Remastering a Classic: Herman Miller Launches New Aeron

Herman Miller announced today that the iconic Aeron chair, which for more than two decades has been the symbol of start-ups and creatives, the dot-com culture and the corporate excesses of the early 2000s, is getting a major top-to-bottom overhaul that keeps the classic shape, but updates just about everything else on it.

It is a casters-to-mesh revamp that is meant to keep the most popular chair ever designed the go-to throne of a new generation of workers. Perhaps the only office product to make the leap from office tool to pop culture icon, the Aeron keeps its distinctive silhouette, but is rebuilt from the ground up.

 Bill Stumpf and Don Chadwick working on the original Aeron Chair 

Bill Stumpf and Don Chadwick working on the original Aeron Chair 

With the input of original co-designer Don Chadwick, and a team of scientists, engineers, materials specialists and researchers who worked on the project for over two years, Herman Miller has enhanced the chair by combining the latest insights since Aeron was first launched in 1994. Major advancements in anthropometrics, ergonomics, materials, manufacturing and technology are built into the new Aeron.

At first glance, it might not look markedly different, but the company promises that the remastered Aeron features stronger and smarter materials, better adjustment capabilities, intuitive controls, a new mesh for enhanced aeration, and a more comfortable sit.

Here's what's new:

Better movement — The frame angle of the new Aeron has been adjusted 1.8 degrees forward to better support the body in the upright position and across a wider range of seating. The new Aeron has a slimmer, updated tilt mechanism, probably one of the most visually striking differences from the classic. Herman Miller claims users the new Aeron will “move with them seamlessly to offer proper ergonomic support across a larger variety of tasks.”

Improved lower back support — A few years after Aeron was originally launched, Herman Miller added PostureFit to provide back support that sustains the pelvis in its natural forward tilt. With the new Aeron, the company is adding PostureFitSL, which it promises will help rotate the pelvis forward, along with a secondary pad designed to provide comfort and support to the lumbar region of the spine. Together, the two areas on PostureFitSL are designed to help strengthen the spine to produce what Herman Miller calls “power posture.”

A totally new mesh — Called 8Z Pellicle, this new mesh creates a comfortable sit through eight varied zones of tension in the seat and back. The tightest zones provide firm support where the sitter needs it, while more slack zones conform to the sitting bones and distribute weight evenly. Herman Miller claims each of 8Z Pellicle's zones serves a specific purpose. Four tight zones engage the user and are the first point of contact with the suspension material to reinforce a healthful seated posture. Two nesting zones provide a lower amount of tension to cradle the sit bones and scapulars and reduce pressure in those areas. Two zones of stabilization accommodate the key muscle groups of the sitter at a healthy angle without letting the body sink into the chair. Together, the company says, the zones deliver the support the body needs to stay active throughout the day.

Easier to use controls — Users of the classic Aeron complained about the number of turns it took to get the recline and resistance dialed in. Depending on the user's size, it took as many as 50 turns of the tilt mechanism. The new Aeron helps users find the right tension with just a few turns of the knob. The new Aeron also includes an updated arm mechanism that allows for up and down, front to back and side to side adjustments.

Herman Miller plans to transition from the classic Aeron to the new Aeron over the next 18 to 24 months. During that time, the company will run parallel production of the classic Aeron and the new chair, said spokeswoman Kimberly Oliver. “We've designed the transition around the ability to sell the new version to the existing installed base as we secure new projects,” she said. “The development challenges encompassed not only the complex design and engineering of the product itself, but also the preparation of the manufacturing capacity to make thousands of chairs per week, on three continents, to meet the anticipated demand of customers around the world.”

There is, of course, danger that fans of the classic will treat it with the same distain as Coca-Cola customers did New Coke. It's not easy to update an iconic seat in a way that will make everyone happy. According to Chadwick, it's still Aeron, but it's a whole new chair.

While some advancements are more visible, there is literally not a single component that was left untouched. “With great intent, we retained the essential problem-solving of the original and the iconic visual form, while improving on every aspect of the performance,” Oliver said. “Given our focus on human-centered design, perhaps the most debated topic was the form and location of controls, specifically the forward seat angle control and the tilt limiter control. We aspired to design and place the controls so users would be more likely to locate and intuitively utilize the functions, but exactly how to deliver on that particular aspiration required many iterations to achieve.”

Oliver said the response of customers and designers who have previewed the new chair has show the differences will not “underwhelm” those looking for a totally different seating experience. She said the company has gotten a lot of “wows” in side-by-side tests.

While the new chair intentionally retains the classic silhouette, she said, the experience is markedly different. “The next generation zoned support of the 8Z Pellicle, the more balanced ride of the updated kinematics, and the new Posturefit SL work in concert with other enhancements such as more intuitive controls to again raise the bar for seated comfort. We look forward to having more clients and designers sit in the new Aeron and feel the difference in person,” Oliver said.

It was important for the company to keep the iconic shape of the original. The ground up rebuild was possible because of new material innovations designed to make the chair even better. And while the original Aeron initially became the darling of the tech industry, Herman Miller hopes the new version appeals to a wide variety of customers.

“Aeron is not limited to any one industry or customer demographic, from startups of all types to the 33 of the Fortune 100 that use the chair,” Oliver said. “To date, we have sold well over 7 million Aerons, in 134 countries around the world. The chair is used by corporate leaders, artists, writers, musicians, authors, athletes, and innovators of all types.”

 Laura Guido-Clark

Laura Guido-Clark

The new Aeron is missing a key part of the original design team. Bill Stumpf died in a few years ago. But Chadwick was an integral part of the remastering of the chair, Oliver said. Herman Miller asked Chadwick to reexamine the design criteria that led he and Stumpf to the classic Aeron in the context of today's work and technology. To retain the existing seat and back silhouette and incorporate a composite leaf spring tilt mechanism, he had to rescale all of the aluminum castings making up the chair's structure. Over the course of two years, Herman Miller's research and development team worked with Chadwick, Dr. Brock Walker, Laura Guido-Clark, and many engineers and materials specialists on the new Aeron.

So why mess with a classic? The workplace that Aeron launched into in 1994 is unrecognizable today. And frankly, customers were looking for more. Since its introduction, Aeron has been the world's most successful high performance task chair. As Aeron aged, sales volume stabilized over time. Oliver said the new Aeron will “extend this powerful franchise into the future and reinforce Herman Miller's worldwide leadership in workplace innovation and high performance seating, given the integration of the latest developments in ergonomics and material sciences.”

Apple customers wouldn't buy a mobile phone with 22 year old technology. As work changes, workers feel the same about their ergonomic task chairs. People require freedom and variety within their offices to support multiple types of work. “The new Aeron is a cross-performance and cross-floorplate solution equally well suited to a quick brainstorming session among colleagues as to hours of concentrated focus on a dedicated task,” Oliver said. “For individuals sitting in Aeron, cross-performance design means the chair fully accommodates the widest possible range of activities and postures people adopt while working—from intense upright focus to relaxed contemplative recline. For specifiers and organizations, cross-performance makes Aeron suitable for a wide array of workplace settings—from residential workpoints to shared workshops. Our research finds that organizations are realizing the impact of employees' health and wellness on their productivity and overall satisfaction, and the new Aeron has been designed from top to bottom to enhance performance and comfort for all users.”

The new Aeron will be a world chair, available in all markets where Herman Miller products are sold. The new chair is available to order now in North America, Latin America and Mexico, the Middle East and Africa. It will be available in the United Kingdom and Europe in January 2017 and Asia in February 2017. On a comparable feature basis, the new Aeron's price points are very similar to the classic Aeron, although Herman Miller will offer an expanded set of options to customers. MSRP will start at $720.

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