And that’s the way Herman Miller Inc. designers wanted it.
Yet the new Mirra office chair the Holland-based office furniture maker plans to roll out next month at NeoCon takes many of the design cues brought to the market nearly nine years ago by the highly acclaimed Aeron — a chair that changed the industry, was named by Business Week magazine as one of the 36 “designs of the decade” for the 1990s, and is on permanent display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
In setting out to design a new chair, Herman Miller’s goal with Mirra was to provide a chair with Aeron-like comfort, slick aesthetics and high performance at a cost that’s a little more palatable for customers that fall in the mid-market price category. In short, the company wanted to raise the performance standard for mid-market chairs without a corresponding sticker price.
“We said, ‘Hey, we can add performance. We can do what we did with Aeron before — create a totally new reference point in this industry,’” said Keith McRobert, director of seating products for Herman Miller.
Herman Miller plans to sell the new Mirra chair at a list price (which few customers ever pay once volume discounts are figured in) that’s 15 percent below that of Aeron, or $640 for the base Mirra model.
Mirra, considered the most important product introduction for Herman Miller since Aeron hit the market in the fall of 1994, is targeted toward customers who are “very ergonomically conscious,” McRobert said, and willing to pay for the benefits that sound ergonomics bring to the workplace.
In the research and development stage for four years, Mirra represents Herman Miller’s push to regain market share in the middle-market for office seating, the largest niche in the product category.
Seating accounts for about one-fourth of all industry sales, according to the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer’s Association. The mid-market category accounts for about 50 percent of all seating sales.
Herman Miller believes the category has been foundering for years, as manufacturers focused on developing and bringing to market high-performance chairs in the high-end category, or low-end products that are the most affordable yet still offer users a certain level of performance.
In examining its own product portfolio and those of its competitors, Herman Miller “saw a real polarization taking place,” McRobert said.
“The mid-value category was starting to diminish. That’s a category that’s pretty much been abandoned,” he said. “So we saw an opportunity, because the chairs in there were starting to get antiquated.”
By attacking that market void, Herman Miller looks to build sales by appealing to would-be clients that want a high-performance chair but are unwilling or unable to pay the corresponding price for an Aeron or a competitor’s top-of-the-line model.
Mirra’s features include the same AireWeave seat that helps to give Aeron its unique slick look, as well as an open-air back made of a polymer that flexes with a user’s torso. And it comes in several colors, too, that customers can mix and match, 10 for the seating and eight for the backing.
While a major introduction, Mirra — designed in collaboration with a small German design firm, Studio 7.5 — is seen within Herman Miller as a complementary product to the company’s seating catalog that does not deter from Aeron in the least. McRobert views Mirra as building on the company’s design heritage that includes classic seating like the molded plywood and aluminum group chairs of the 1960s by legendary designers Charles and Ray Eames; the Ergon — the world’s first ergonomic chair that was introduced in 1976 — and Aeron.
“We’ve got a real heritage to uphold,” McRobert said. “This is absolutely the next innovative step for Herman Miller. This is going to be a wonderful complement to the Herman Miller vocabulary.”
As for Aeron, which has far more competition today in the market than ever before, there are upgrades on the horizon. At NeoCon, Herman Miller will introduce enhancements to Aeron “to give it another push from a design perspective,” McRobert said.