Sayl Chairs: For Those Who Seek Life Unframed

October 25, 2010

Herman Miller, Inc., Introduces an Attainable New Seating Family Designed in Collaboration with Yves Béhar and fuseproject

"It's human nature to seek life unframed," says Yves Béhar, designer of the new Herman Miller Sayl chair line. "People want to go beyond expectations. And they want that same unframed spirit in the objects they use and how they experience them."

That conviction guided him and the team at Herman Miller as they "grew" what became the family of Sayl chairs. It includes task and guest models, offered in the signature innovation of the 3D Intelligent suspension back, as well as upholstered.

Arriving at Sayl was a process of research and iteration. Béhar describes it as "draw, build, break, and repeat until you arrive at something unique" That process is familiar to Béhar, founder of fuseproject, a San Francisco-based brand and product design firm.

Béhar, a regular collaborator with Herman Miller, is known for tackling big challenges and pushing the boundaries of technology and design in a cost efficient way. He calls this approach attainability and human-centered design. "If a project isn't ethical," notes Béhar, "it can't be beautiful, and if it isn't beautiful it shouldn't be at all."

With Sayl, Béhar arrived at a destination that is both expected and surprising, according to Jack Schreur, VP of Seating for Herman Miller: "We think we have a responsibility to push the limits. To try and live out the Eames quote, 'the best, to the most, for the least'. With Sayl you get everything you have come to expect from Herman Miller—healthy ergonomics, material and performance advances, our comprehensive 12-year warranty, and always, environmental responsibility. What's surprising is how attainable we've made Sayl. The work chair model, for example, will be offered to our retail customers starting at just $399."

Surprise and delight are driving principles behind all of Béhar's work. This is evident in his designs, from the One Laptop Per Child to the Mission One—the world's fastest electric-powered motorcycle—to the award-winning Leaf, Ardea, and Twist lights for Herman Miller.

Suspension Bridge as Inspiration
Béhar began the search for Sayl with this question: Can the same principles that are used to suspend a bridge over water be applied to a chair? His goal was to enable an unprecedented sense of freedom for the sitter in a design that delivers the most comfort with the least materials.

At the outset, a radical decision was made to approach the design process by considering what could be taken away from the design to allow it to do more. This eco-dematerialised approach sought to remove anything that wasn't necessary while still delivering a high level of performance and aesthetics.

"We watched how people sit and work," says Béhar. "We did over a thousand sketches. We built over 70 prototypes. We reexamined everything from back construction to the smallest knobs."

Ultimately the diligence paid off. By rethinking every part of the chair, Béhar and the Herman Miller development team created a better, smarter chair that sets a new reference point in its class for performance, quality, and appearance.

3D Intelligent Suspension Back
A critical element of achieving this new reference point is the first full-suspension back that is literally frameless. It has no hard edges. Freed from a rigid exterior frame, the back suspends and supports much like the principles of a suspension bridge.

Different degrees of tension are infused directly into the injection-molded back's proprietary material, providing sacral, lumbar and spine support combined with "hinge points" located at strategic points, give support that's similar to Herman Miller's PostureFit innovation for the Aeron chair. This 3-dimensional intelligence lets the chair adapt to a person's shape and movements, giving proper support all the while. According to Bill Dowell, Herman Miller Corporate Ergonomist, "The Sayl back supports the transition area from the thorax to the lumbar and again between the thorax and the sacrum. The area in between is allowed to flex and adapt to each individual?s spine. The 3-D Intelligent suspension back, and a similar mechanism under the upholstery in the foam back chair, ensure the support is there."

Two inventions make this support possible in the chair's suspension back. The ArcSpan seat base anchors the suspension material at the underside of the chair's back. It does so independent of the base and the chair's tilt mechanism. At the top of the chair, the Y-Tower structure suspends the back material.

The arc of the chair's suspension back also gives Sayl its unique, organic shape. An elegant form that easily slips into any space and complements the objects around it, Sayl offers choices for models, features, and colors that let people express their personal tastes. A large number of options for customization enable the versatile, coordinated Sayl family to meet the needs of residential and large-scale commercial spaces alike.

Design and Development Partnership
Sayl seating is designed "from the ground up," says Jack Schreur. "Everything we wanted to do—make a chair that's right for global markets, get the right ergonomics in there, and keep the price remarkably reasonable—all of that was possible because we worked with Yves to be inventive all the way through the process."

At Herman Miller, that process of design and development isn't a one-off occurrence. "We work with creative partners outside our organization, with the best independent designers of their generation, and on a long-term basis," says Schreur. "It takes people who sit outside what we do every day to provoke us toward something truly new."

Don Goeman, EVP of Research, Design, and Development, describes these people as "covenant partners" who guide design at Herman Miller. It's been the case for decades. "What started out with Gilbert Rohde and then George Nelson and Charles Eames and Alexander Girard," he says, "gave way to Bob Propst, Jack Kelley, Bill Stumpf, and Don Chadwick. Now we have a new crew, Yves among them. They know in their bones who Herman Miller is. They've got a vibe about our history and our view of design."

Long-lasting relationships with individual designers—all different, each with a distinct point of view&mdashis built on dialogue. This was certainly the case with the Sayl chair. Ongoing conversation with the internal development team at Herman Miller helped Béhar in what became literally the process of elimination. By working together, they were able to take away any unnecessary material from Sayl while ensuring that the chair delivers the right support at a modest price.

The process of elimination had another beneficial effect: Reducing the impact on the earth. Béhar's eco-dematerialised approach uses fewer materials in inventive ways. Producing the chairs on three continents decreases the distance between factory and buyer. Chairs ship ready to assemble using no tools in half-size boxes, which cuts down on waste.

The chair design also follows the comprehensive Herman Miller Design for the Environment protocol, based on principles of material chemistry, design for disassembly, and recyclability. This ensures that the minimal materials used in making Sayl are sustainable. As a result, the Sayl chair is targeted to achieve MBDC Cradle to Cradle Silver, BIFMA level 2, and GREENGUARD certifications.

About Herman Miller, Inc.
Herman Miller works for a better world around you by designing and developing award-winning furniture and related services and technologies that improve your environment, whether it's an office, hospital, school, home, an entire building, or the world at large. In fiscal 2010, Herman Miller generated $1.3 billion in revenue. More than 100 years of innovative business practices and a commitment to social responsibility have established Herman Miller as a recognized global company. In 2010, Herman Miller was again cited by FORTUNE as both the "Most Admired" in its industry and among the "100 Best Companies to Work For" in America, while FastCompany named Herman Miller among its 2010 "Innovation All-Stars." Herman Miller trades on the NASDAQ Global Select Market under the symbol MLHR.