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Up to 2.5 lbs. of ocean-bound plastic can be found in the updated chair. © Herman Miller, Inc.
Bill Stumpf and Don Chadwick working on the Equa prototype, c. 1983.

As part of its “Why Magazine”, the American furniture producer Herman Miller explores exciting and relevant topics linked to design, providing knowledgeable introductions to famous and less well-known projects from design history, reconstructing how legendary designs came to be created, pointing out films and conducting illuminating interviews with designers. A new article and interview looks at longevity and the Aeron Chair by Don Chadwick. The Aeron Chair virtually revolutionised the office chair, with its open display of kinematics and ergonomics, as well as the flexible material employed for the seat and backrest, which soon came to be used by all manufacturers.

“To understand designer Don Chadwick’s point of view,” begins the text by Kelsey Keith, “consider the landscape. Specifically, the chaparral canyon where he’s made his home since 1965, and more broadly, post-war Los Angeles.” Chadwick was always open to experiments and curious about materials. He was interested in mechanics even as a child and this was reinforced by professors from the local aeronautics industry during his studies at UCLA. Innovations derived from wartime technology were incorporated into Chadwick’s thinking, as well as issues that were high on the agenda at Herman Miller: ergonomics (a study first applied to military pilots), fibreglass (from the aerospace industry) and moulded plywood (made famous by Charles and Ray Eames in their leg splints). Bob Blaich, former vice president of design at Herman Miller, brought Chadwick into the company in the early 1970s for his “deep interest in new materials and processes”.

Bill Stumpf sketches demonstrating possible suspension and textile covering with attachment techniques, c. 1992.

Twenty years later, in 1994, Chadwick and his colleague Bill Stumpf unveiled a seating archetype that would break all the rules for what an office chair should look like. This chair was suitable for a wide range of tasks and all manner of body sizes, and was also environmentally friendly. A chair that was comfortable yet also innovative in its materials and ergonomics – without needing any of the usual foam cushions or fabric or leather covers. In the interview, Don Chadwick talks about the design process behind the Aeron Chair, the distribution of roles between him and Bill Stumpf, and about materials and improvements in sustainability.

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