Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Herman Miller Embody - first reactions

I think talking about "my chair" is banal and way too close to boastful, the egotism inherent therein being a personality characteristic I try particularly hard to avoid (synonyms of boastful read like a list of things I doubt many people aim for as a characterization: arrogant, conceited, pompous, pretentious, etc). With that in mind, I think "the chair" in general is fascinating, and am grateful that I have the opportunity to experience it in real life; though I was hesitant to write this up, perhaps my thoughts will lend insight to someone else.

With all that said, I have to admit, few things will sound more pretentious than what I'm about to say anyway.

First, the Embody has an arresting aesthetic, its form is absolutely captivating; it is actually inspiring to look at. I don't mean inspiring in the generic, feel-good way, I mean when I look at it there is a surge of creative, unique thoughts and a sense that the majority of objects we encounter each day are needlessly bland, expressionless, devoid of notability--altogether invisible and uninspiring. You might look at a picture of the Embody and think 'I don't get it, looks like a moderately interesting chair,' and with that I'd agree, a picture of the Embody displays a moderately interesting chair. However, as I've mentioned before, the 2 dimensional projection of a 3 dimensional image loses and incredible amount of information; the chair IRL is a whole different story.

Of course, function is a critical element of design... personally, I think form is just the whipped cream topping of any design. To be sure, a desk isn't much of a desk if you can't use it as a working surface, no matter how beautiful it is--Michelangelo's David is not a desk. On the other hand, as long as you can use it is a working surface, no matter how nauseatingly ugly it is, it'll work as a desk. Thus, it is a good thing that the Embody has function covered. But there are levels of functionality, and true to the reason I chose this particular chair, it seems to have function covered to an exceptional degree; not only can you sit in it, sitting in it is a pleasure. I haven't had the chance to sit in it for one of my 12-hour-straight coding jams yet, and that's the true test, so the full extent of its functionality remains to be seen. As it is though, it's a pleasure to sit in, it feels something like sitting on a bed. This isn't altogether surprising, as the seat has a system of suspension much like a mattress. This is a wonderful idea, and one that really surprises me for its obviousness, yet lack of presence in every other office chair I know of. The back also has an interesting suspension system, one with less give.

One thing that I love most about the Embody is that despite looking and sounding very complicated, despite a long design process with many prototypes, it is actually surprisingly simple, especially the suspension systems. The composition, strength, elasticity, and formation of the various plastics used is probably fairly involved, but in the end, the shape and intersection of all of them is very natural and efficient. Certainly this was a design objective (easier said than done), but the result is powerful; the Embody looks like an exoskeleton, an extension of the body, and what could be better than a solution provided by nature?

I don't think it's the be-all, end-all of office furniture, but then again I have a strong bias against conclusive permanence, so no chair will ever fulfill that criteria (except possibly an infinitely adjustable "indefinite chair" formed in real time by nanobots). In case you couldn't tell, so far I love it. The only shortcoming I've thought of, an insignificant and unimportant one, is that it doesn't have a headrest. There's no obvious reason why they might choose to omit such a thing, but I'm certain that it wasn't a simple fact of oversight--clearly there was no oversight involved in the design of this chair. The only reason I can think of is that they figured the inclusion of a headrest would provoke a change in the implied posture which would possibly have a detrimental impact on ergonomic functionality. Well, I'm sure there is a reason, I'd like to know what it is. My only other complaint is that it took a long 8 weeks to get here.

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