Reviews of a few office chairs
Every programmer knows the importance of a good chair. To find my perfect chair, I tried out ten task chairs today at the local HealthyBack store (as an aside, customer service was non-existent, which is good if you like to fiddle with the chairs without some salesman yapping at you): Haworth Very, Haworth Zody, Herman Miller Aeron, Herman Miller Embody, Herman Miller Mirra, Humanscale Freedom, Humanscale Liberty, Nightingale CXO, and the Steelcase Leap. I also have some experience with the Steelcase Think.
First some general thoughts.
- I was surprised by the uselessness of headrests. Whenever I reclined, the headrests would just get in the way of my head leaning back and keeping the spine straight.
- Seat depth is really important. If your seat is too long, then there’s a lot of potential to start slouching by sitting away from the back of the chair. I feel it should be shallow enough so that sitting too far forward is uncomfortable, but long enough so that you’re still balanced over the center. I’ve read that if you can put three fingers between the back of knee and the front of the seat pan, you’re good
- See if the lumbar support adjusts when you recline. Many chairs do not do so. It might also be a sign that you’re not sitting far back enough, eg, the fulcrum of the chair’s recliner is not close enough to your hip, which is your body’s fulcrum.
- If you’re thin, look for adjustable arms.
- Read OSHA’s guide to seat ergonomics
- Watch the videos on each chair’s website to understand how to adjust the chair. Might be impossible to remember if you’re doing 10 chairs though… Make two trips!
Here are some thoughts on each, gathered from fiddling with the knobs and sitting on it for approximately 5 minutes. A more comprehensive test is probably best before you blow $1000 on one.
Haworth Very and Zody: Both of these chairs were essentially the same thing. The Zody had armrests you could move in and out. Both chairs were very comfortable and my spine was kept pretty straight once you adjusted the lumbar support properly. At the softest setting, I felt my spine going into the C shape. However, the construction looked a bit flimsy. The lumbar support structure looked like some plastic assembly and it was floppy and seemed prone to breakage.
Herman Miller Aeron: These chairs are surprisingly cheap now, post dot-com bust. I am definitely not getting this chair because it has a reputation for destroying pants and its hard plastic shell around the seat makes every non-standard sitting position uncomfortable. Otherwise, this chair is pretty dang comfortable. I didn’t fiddle with the knobs so most likely the chair was previously adjusted for somebody who had the same body dimensions as me.
Herman Miller Embody: This chair is the top of Herman Miller line. I found the Backfit adjustment incredibly unintuitive. I could feel the back rest shifting, but I couldn’t feel where it was shifting to and consequently couldn’t adjust it (think a game of Marco Polo where nobody yells Polo when you yell Marco). If you check out this chair, watch the adjustment videos on the Herman Miller site before going to you can understand what’s going on (since the adjustment brochure on the chair is uninformative). Nevertheless, it was incredibly comfortable. I may give this one a second look and more attention to adjustment, but it’s at the way upper end of the price range at $1200 and $1400 if you want the nicer fabric.
Herman Miller Mirra: It’s a little wide for me and I was unable to adjust the arms inward (now that I watched the video, apparently you can but this feature is clearly undiscoverable), but otherwise this chair was one of my favorite chairs of the day. I have the same worries about the mesh seat as I do with the Aeron but I haven’t found any complaints online. The lumbar support is very adjustable and very nice. I wasn’t able to get forward tilt to work. I’ll probably give this one a second look.
All kinds of undiscoverable features in Herman Miller chairs. I thought they were supposed to be the pinnacle of modern design…
Humanscale Freedom: The headrest on this chair was incredibly uncomfortable. However, there is a version without the headrest. As I reclined, I didn’t feel the lumbar support move with my back. I’m counting this one out.
Humanscale Liberty: You can’t adjust the width on these arms. I also didn’t feel any lumbar support at all. Not a fan.
Nightingale CXO: Supposedly a cheap knockoff of the Aeron, but I don’t think it even comes close. There’s only three settings for the lumbar support and I couldn’t even feel it and felt my spine going into that C shape. Counting this one out.
Steelcase Leap: This chair was incredibly comfortable. Upon reclining, the lumbar support stayed put in relation to my back and thus supported my back through the entire recline. It hits all the checkmarks of features and it comes in under $1000. This was probably my favorite chair.
For the Leap, some online retailers have the choice between the Buzz2 fabric and the Cogent Connect fabric. I obtained fabric samples from Steelcase in order to reveal the difference between the Buzz2 and the Connect fabric. Testing (ie, holding the fabric up to a fan) showed Connect fabric is much more breathable, though I’m not sure how much it matters since there is a large foam pad on the Leap’s backrest…
Steelcase Think: I’ve used this chair before. It feels a little shoddy, especially for its price. The back support is a series of steel rails, which I don’t think are terribly effective. The lumbar support has a tendency to get stuck in the rails so you have to untangle it almost every time you adjust it. However, It looks very nice and minimalist. A good design, if just for design’s sake, but not as functional as I wish it was.