The Art Of ‘sitting’ In Herman Miller Chairs Research Paper

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Design, Furniture, Company, Chair, Workplace, Business, Sustainability, Environmental Justice

Pages: 10

Words: 2750

Published: 2020/12/18


Design essentially refers to the conceptualization and visualization of images (Nelson & Stolterman, 78). The main purpose of design is to guide the construction or realization of images. The design is the blueprint and the creation and construction of objects depend on the design (Berry, 2). Essentially, design was meant to guide creation and construction. Furthermore, design was merely based on the artist or creator’s vision. Nonetheless, design has evolved over the years. Many factors redefined design from merely a means to create or conceptualize a vision, or represent the vision of the artist or creator, to a means of addressing several issues that necessitate adjustments or alterations in design (Berry, 9). Berry argued that several factors – often economic, social or even cultural, and technological – influence design. In Herman Miller: The Purpose of Design, Berry explored the various factors that affect design in different fields (e.g. organizational design, sustainability, ergonomics, and facilities among others.
The main objective of the research study is to explore design as a practice considering various issues or factors that affect it. To narrow down the research, we will focus on Herman Miller, a furniture company that employs design principles to its advantage in terms of revenue and relevance. Herman Miller does not merely create furniture but also does so purposefully. Considering Herman Miller’s philosophy as a furniture company, the succeeding discussion focuses on the history and development of growth of the company over the decades. Our main objective in exploring Herman Miller chairs is to determine the role of thoughts, philosophy and design in the evolution of the company’s furniture over time. Furthermore, the analysis of Herman Miller chairs aims to explore why the company’s furniture, particularly its chairs, is more than an object that provides people seating. Herman Miller’s chairs are thoughtfully designed. The discussion follows the company’s history, its evolution over the years, the impact of change on Herman Miller’s designs, and the factors that contribute to change, design, and decision-making at the company.

Herman Miller: History, Evolution, and Reputation

Berry (2001) noted that Fortune named Herman Miller in 2002 as the Most Admired Furniture Company. Herman Miller won this prestigious awards fifteen times prior to 2002. The company also won the same award in 2004. Herman Miller’s awards prove the company’s reputation in the furniture industry. Since Fortune also awarded Herman Miller for years throughout the decades, sometimes for consecutive years, we may surmise that the company is one of the best in the business. According to Berry (247), a good design is simple or minimal, almost invisible, but still accomplishes its function or purpose. Henry Miller chairs illustrate this philosophy because the company produces classic and simple chairs that are functional, durable, and sustainable.

Beginnings and Collaboration

Gilbert Rohde’s collaboration with Herman Miller Furniture Company in 1930 was one of the most significant in the history of the company. Rohde was a furniture designer trying to establish his name in the industry. Rohde took his designs to Grand Rapids in Michigan. Although Rohde did not intend to sell his designs to Herman Miller but it was the only company that took interest in them. “Rohde’s arrival at Miller was both providential and prophetic, for it heralded the arrival of a new force in design, changing Miller from an obscure company to a giant commanding respecting in the international design community” (Fehrman & Fehrman, 71).
Rohde’s partnership with Herman Miller proved to be advantageous to the company because the designer influenced the latter’s culture. Herman Miller used to produce seven pieces of bedroom furniture that were highly expensive, which did not match Rohde’s belief and philosophy when it comes to furniture design. Rohde produced simplified designs for Herman Miller and promoted the use of plastic materials instead of wood. Furthermore Rohde convinced Herman Miller that the production of furniture is not merely a means to gain revenue from sales. Rohde argued that the goal of designing and creating furniture must be to improve or introduce a way of life for people that is more convenient or efficient. Rohde’s philosophy led to the creation of modular furniture (Fehrman & Fehrman, 71).
Rohde also contributed to Herman Miller’s transformation because the designer introduced new kinds of furniture. As formerly noted, Herman Miller used to sell bedroom furniture. Rohde then convinced the company to offer furniture for seating as well (Fehrman & Fehrman, 71). The designer’s best contribution to the company, however, was the sectional modular furniture. Modular furniture is flexible. One of Rohde’s designs, for instance, include furniture that may be used in the living room, dining room, and bedroom in different ways depending on the owner’s intended use.
Aside from designing furniture, Rohde was also trained in marketing. Rohde integrated his skills in the workplace by placing recommendations on how Herman Miller’s new furniture may be advertised and promoted. Rohde suggested that Herman Miller conduct training for the company’s salespeople towards the goal of equipping them with marketing and advertising skills for the promotion of furniture. Overall, Rohde not only influenced Herman Miller’s furniture designs but also the company’s marketing and advertising initiatives so that it would be able to effectively reach its target market. Rohde taught Herman Miller the importance of reaching an audience or market alongside the design of durable and cost-efficient furniture (Fehrman & Fehrman, 71).

Features of Herman Miller Furniture and Influence of Several Factors on the Design

Influence of Psychological Factors on Design
One of the most important features of Herman Miller chairs is user control. From a psychological standpoint, an individual’s ability to control, change or alter the work environment contributes to productivity (McLennan, 165). Even if control is merely a perception, it still motivates people in the workplace. As argued by McLennan, “People need to be able to have some sort of control over their environment and personal comfort” (165). Hence, considering this argument, individuals would more like work and contribute in the workplace if they gain control of their work environment. Individuals may feel in control in the workplace through objects that enable them to do so. Chairs, for instance, that allow individuals to do things while sitting down such as open windows or switch on the lights without getting up motivate people and make them productive in the workplace.
For the foregoing reasons, Herman Miller’s chairs, particularly the Aeron chair, provides individuals maximum control for individuals. Herman Miller’s chairs were created using new technologies such as “raised floor systems allowing people to have more user control of their thermal environment” and gain “maximum control over sitting posture and support on an individual basis” (McLennan, 165).
Another concept or philosophy linked to design is its relevance or significance and underlying message, which illustrate the design’s psychological background. Chairs were not merely designed for seating or for comfort. The design of chairs also connote different meanings or ideas. The design or visual features of a chair, for instance, allowed people to determine those in positions of power compared to mere subordinates in the workplace. People in the workplace that sat on expensive looking chairs lead the company. On the other hand, employees use ordinary chairs because of their position or status in the workplace. Herman Miller took this into consideration when designing chairs. The Aeron chair, for instance, closes the gap between people or groups in the organization based on their position by prioritizing comfort over style. The Aeron chair’s design is minimal and it could be used by everyone in the organization regardless of their position. For this reason, the Aeron chair symbolized a horizontal or flat organization (Cagan & Vogel, 243).

Influence of Social Factors on Herman Miller’s Design

Herman Miller makes design decisions based on its success. When people respond to one of the company’s furniture, Herman Miller its design and technology to create new products. The company innovates based on the success of previous furniture. Due to the success of the Aeron chair, for instance, Henry Miller decided to replicate its success by using the chair’s design to complete other designs. “Herman Miller’s gamble paid off, as the design responded to a series of SET Factors that created the opportunity filled by Aeron” (Cagan & Vogel, 243). Experts agree that the Aeron chair is the most successful seating ever invented and commercially sold during the 20th Century. The Aeron chair’s success may be attributed to its features that combine ergonomics with innovation, particularly in the designers’ use of materials (recyclable) and manufacturing (sustainable practices), as well as with aesthetic values. Hence, the Aeron chair is aesthetically pleasing but also sustainable, durable, and highly functional and ergonomic compared to other chairs in the market.
Throughout the years, Herman Miller evolved not only based on the needs of the market but also the company’s need to survive a competitive environment. Part of competing in the marketplace means addressing various issues that both affect the company’s operations and reputation. Sustainability is one of the issues that businesses or companies need to face. Herman Miller responded to this issue by changing its raw materials to sustainable ones. “When Herman Miller decided to extend their sustainability efforts to the materials for its products, it addressed material flows that effectively span the globe” (Girardet, 145). Aside from asking help from MBDC, Herman Miller also created Design for Environment team within the organization tasked with the responsibility of planning, assessing, and monitoring product development in the organization. The goal of which is to ensure that Herman Miller’s operations and practices follow sustainable policies and practices.
Following the company’s adoption of sustainable practices, Herman Miller created the Mirra chair, which was released in 2003. “The Mirra chair is conceived as a product of service – customers are primarily interested in acquiring functional, attractive, enjoyable seating, not the collection of materials that constitutes a chair” (Girardet, 145-146). Herman Miller used sustainable materials – recyclable nutrients – while preserving the functions and conveniences of the furniture.
Experts or professionals conduct assessments of furniture and properties. The goal or objective of conducting material assessment is to determine the properties and features of furniture and objects. Consequently, experts offer their professional take on how furniture or objects meet their intended purpose. Assessment often occurs when furniture or objects bear design that may compromise their function. In innovating or applying creativity in design, it is important that regardless of integrated new features, objects including furniture would still serve their purpose or function. Hence, when Henry Miller produced the Mirra chair, experts conducted research to examine its material. As formerly noted, Henry Miller primarily used recyclable materials to create the chair. One of the issues whenever designers use recyclable materials is the durability. For this reason, experts assessed the Mirra chair and despite being made from recyclable materials, Herman Miller’s furniture remain durable and functional (Girardet, 146). The Mirra chair’s use and importance was palpable in its functionality. People may disassemble them, which provides convenience when it comes to mobility and transfer of furniture. Furthermore, Herman Miller including other companies may recycle unused or discarded Mirra chair. The Mirra chair also passed safety standards assessment because the non-recyclable components of the material were non-toxic. The functionality of the Mirra chair led to Herman Miller receiving many awards in design and sustainability for the chair’s production.
As formerly noted, the Mirra chair was Henry Miller’s response to environment and sustainable issues. Aside from the Mirra chair, the company’s Aeron chair was also a response to social issues raised prior to its conception. The sequence of events illustrate the importance of design not only in creating images of products or objects but also in meeting needs and addressing social issues and concerns. “The Social factors (S) that Aeron responded to were based on the changing nature of work in the digital office” (Cagan & Vogel, 243). Many employees in the workplace complain about chronic stress due to their prolonged use of computers in their workstations, and the patterns of interaction at work that shifts from individual to group tasks or projects. The latter necessitated office furniture that allowed employees to shift from individual to group tasks. The result of which was Herman Miller’s invention of the collapsible chair that was easy to disassemble. When working on individual tasks, employees may use their chairs. While working with groups, they may disassemble and assemble their chairs in the group environment and easily switch back when it is time for them to fulfill their individual tasks (Cagan & Vogel, 243).
The Aeron chair also addressed an important concern – physical stress. Henry Miller sought to address this issue by creating a chair that lessened physical stress in the workplace. Henry Miller commissioned several professional studies to determine the causes of physical stress at work. Results of the research studies informed Henry Miller of the impact of chairs on the body. Since employees worked most of the time at their work stations, they would often sit in front of the computer. Prolonged seating contributed to bodily strains. For this reason, Herman Miller invented the Aeron chair to address ergonomic issues.

Influence of Economic Factors on Design

Previously, we discussed social issues that affect chair design. Aside from social issues, Herman Miller also sought to address economic issues. Existing research proves that many employees suffer physical stress in the workplace because of how they go about their work or business daily. As a result, businesses or organizations would often spend budget on their employees’ health care. “Keeping employees healthy and functioning at full capability is a major challenge in business today” (Cagan and Vogel, 243). Herman Miller also took this into consideration when creating chair designs. The company wanted to take advantage of businesses or organizations’ furniture needs as well as address social and economic problems in the workplace. The result of which was Herman Miller’s design and creation of ergonomic and affordable chairs. The company found a way to help businesses or organizations save so they would be able to prevent workplace stress and reduce their spending on employee health care (Cagan & Vogel, 243).

Influence of Technology on Design

Herman Miller’s designs are also influenced by technology and innovation. It used to be that designs were merely based on the artist or group’s vision and goals. Nonetheless, many factors contribute to design and technology is one of them. Technology offers people including Herman Miller various opportunities to innovate their goods and products. Through several technological advances, Herman Miller, for instance was able to create woven materials for the back of the seat, which characterizes the chair’s breathable surface. Using woven mesh or similar materials was not only an aesthetic decision but ergonomic as well. In this case, Herman Miller took advantage of technology to improve its design (Cagan & Vogel, 244).


The purpose behind the creation of and the adjustments done to Henry Miller’s Aeron chair illustrates the redefinition of design when it comes to putting together furniture. Furniture design has evolved from a mere creation of aesthetically pleasing objects based on the vision of the artist or the individual or company that commissioned the design. Nowadays, design must take into consideration numerous factors such as social factors, including economic and technological factors.
As formerly noted, various factors have contributed to the change in the purpose of design. Design no longer represents the artist’s vision but is also a combination of complex factors that affect the outcome of design. Herman Miller’s chair designs illustrate the impact of various factors in design. It used to be that the company merely produced traditional designs based on the usual or common needs of customers. Nonetheless, Herman Miller learned to diversify based on external factors that affect the appeal and sales of the company’s furniture. Overall, the company learned to respond to the needs of customers as well as address the various issues that affect customer or user experiences, including social, health, and economic issues. The case of Herman Miller illustrates the important role of innovation, creativity, and external factors in influencing or shaping design.

Works Cited

Berry, John. Herman Miller: The Purpose of Design. Random House Incorporated, 2009.
Cagan, Jonathan & Vogel, Craig M. Creating breakthrough products: innovation from the product planning to program approval. New York, NY: FT Press, 2002.
Fehrman, Cherie & Fehrman, Kenneth. Interior design innovators 1910-1960. Fehrman Books, 2009.
Girardet, Herbert. Surviving the Century: Facing Climate Chaos and other global challenges. New York, NY: Routledge, 2012.
McLennan, Jason F. The philosophy of sustainable design: The future of architecture. Ecotone Publishing, 2004.
Nelson, Harold G. & Stolterman, Erik. The design way: Intentional change in an unpredictable world. New York, NY: MIT Press, 2012.

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