After seeing the Herman Miller Embody Chair for the first time, I became a wee bit obsessed with what went into the design. With the design and development ranging over years of the incredible experience of Jeff Weber and Bill Stumpf, the process had to be something to talk about.

Turns out it was. I had the chance to ask the design team a few questions about the project, what programs were used and how it affected the design. Guess what, SolidWorks used a little bit, but all together a whopping nine programs were use in the process. Take a look.

What tools/programs (sketching, 3d CAD, simulation, rendering?) were used in the design process of the chair?

Engineering (Herman Miller, Inc.) software:

  • Pro/E Wildfire 2 & 3 with PDM Link
  • Some AutoCAD for 2D layouts and pattern making
  • Some SolidWorks (for manufacturing)
  • Ansys 11 for linear and non-linear analysis

Designer (Studio Weber + Associates) software:

  • Most 3D work done in Pro/E
  • Adobe Illustrator to create profiles
  • 2D images tweaked in Photoshop to evaluate variations quickly
  • Rhino to smooth CAD and V-Ray to render product

How many iterations did the chair go through in engineering it?
Approximately 5 iterations PRIOR to convergence of industrial design and engineering, 5 additional iterations after design convergence. In addition, several subsystems had various prototypes constructed separate from the overall form of the chair.

What aspects of the project (concept, prototyping, rendering) revealed the vision behind the chair?
The vision for the chair grew out of Herman Miller’s process of problem solving research. Prior to any physical manifestations of a chair, criteria was developed that evolved into the current form and functionality. By building full scale visual models and functional engineering prototypes, the engineering and design converged into the current Embody chair.

Was any rapid prototyping used in the development of the chair?
Yes, many different types of rapid prototyping were used, including: SLA, SLS, 3D printing, urethane casting using silicone molds, aluminum injection molding tools, thermo-formed and water jet cut sheet plastic, and laser cut metal forms. As the design progressed, each iteration of prototype used processes that more closely represented the final production process.

CAD users sit for hours in chairs. What is the greatest benefit for them by using this chair?
Health positive seated support is the greatest benefit to users of the chair. Three aspects of that are: ability to fit the chair to their unique shape and size (to fit anthropometric range with one chair); the freedom to move while seated with good postural support; and finally to get the circulatory benefits of pixilated seating.

How did the chair design/engineering benefit from the 3D CAD and rapid prototyping (if used)?
Because we could quickly “invent then try”, functional and design aspects of the chair could be evaluated from early on in the project by users with various preferences, across the requested anthropometric range. Some innovations contained deep analysis before prototyping, and other innovations required complex geometry to be prototyped before they could be evaluated.

You can find out more about the Herman Miller Embody Chair on their site

Other Resources:
Embody Review at Core77
Embody Review in Develop3D (November Issue)


Josh is founder and editor at SolidSmack.com, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.