If there’s anything that cramps your daring sense of style, and your flaring lower back muscles it’s an inadequate office chair with absolutely hideous lines and a crushing lack of support.

To counter those effects, Herman Miller has launched another stylish chair. The Setu.

If you recall the Embody chair, you’ll know a lot went into the design. While the Setu comes in at less than half the price of the Embody, the amount of detailed ergonomic testing was no less. The team behind the design? Berlin-based Studio 7.5.

The Design of the Setu

Studio 7.5 is a small design team founded by Burkhard Schmitz and Claudia Plikat. Along with the engineering expertise of Roland Zwick and fellow Industrial Designer, Carola Zwick, the team headed toward the goal of meeting Herman Miller’s Perfect Vision of total sustainability by 2020. The result? A chair that is 93% recyclable. A chair designed to bend and flex to your every move. We were able to ask them a few questions about the process they went through and the tools they used. Here’s what they had to say.

The kinematic spine on the Setu chair is said to ‘bend and flex to your every move’ – what are the benefits of this?
one goal is indisputable among experts: changing the posture and motion is good for the sitter.Even if ergonomic seating sometimes sounds like a complicated science with different schools of thought, one goal is indisputable among experts: changing the posture and motion is good for the sitter.

So, a chair that claims to be ergonomic should support the user in changing his or her posture in a subtle and non-intrusive way thus echoing the body’s natural patterns of motion.

The kinematic spine was inspired by a spiraling nautilus shell shape. How does this translate to material usage and human comfort in a chair?
It doesn’t. The hypothesis for the adaptive spine was a kinematic truss. In the iterative development process, the more than 30 functional prototype generations and the fine tuning of the truss structure and geometry through many modeling and testing iterations did mimic evolutionary processes. The result is a part that is self explanatory and looks biomorphic, like a nautilus or if you pick a living creature, a see horse. But the same is true for other man made objects that are developed through time and iterations, like musical instruments, for example, a violin.

What tools/programs (sketching, 3D CAD, simulation, rendering?) were used in the design process of the chair?
Since we are a small, but highly collaborative team, the motto is “demo or die”: so if you want to convince the rest of the team, that your idea is valid you have to find compelling means. This usually results in simple physical artifacts, what we call 3D sketches. During the development process we use Pro/E to fine tune the geometry and to control the steps in the iterative process. We always build models to control the CAD data either by hand or by using a simple CNC milling machine. Going back and forth between modifying the geometry on the screen and modifying the physical artifact is the best way to learn as much as possible about the object/system and its inherent properties, e.g. structural integrity, path of motion or collision, ways and means to assemble it.

Was any rapid prototyping used in the development of the chair?
Beside CNC milling in the concept phase the final iterations of all parts were controlled by SLA’s. For showing the breadth of the Setu family we also printed 1:5 scale models.

How many iterations did the chair go through in design and engineering?
We made 30+ functional prototypes (most of them still stored in our basement), the spine development went through countless iterations. In order to get data on the life cycle and durability two prototype tool generations for the co-injection molding process were built and tested by Herman Miller.

What aspects of the project (concept, prototyping, rendering) revealed the vision behind the chair?
The idea of reuniting seat and back to one continuous shell that provides the level of adaptability that until now could only be achieved by a complex and costly kinematic mechanism. So we would call our invention a solid state kinematic.

CAD users sit for hours in chairs. What is the greatest benefit for them by using this chair?
where chairs are shared, you don´t want to mess with any adjustments, but just sit down and forget gravity.Setu is not meant to be a personal work chair. The basic idea of Setu is to transfer the benefits of “agile sitting” into all areas that don´t have this level of comfort yet, places we end up sitting more often and for longer periods of time than ever before, like conference rooms, hotels, airports, project rooms, touch down spaces, cafes, etc.)

Since these are areas where chairs are shared, you don´t want to mess with any adjustments, but just sit down and forget gravity. At your personal desk we think you deserve all the personalization you can get, but this level of adaptability requires multiple adjustments (but that´s fine because you do this once and on “your” chair). We might add a personal work chair to the Setu family in the future 🙂

The Making of the Setu

Wondering about the materials, applications and kinematics behind the Setu? Here’s a quick video that gives you some insight to the Studio 7.5 team and a better feel of the ideas that shaped the design that started way back in 2003.

A Better Chair

If you’re not down with paying the $1,200 for the Embody chair, then the $579 price tag on this little beauty may be more attractive. While it’s not meant for long hours behind the desk, there’s no doubt it’s bound to be more comfortable than most. Plus, no adjustments to mess with. Just sit and forget. I like that. If you’re interested, the Setu is available at Room & Board.


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.