of variation contributes to the comfort of the chair over a long seating period when the periodic change of position serves much as a break to stand and stretch. Remember its all about productivity, and not forcing you to the water cooler for a stretch contributes to that.
• The arm pads in the case of the Aeron are mounted to the seat back, which is contrary to the usual mount of pads on posts attached to the seat. But with a little thought this is completely obvious as the shoulders and hence the arms move with the seat back and of course it makes sense for the arm pads to follow the seat back, and not the seat pad.
• The Aeron also offers a unique forward tilt task posture, which transfers you to a position where the seat tilts slightly forward, your legs fold below the seat, your back becomes vertical and off the seat back. This is similar to the Balans chair posture where by all your weight on your spine is in a natural vertical orientation. You may actually often sit this way when doing task work. If your chair does not explicitly support this you may slide to the front of your seat pad, your back away from the back pad with your knees folded to put your feet below your hips.
• There are several other compelling options offered on the chair. There are a range of back pads for lumbar support. The chair can be had with a two stage lift cylinder which extends the vertical range of the chair. Its also available in stool heights and with reduced features for conference and meeting use. It was also way ahead of its time being designed with consideration of its disassembly and recycle.
The chair has inspired a range of imitators, but more over has forced the rest of the industry to rise to the occasion to compete with the Aeron. We'll look at some of these in coming posts.
Aeron chair at Herman Miller site (includes a brief history)