Although I never had the pleasure of meeting designer William Stumpf, who passed away shortly before winning the 2006 National Design Award for Product Design, I feel that he knew me. At work I sit in an Aeron chair, one of the most comfortable task chairs I have ever used and, arguably, Mr. Stumpf’s best-known design. The Aeron chair, designed by William Stumpf and Donald Chadwick, was introduced by the manufacturer Herman Miller, Inc. in 1994, and is still in production. It grew out of earlier ergonomic chair designs: Stumpf’s Ergon chair (1976), and Chadwick’s Equa chair (1984).

The Aeron presented a radical departure from earlier executive chairs, which had traditionally been massive forms upholstered with thick cushions, often covered in leather. Although large in size, the Aeron appears light; it is a curvilinear contoured form on casters with synthetic mesh material suspended in the frame rather than dense foam cushions. One’s body seems to float on the material, staying cool as air flows through the mesh. The body’s weight is distributed evenly. The designers believed that a chair should fit—not just accommodate—various body types, so the Aeron chair adjusts simply and naturally to support any person performing any task. The chair frame, produced in small, medium, and large sizes, has adjustment controls for height, tilt, back, and arm support, all of which are located within easy reach. The designers also thought a chair should be environmentally friendly: it should require minimal natural resources, utilize recycled or recyclable materials, be durable, and be easily repaired.

Perhaps this quote by the 2006 National Design Awards juror, graphic designer and educator, Michael Bierut, sums up the design: “Mr. Stumpf and Mr. Chadwick discovered that comfort could be rendered in a delicate and precise and beautifully engineered way that had nothing to do with creating a throne, but with creating a perfectly calibrated machine for sitting.”

 

National Design Week is October 13-21.

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