Herman Miller's Next Innovation Is in Clinics and Hospitals. How about the Aeron Wheelchair?

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by: Idris Mootee

"Renji Murata PSE CDB Chair" was created by the famous illustrator, artist and designer, Renji Murata. Renji "Range" Murata is a well-known Japanese artist known for his unique style combining Art Deco and Japanese anime elements. He is best known for his conceptual design work on anime series Last Exile and Blue Submarine No. 6. This a great chair for reception area, curious to see if peole would seat on it.

Talking about chairs, I am a big fan of Herman Miller, not only about their chairs but also their corporate culture and management capability. Now they are back at the task to design a chair that will fit everyone, whether short, tall, fat, skinny.  Given this seemingly impossible task, their engineers came back with the Embody chair.

The Embody’s colorful fabric seat hides a system of 94 plastic coils. Each compresses independently, allowing pointy bones or bulky wallets to sink in without causing nearby areas to sag. The designers also tuned the springiness of each coil based on its location. The coils under your thighs and the soft backs of your knees give easily so they don’t chafe; those under the bones in your rear, which bear most of your weight, are the stiffest. Plastic caps on top of the coils tilt in any direction to hug instead of poke your curves. Too bad I just ordered Mirra for our additional office space downstairs. I still like the Mirra as it was the first Herman Miller non-textile product to meet DFE (Design for the Environment) protocol in the industry.

Herman Miller is no question one of the most innovative companies. Herman Miller‘s CEO Brian Walker talks about tapping the creative network for insights and breakthrough ideas. There are a lot of lessons that others can borrow:

On working with "outside designers"
-The driver for us is our commitment to new ideas and solutions. This external network ensures that we are always taking a fresh look at problems faced by our customers without subjecting it to our own filters. If you have only an internal design staff, even an enormously talented one, you are inherently limited by their existing worldview and experiences. Our ability to tap into a broader outside network lets us revisit and reinvent our own filters on a regular basis and get a fresh perspective on existing or emerging problems. This approach has its challenges, but it often leads to the best ideas and breakthroughs. Our creative network is at the core of Herman Miller’s DNA.

On “sharing of insights” – The central thing that we’ve learned is a willingness to follow and give ourselves over to these designers-not lose ourselves, but be open to following them to places that we may question in the beginning. We give our creative network an outline of a perceived problem and let them share their insights as to whether we’re on the right path and then enable them to bring their own gifts to the search for a solution. We follow them in their journey without judging too quickly. One of the hardest things to do is not to judge too quickly, based on the first physical appearance of something. Instead, we try to understand the essence of what they’re describing in physical form, written form or sketches.

On "global scenario planning" 
– Every few years, we do global-scale scenario planning, where we look out a number of years and create multiple visions of how we think the world may change. We ask ourselves, if the world did evolve along one of those paths, how would that affect the way people work, live, and feel? These scenarios give us vectors on which to explore new potential problems and new solutions. Solving problems is where our design work begins. We rarely start off saying, ‘We just want a chair in this price point.’ More often, wesay, ‘Here’s a problem area that we see for folks. How do we solve it?’ Around here we often quote George Nelson, our lead designer in the ’40s and ’50s, who used to say, ‘Design is a response to social change.’

On "defining business boundaries" – Herman Miller has had several periods of revival or renewal where we have changed our focus. We don’t define ourselves as an office furniture company or even a furniture company. Our boundary is around people and human performance. It’s around habitat and wherever we can affect the performance of human beings in their habitats. Problem-solving design is at the core of what Herman Miller is, and that can be applied to a broader field and evolve over time. Clearly some habitats have not been primary to us in the recent past, but are logical and natural steps. We have historical grounding in the home, so we can play off of that. Educational institutions have a lot of connectivity and, in many ways, have needs that are similar to the office and the home. And we’ve had interest in the healing area for many years. Those became the jumping-off point for us.

So what’s next for Herman Miller? The Aeron’s ergonomics have now inspired the Nala, which has an easy-to-adjust seat designed, in theory, to help people recovering from surgery. Herman Miller’s first patient-oriented product for the clinical market, the Nala will go on sale to hospitals in the fall for a list price of $1,800—pretty costly for patient chairs. Even so, expect Herman Miller to make inroads into clinics and hospitals soon.

Original Post: http://mootee.typepad.com/innovation_playground/2008/10/herman-millers-next-innovation-is-in-clinics-and-hospitals-how-about-the-aeron-wheelchair.html