• 10.07.10

Herman Miller Aims at Office Depot, With $399 Task Chair by Yves Behar

Inspired by the Golden Gate Bridge, the design sports a breakthrough suspension system.

Herman Miller Aims at Office Depot, With $399 Task Chair by Yves Behar

Herman Miller, the multi-billion-dollar high-end furniture giant famous for its $800 Aeron chairs, is stepping into a brand new market: the affordable one. The new Sayl chair is available for the low, low price of $399.


That’s relatively close to the price of a chair at Staples — and you won’t find anything with such notable design credentials near that price point in the task-chair market.

According to Sayl designer Yves Behar, creating a chair with fancy pants looks and ergonomics, while keeping costs at a bare minimum, was one of the biggest challenges of his career. “I practiced for more than a decade and waited to tackle the work chair,” says Behar. “And it is only after turning 40 that I feel ready for such an epic design challenge.”

What’s so hard about building a chair? Behar’s sprawling team started by trying to eliminate as many materials as possible from the construction, in a process he dubbed “eco-dematerialization.” The idea being that the fewer parts and less material, the lower the cost would be (and the lighter the carbon footprint as well).

The chair’s biggest breakthrough was inspired by the Golden Gate bridge, and its suspension system. The back of the Sayl has no large supports; indeed, it doesn’t even have a plastic frame on the outside edge. Instead, the back is simply made of a single urethane sheet, drawn tight from the seat pan to the top of a Y-shaped frame. The back thus has no hard edges, and conforms to your shape. The urethane sheet itself has varying densities all along its length — so that you get a softer feel around the shoulders and edges, but stiffer support around the spine.


[An early mock-up of the suspension system, one of 70 prototypes that were made]

To further boost the chair’s green bona fides, it’s manufactured on three continents to cut shipping costs; packaged in a half-sized box, is undergoing Cradle-to-Cradle certification, and comes with a 12-year warranty.

Behar waxes almost poetic about the work: “There is an amusing parallel between the Sayl’s physical lack of frame around its suspension back, and my belief that we humans are increasingly benefiting from “unframed” expressions of our potential, taking on bigger challenges and to going beyond work or social expectations.” And you can sit on it.

[A detail of the suspension system]


[Behar at work, selecting materials]

[The full line of color choices]

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.