Bill Stumpf once said, “I know this sounds terribly self serving, but I design for myself. Who else am I going to know better than me?”
The outcome of Stumpf’s self-described “selfishness”? Empathic designs that can help everyone feel better as they work.
Stumpf and design partner Jeff Weber turned their own problems with the lack of physical harmony between themselves and their computers into a solution that benefits people who sit all day at a computer. The resulting designs—the Embody Chair and the Envelop Desk—work together to support the wrists, back, and eyes as the sitter moves through a range of postures. This concept, which we call concordance, helps people stay healthy and aligned as they work.
“Good design is a blend of art and science,” explains designer Jeff Weber. “Using that combination to positively impact how people live and work is really exciting.”
As a kid, Weber was fascinated by the way things worked. “I was always tinkering—either building things or tearing them apart,” he says. Following a suggestion from his grandfather, Weber became interested in industrial design. “I never really thought about doing anything else,” he recalls.
As co-creator of the Embody Chair, alongside Bill Stumpf, Weber worked closely with optometrists, neurologists, and other medical specialists to learn how to “support the body in a healthful way and enable motion.” The resulting design is pleasing to the eye and has been shown to lower the sitter’s heart rate and reduce stress—good for both mind and body.
For Weber, the hard work pays off when he sees someone sitting in a chair and appreciating it. “That’s the most satisfying part.”
Good design solves a problem. But how does a designer know which problem to solve? For Jeff Weber, a personal experience related to a foot injury made it clear there was a problem with standard-issue crutches.
After just two days of hobbling around, Weber was suffering from “an all-out assault” on his body. Sore armpits, irritated skin, and numb hands, stemming from nerve compression and restricting blood flow, were impeding his recovery. Clearly a problem to be solved.
Familiar with ergonomics, Weber set out to design a crutch with mobility in mind. Looking to reduce secondary injuries, conserve physical energy, and improve the overall recovery experience, the final design of Mobilegs looks more like a distant cousin of the Aeron chair than a traditional crutch. (Weber worked alongside Aeron designer Bill Stumpf and co-designed the Embody work chair.)
One of the most striking differences is the under-arm saddle. A pliable membrane sling provides suspended support, not unlike the suspension seat of Aeron, and articulates on two pivot points to keep the saddle in constant contact with the underarm. The single-component structure of the shaft “facilitates a better hip-to-hand clearance,” explains Weber, and “allows the walker to move through doorways and narrow passages more easily.”
Had designer Jeff Weber never hurt his foot, the plight of crutch users around the world may have gone unnoticed.
Barry Sonnenfeld, director and Digital Man blogger, sits astride a wheeled saddle to scurry around film sets. Forget the clichéd canvas director’s chair, he cherishes his makeshift saddle-on-wheels, a creation of the Men in Black 2 crew that’s since been modified with “drawers for scripts, water, and prescription medication” for his sciatica.
Where he’s all about moving on the set, Billy Wilder, a director from an earlier generation who did films such as Sunset Boulevard and Some Like It Hot, opted for catnaps on set. In 1955, while filming The Spirit of St. Louis, he started taking naps on a narrow plank held up by sawhorses. Wilder later told his friends Charles and Ray Eames he needed something similar—but a bit more comfortable—for his office.
They came up with a slender, armless chaise with a built-in wakeup call. It required Wilder to lie on his back with his arms folded over his chest. Once he dozed off, his arms relaxed, dropped to his side, and gently awakened him. We began making the chaise in 1968, and it’s been in the line ever since.
We’ve added other pieces in the ensuing years. And Sonnenfeld puts three of them through their paces in his search for the right furniture for working in the editing room: the Embody and Aeron chairs and the Envelop desk. Get his read on them, and then check them out for yourself.
Photo: Barry Sonnenfeld is an Emmy-winning television director and the director of Get Shorty and the upcoming Men in Black 3.
There’s an attitude at Herman Miller that’s been around for a long time: treating materials as something integral to the design process. Think of Charles and Ray Eames and their work with molding plywood for the origin. In this second in a series on materials at Herman Miller, Susan Lyons gives a recent example: the Embody chair.
Whatever the example, the point is the same: to achieve what Lyons calls “beautiful practicality.” “When we talk about material utility,” she says, “what we really mean is that we use materials to solve problems.” It’s a symbiotic relationship, with sometimes the material driving the form and other times the form driving the material.
Many of us have lived this story: a parent or other loved ones who want nothing more than to stay in their own home as they age. The issue is gaining attention because the first 70 million Baby Boomers hit 65 years old in 2011. Their home-related needs will have a significant impact on home and product design.
That impact is explored in an exhibition called “Smart House, Livable Community, Your Future” at the University of Minnesota’s Goldstein Museum of Design in St. Paul. It will be on display until May 22, 2011. The exhibition explores the housing trend of “aging in place,” which allows people to stay in their home by using products with adaptive technologies and by making simple adjustments to their living environment.
The 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) concluded on January 10 after four days of new product displays, conference sessions, and celebrity appearances. Over 2,500 technology companies gathered in Las Vegas, contributing to the record number of new exhibits at this year’s show. Even amidst all of the excitement among technology products, Herman Miller’s Envelop desk created quite a buzz.
Envelop, a desk that moves with the user as he or she reclines, was featured with the Embody chair. Envelop was well received by designers and users alike, drawing considerable media attention. Since its appearance at CES, Envelop has received excited reviews from multiple media sources, including the popular blogs Gizmodo, Uncrate, and PhotoInduced, for its ergonomic benefits and ability to comfortably cater to the user.
Envelop’s clever design ultimately has the user in mind. At CES 2010, they noticed.
I love my chair. You can have my chair when you pry it from beneath my cold, dead…never mind. You get the idea. Those are passionate statements to make about an object as ordinary as a chair, but there is nothing ordinary about this chair. It’s an Embody chair from Herman Miller and yeah, the chair is that good.
The Embody chair and I have a history that goes back to its prototype days, when I was one of the first test “sitters.” As a 3D visualization designer, I spend all my working hours in front of an array of computers, always sitting yet constantly moving. In other words, I was a great candidate to test a chair designed to create harmony between people and computers.
Bill Stumpf, designer of the Equa (with Don Chadwick), Aeron (with Don Chadwick) and Embody (with Jeff Weber) chairs, Ethospace (with Jack Kelley), and corporate friend to Herman Miller for over 30 years, would be happy with the sculpture recently installed in his honor at Herman Miller’s Design Yard facility. Read more