Latest incarnation of the Aeron chair

Herman Miller’s VP Asia Pacific Kartik Shethia reveals the latest incarnation of the uber popular Aeron chair and ideas for the contemporary office

When the Don Chadwick and Bill Stumpf-designed Aeron chair burst upon the office furniture market in 1994, it was immediately embraced by the dotcom and start up community. Its futuristic design and ergonomic functions propelled the chair to become a poster child for a whole generation of entrepreneurs that went to work in black turtlenecks, jeans and high top sneakers. Fast forward 23 years into the future, and West Michigan-based furniture manufacturer Herman Miller has introduced a better, more updated Aeron—without sacrificing any of the aesthetics that made it the best selling chair in the States for years.

“Since 1994, there have been advances in materials and ergonomics,” explains Herman Miller’s VP Asia Pacific Kartik Shethia. “Although there was no change in the volume of the original Aeron’s sale, we wanted the new Aeron to reflect the way people work today. People who need to sit for longer than an hour will appreciate its comfort—making it ideal for offices, homes, airport lounges and hospitality applications. We’ve reduce the amount of material used, for a lighter chair. We’ve simplified its controls, so that adjustments are more intuitive. Its sacral and lumbar support is more effective. We were very lucky to have Don Chadwick involved in the chair’s remastering—for such an iconic chair, we wanted to have the original designer’s input. The chair looks pretty much the same; it’s the feel that has changed.”

With its 2012 acquisition of its Hong Kong-based Asian dealer POSH, Herman Miller has full control over its Ningbo seating factory, where Aerons will be made for the Asian market. POSH’s Dongguan factory will continue to concentrate on workstations and some seating. “We base our manufacturing on Toyota’s just in time system,” notes Shethia, “meaning that we manufacture according to orders. Our fastest time for assembling an Aeron has been clocked at 17 seconds, all by hand.”

Aeron may be the recognisable component of Herman Miller’s Living Office. Based on studies of how people work in 50 countries across the globe, Herman Miller introduced Living Office in 2013 and opened a working showroom in Hopewell Centre last August that demonstrates key ideas in action. “Living Office is about how not one size fits all and is heavily consultation based,” says Shethia. “It’s about helping to start a conversation: how do different companies really work? We have defined 10 different modes of working that corresponds to 10 different space settings.”

One such setting is dubbed Landing. In busy offices that see frequent use of its meeting rooms, Landing provides an informal space where people can hang outside as they are waiting for the room to clear, or wind down a discussion after having to vacate the room. “Living Office research indicated that boardrooms are the most wasted space in an office; it only sees 10 to 12 percent of use,” reveals Shethia. “In cities where real estate is expensive, perhaps the boardroom can be broken up to optimise space.”

Shethia sees cubicles and cabinets disappearing quickly, and more offices offering unassigned desks to reduce the amount of the space they need. “Employers want to keep their staff captive—whether that means an in-house coffee shop, bank or supermarket,” he says. “I see the Millennial generation as an increasing factor in the work force. They are a different breed than Gen X or Baby Boomers; they are very media savvy, environmentally aware, and more responsible. If they like doing something, they will do it with passion. It’s not about the money or pleasing their boss. They are self-motivated.”