Should you redesign a bestselling classic? Herman Miller’s iconic Aeron chair offers a helpful case study.

We’ve all heard that old saying ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.’ But that’s not what the maker of the bestselling office chair of all time said. Let’s go back to 1994, the year a global design manufacturer by the name of Herman Miller presented the first generation Aeron Chair. The chairs designers Don Chadwick and Bill Stumpf created an instant icon for office workers around the world. Yes, really, around the world. The first-gen chair saw over 7-million sold in 134 countries.

And with such great success, you might be wondering what in the world would be cause for a redesign on such an iconic classic. Because I worked on the original version, I was very curious to know also, so I sat down with Tom Niergarth, VP of Platform Design at Herman Miller, to find out. Tom led development and production of the new Aeron and he had a lot to say about taking on the task of improving on a classic bestselling product.

It All Started With A Conversation

When you’ve made so many of one thing, or even the pieces that make up that one thing, you can begin to see through the production and into the possibilities. With the Aeron Chair, it wasn’t really about getting rid of anything, but about making the product be more, do more, work- more. When the team at Herman Miller realized the possibilities ahead of the chair, thanks to changes in technology, systems, and innovation, they began to take a serious look at those possibilities as real objectives, and so the project began.

A Masterpiece Remastered

When considering a redesign, it is really important to, once again, ask yourself ‘why?’ And in that ‘why?’ you must define a need. For Herman Miller, the need still existed for the Aeron Chair, as did the client base. Which takes me into another very important aspect of improving a bestseller. Your plan should involve maintaining the important aspects of your original vision as you move forward.

Stumpf’s original goal was to create a chair that inspired a lack of awareness, and this is something Herman Miller kept very close to the heart of the redesign. By preserving the original iconography of the chair, they were able to hold onto the visual personality of the chair that once seemed strange, but that now represents status.

What’s the Bottom Line?

Going in for a redesign, there must be a strong production plan, but there also must be an even stronger bottom line. What purpose will your improvements fulfill? And how will you combine the old with the new for a purpose and bottom line that really mean business?

The bottom line for the new Aeron Chair is that it performs better, period. With stronger, smarter materials, better adjustment capabilities, and new finish options, these improvements have taken the Aeron Chair into a new era. As for what Bill Stumpf might have thought, Tom Niergarth commented, “I believe that he would be elated that we have made the advancements that we have on this new Aeron because it is better fulfilling his aspirations.” I concur.

Read the original INC article published on November 10, 2016.

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