Designer Yves Bèhar isn’t kidding when he says, “Every molecule in the SAYL chair had to work harder.” To achieve Bèhar’s vision of an eco-dematerialized design, every piece of SAYL was examined, sculpted, and hollowed out to use the least amount of material without compromising strength. Was it successful? Well, SAYL survived having a 300-pound sack dropped on it—multiple times.
The Herman Miller Test Lab, where SAYL was put through its paces, is infamous among our designers. Some have even dubbed it “the place where designs go to die.” Weights, pulleys, and pistons test every design to the brink of failure—and beyond—to ensure they meet the requirements of our standard 12-year warranty.
Engineers weren’t sure SAYL would make it. It did, thanks to some hard work making every piece work harder.
A good surfer makes the idea of riding a wave seem effortless; but as those of us who have tried (and fallen) quickly learn, it’s not easy. “There’s the water; there’s the ocean; and there are split-second decisions—it’s different every single time,” observes avid surfer, Yves Béhar. “It’s not all that different from designing.”
Béhar is known for design, and he makes it look effortless. Whether it’s the frameless back of the SAYL Chair or the biomorphic curves of the Ardea Light, Béhar and his fuseproject team bring years of practice and experience to every product they design.
For Yves Béhar it’s simple: “Let’s try it. Let’s see if it crashes down on top of me. Let’s see if I can actually get through it.” Is he talking about design or surf? In his mind, there’s no difference.
Yves Behar, and his passion for surfing, kicks off Why Design, a new video series featuring designers from Herman Miller’s creative network. There are eight videos in total, with a new one debuting every Monday. Stay Tuned; next week is designer Don Chadwick.
It’s a 50-cent word, but “dematerialization” just might save us millions, to say nothing of our planet. The basic idea is getting down to only what is essential, or, as Charles Eames said in the 1940s, “the best for the most for the least.”
Doing more with less certainly predates Mr. Eames, but dematerialization has had a resurgence lately, largely as a response to conspicuous consumption (McMansion anyone?), a throwaway culture (it’s cheaper to buy a new one than fix the old one), and planned obsolescence (as Annie Leonard says in The Story of Stuff, only 1% of things are still in use 6 months after purchase).
It’s no wonder those concerned about sustainability see promise in dematerialization, an idea whose logic train goes from using less material to eliminating material altogether while still delivering the same level of functionality. An example of this promise they often point to is music delivery. From LPs to cassettes to CDs to digital downloads, the progression eliminated lots of plastic waste and the resources and energy needed to make it. (The sustainability costs of using the Internet to download the music will be left to another discussion.) Read more
From stone-tipped axes to powerful 3D computer modeling programs, technology has always allowed design to push the boundaries of possibility.
The Atlantic recently included the Herman Miller SAYL chair, designed by Yves Béhar, on their list of designs using new technology to challenge the conventional understanding of how good design looks, feels, and functions. We are in good company. Visit the Atlantic to see the complete list.
It looks beautiful when it’s from the hands of designer Yves Béhar. Who, with Herman Miller, set out to dispel the misconception that affordable meant offhand design and questionable quality.
Looking for affordability in innovation, Béhar and Herman Miller engineers spent months developing a unique suspension material for the backrest of SAYL. The resulting breakthrough molded ergonomic support directly into the back of the chair, which was then stretched into place. It also replaced foam and fabric, typical to other low-cost task chairs, with a single recyclable material. Less material and fewer manufacturing steps, all saved money. A point not lost on Spencer Bailey of Bloomberg Businessweek, who recently described SAYL as “An executive-quality perch that doesn’t require an executive’s bonus to buy.”
One Laptop Per Child is a nonprofit that aims to “provide each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop.” The focus is on children in developing countries, and so far almost two-and-a-half million of them have one.
Yves Béhar and his team at fuseproject designed the laptop, and now they’ve done a tablet version. Just like the laptop, the tablet is simple and functional, with tactile rubber grips, flexible cover, and solar charging battery.
Pro bono design work isn’t new to Béhar and fuseproject. Another of their efforts is “See Better to Learn Better,” a free eyeglasses program in partnership with the Mexican government and Augen Optics.
Good works and good work are both part of Béhar’s vision. On the latter score, 2011 brought recognition for the UP wristband, which uses tiny motion sensors to monitor the wearer’s sleep, diet, and exercise. It made Alice Rawsthorn’s design honors list for 2011. But then, we’re partial to Béhar’s work, especially the award-winning SAYL chair he did with us.
Recently, PBS Arts, in an episode of its Off Book, took a look at product design and what it means to three practitioners. For Yves Béhar of fuseproject, the San Francisco-based design and branding company and designer of our SAYL chair, “what design does, at its best, is to accelerate the adoption of new ideas.” Harvey Moscot, a fourth generation owner of a classic eyewear brand, and Peter Schmitt, an MIT researcher looking to revolutionize the product experience through 3D printing, offer two other perspectives.
It’s certainly the case that the role of design is much in the spotlight lately. It can make the difference, some say. It can change the world, claim others. For us, design is something we get—according to FastCompany. It’s how we solve problems. It’s not just an approach to products, though, it has also become, as George Nelson said in 1948, “a central part of our business.”
Attendees of the recent Cusp Conference in Chicago were encouraged to ask questions and pick the brain of SAYL designer Yves Béhar. Speaking at the conference, Behar talked about problem solving and design, how he approached the design of SAYL, and the layers of its final design solution.
I’m obsessed with the simplicity and the elegance of the design, but I’m curious to know how the design of the SAYL chair has an effect on its ergonomics, and also on the environment. When conceiving the design of the SAYL chair, and then actualizing it, how did you take into account the question of sustainable design, sustainable material, and use less but get more?
The very foundation of the SAYL chair was to answer the question, “How can I do more with less?” We wanted to deliver ergonomic excellence and do it at a lower cost and carbon footprint. The inspiration from bridges was important as I realized how minimal a tower and tension cable system is relative to the size and function of a bridge.
A lot of experiments took place to see if a similar tower element and a smart material in suspension would deliver back support and allow for upper body movement. The aesthetic of the chair came after we proved to ourselves that we could clearly build a lighter and more efficient design.
You spoke at length at the cusp conference about the source for the forms which comprise the Sayl Chair. You also addressed the economy of materials used to create each part…could you now please elaborate on how you look at the joining together of each of the parts to create the whole?
Too often, task chairs look assembled from a kit of parts, and often they are. There is a dance between SAYL’s functional engineering work and its cosmetic shaping, and there is a relentless desire to have parts run fluidly into each other. For example, I was particularly interested in making the arms look as if they were stretched and growing seamlessly out of their height adjustment posts.
There is also the idea of separate parts drawn as if conceived as one. The SAYL’s frameless back is shaped to both express the tension distribution from the top attachments and visually follow the form and exposed ribbing of the Y-Tower. As a result, the two parts are visually layered as if one.
If the eyes are windows to our soul, then notebooks are like browsing the pages of our minds. Not intended for public viewing, they reflect our thought process—ideas captured as they were created, rough and unpolished.
SAYL received the International Design Award for “Product Design of the Year” at a ceremony Sunday evening. That’s a pretty cool award to get. Getting there took a good designer challenging us just as much as we challenged him.
SAYL designer Yves Behar did just that. He asked, “How do we create a task chair that is attainable? Can we make a comfortable, supportive, healthy, and beautiful chair at a lower price point?” Yves challenged us to develop a technology not seen in low-cost seating.
Herman Miller likes designers that ask tough questions and look for creative answers. We also like to work collaboratively to help achieve their vision. Design and engineering should be at the table from the beginning. We feel a close relationship is a key to innovation.
SAYL’s 3D Intelligent back is a perfect example. Herman Miller worked in tandem with Yves on iteration after iteration, each requiring a new mold, in order to achieve proper supportive flex. It took months of trial and error. Traditional methods would have been easy, and less expensive to develop, but we knew Yves was on to something.
Innovation is not an easy or straight forward road to travel, but we’re okay with that. And an award or two helps, too.