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Sayl Chair Design Story


The Herman Miller Sayl chair by Yves Behar was introduced in October of 2010. The idea behind the Sayl Chair is simple: people live their best life unframed, so why should your office, work, or home chair be any different? The Sayl Chair seeks to capture a design that gives a true form to that very spirit. The chair strives to encourage a full range of movement, while the suspension back material keeps its occupant cool. Behar's chair was designed to be the "the best for the most at the least."

When designing the Sayl Chair, Behar began with the understanding that the needs of the common consumer should come first. With the consumer's needs in mind, Yves Behar designed a chair that incorporated everything that Herman Miller chairs are known for. This included quality, ergonomics, performance, and appearance.

Sayl is as reasonably priced as it is ingenious. The chair can be purchased for just fewer than four hundred dollars. The Sayl Chair by Yves Behar proves Herman Miller's belief that an affordable work chair can be well thought out and designed and also include cutting edge ergonomics. As always, Herman Miller refused to compromise on any front when creating Sayl.

Herman Miller is known for creating chairs costing upwards of $800, but with the Sayl Chair they are stepping into a whole new market. Herman Miller is stepping into a market known as "affordable." The new chair is available for an extremely low price of $399. Relatively speaking, that's about how much you'd pay for an office chair at a big-box office supply store. The difference is you won't find half of the notable credentials of the Sayl Chair in any generic chair. There are no chairs that even come close to the design cred of the Sayl Chair at the same price point. According to Yves Behar, creating a chair with fancy-pants looks and top-notch ergonomics—while keeping costs at a bare minimum—was one of the greatest challenges of his career.

Sayl Chair


"I practiced for more than a decade and waited to tackle the work chair, and it is only after turning forty that I feel ready for such an epic design challenge," he said. The average customer finds it hard to understand what's so hard about building a good chair. Yves Behar's extensive design team started by trying to find a way to eliminate as many materials as possible from the basic construction of the Sayl Chair. He dubbed this process "eco-dematerialization." The idea was that fewer parts and fewer materials would produce lesser cost as well as a lighter carbon footprint. The chair's greatest breakthrough came straight from Behar's hometown of San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge's suspension system inspired his creation of Sayl's suspension back.

The back of the chair has absolutely no large supports and it doesn't even have a plastic frame on the outer edge. Instead of the usual suspects, the back of the chair is made from a single urethane sheet drawn tight from the seat pan to the top of a Y-shaped frame. Therefore, the back has no hard edges and conforms smoothly to the sitter's back. The urethane sheet itself also has varying levels of tension along its length allowing a softer feel around your shoulders while giving your spine adequate support. If this wasn't enough, the chair is also certifiably green. The Sayl Chair is manufactured on three continents, allowing the manufacturer to significantly cut shipping costs. The chair is also packaged in a smaller sized box and is Cradle-to-Cradle certified.

Yves Behar says, "There is an amusing parallel between the Sayl's physical lack of frame around its suspension back, and my belief that we humans are increasingly benefiting from 'unframed' expressions of our potential taking on bigger challenges and going beyond work or social expectations."

The Herman Miller Sayl Chair by Yves Behar is beautiful in its originality and lightness and is also freshly modern. The way the inner workings are visible as if hidden on the outside is reminiscent of Centre Pompidou. The chair is nothing like the bulky and cumbersome office chairs of the past. It had to be light and built with fewer materials than other chairs. Sayl also had to be highly innovative and up to par with Herman Miller's extensive catalogue of ground breaking designs including the Aeron and Embody chairs. No pressure, right? It turns out that it was nothing that designer Yves Behar couldn't deliver.

He states, "Our basic principle was de-materialism and I had an intuition that the principle of a suspension bridge would work, rather than the normal idea of a frame." This enabled Behar to reduce the chair's visible structure down to its uniquely shaped Y Tower. The fact that you can see the major support structure of the chair is, simply, really cool. The design has a way of making you feel connected to the chair you're using. Reducing materials came fairly naturally to him, whose credentials include—but are certainly not limited to—the $100 laptop designed for Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child organization.

Behar was no rookie when it comes to creating environmentally friendly designs, but creating an environmentally friendly ergonomic chair presented a new challenge. A key component of the brief for the chair was that it could be sold for less than $400 in the United States, which was a huge departure from other high quality work chairs. He says, "To make something lower in price doesn't mean including less technology but finding the most efficient method of creating the comfort and ergonomic calibrations that we needed."

Yves Behar found the answer to his dilemma in a surprising place. The answer to the problem was a form of plastic that Herman Miller had been using inside some of its other chair models. Yves Behar discovered that he could use this elastomer in a new way, making the Sayl Chair light, eco-friendly, and unique. Because Sayl is manufactured by injection process rather than molding, Yves Behar could get a lot more out of the elastomer.

He stated, "We have been able to incorporate 3D intelligence into it, wherever we wanted extra support or softness. I think it has become the ultimate ergonomist's tool." It is hard to argue with one of today's most forward-thinking designers. And the proof isn't in the pudding (that would be silly), but in the Sayl Chair.

One important question to ask yourself is this: "Does the world really need another work chair?" Jack Schrue, head of Herman Miller's seating division says, "There are clearly a lot of great chairs on the market. But where was the elegant, ergonomic, sustainable, beautiful, and attainable chair? That was the gap: lower cost chairs too often made tradeoffs with comfort, health, and design to hit a price point and the result too often was a chair that really wasn't healthy, or durable, or environmentally friendly."

The world was looking for a chair that embodied all of those attributes and more. The Herman Miller Sayl Chair didn't falter on any of these platforms. Instead, it fits seamlessly into offices as well as homes. This was intentional on Behar's part, given the increasingly blurred line between the office and home.

With so many people bringing their work home these days, the house seems like just another extension of the work place. No longer is work only done in an office, and no longer is the home only for the family. Yves Behar says, "Products need to permeate different parts of our lives today. Our intention from the beginning was that this chair would have a light visual impact, so it can happily integrate into a domestic or office setting, rather than jumping out at you." This isn't to say that the chair isn't striking in its own right, and there are certainly combinations of colors and materials that could not be described as anything but daring. Bringing the Sayl Chair into the home has extended the company's plans to sell directly to consumers via the Internet. Opening up the company's sales to a larger population has always been a goal of Herman Miller.

Schreur comments, "The world has changed. People are less willing to follow older business models and to wait their turn. We thought attainability should be about more than just price. It also should be easier to buy and have delivered into your home, no matter where you live and work." It is refreshing to find a company that is more focused on moving forward and accommodating the changing times than clinging to the past. Now, with the click of a mouse, the Herman Miller Sayl Chair can be on its way to your front door.

To understand the design behind this intriguing chair by Yves Behar, you must understand the design behind its inspiration: San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge is a suspension bridge that spans the mouth of the San Francisco Bay at the Pacific Ocean. The bridge connects the city of San Francisco to Marin County. The Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was completed in 1937. Now the ninth longest suspension bridge in the world, it is still the second longest in the United States—second only to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York City. The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the modern wonders of the world, and it's also the most photographed bridge in the world.

Before the bridge was built in 1937, the only route between San Francisco and Marin County was by boat across the San Francisco Bay. The idea of building a bridge to eliminate the need for the ferry was not new, but finally came to fruition in 1916 when James Wilkins made the original proposal for the bridge. The city's engineer estimated that the cost of building the bridge would be upwards of $100 million, which was entirely impractical at the time. With this estimate the floor was opened for designers to find a way to build the bridge for less money. One of the responding designers, Joseph Strauss, had designed a 55-mile long railroad bridge across the Bering Strait as part of his senior thesis. Strauss had completed over 400 drawbridges at the time, but nothing on scale of this new project. Strauss promised a design that could be constructed for $17 million.

Strauss spent over a decade drumming up the support of Californians. The bridge faced opposition and even litigation from several sources. The Department of War was concerned that this new bridge would cause problems with ship traffic. The Navy feared that a ship collision or even sabotage could potentially block the entrance to one of their main harbors. Unions demanded assurances that local workers would be picked first for construction jobs on the bridge. In May of 1924, Colonel Deakyne held the second hearing on the construction of the bridge, and the transfer of land was approved. The bridge's name was first used with the project when discussed in 1917. The name became official with the passage of the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District Act by California legislature in 1923. A special convention was held in Santa Rosa, California in 1923 to discuss the eventual building of the Bridge. By 1925, the Santa Rosa Chamber had taken over responsibility of circulating bridge petitions as the next step in its construction.

Strauss was the chief engineer in charge of design and construction of the massive project. Unfortunately, because Strauss had little understanding or experience in suspension designs, a lot of the responsibility for engineering fell to others. Strauss' initial proposal was deemed unacceptable from an aesthetic viewpoint. The final design of the Golden Gate Bridge was championed by Leion Moisseiff, the designer of New York's Manhattan Bridge.

A virtually unknown home architect, Irving Morrow, designed the shape of the individual bridge towers, lighting schemes, and art deco elements. These elements included the streetlights, railing, and walkways. The famous color of the Golden Gate Bridge was first used as sealant for the bridge. Locals of San Francisco convinced Morrow to paint the bridge using this vibrant color instead of the suggested silver grey. The color has never been changed because it became so famous and recognizable.

Charles Ellis collaborated with Moisseiff as the principal engineer of the project. Ellis was a Greek scholar and mathematician who taught engineering at the University of Illinois at one point. Ellis was an expert in structural design. He became obsessed with the project and was unable to find work elsewhere during the depression. He became so obsessed that he was working over 70 hours per week on an unpaid basis. Strauss selfishly downplayed the contributions of his collaborators who have received little to no recognition over the years, although they are largely responsible for the construction of the bridge. In May 2007, the Golden Gate Bridge District issued a formal report giving Ellis major credit for the design of the now famous bridge.

Construction on the bridge didn't begin until 1933, and the project cost over $35 million. The construction of the Golden Gate Bridge was carried out by the McClintic-Marshall Construction Company, which was founded by Howard H. McClintic and Charles Marshall. Strauss still remained head of the project, and he oversaw day-to-day construction as well as making some ground-breaking contributions. Strauss placed a brick from his alma mater's McMicken hall in the south anchorage before the concrete was poured. He also introduced the use of movable safety netting underneath the construction site, which saved the lives of many of the otherwise unprotected steelworkers. Eleven men died during the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. Nineteen men were saved by Strauss' revolutionary safety netting.

The center span of the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest of any suspension bridge until 1964 when the Narrows Bridge was erected between Staten Island and Brooklyn. The Narrows Bridge was 60 feet longer than the Golden Gate Bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge had the tallest suspension towers at the time of its construction, but was surpassed in 1957 by Michigan's Mackinac Bridge. Despite the bridge's red appearance, the official color is an orange vermillion called international orange. The color was chosen because of the way it complemented the bridge's visibility in the heavy San Francisco fog. Lighting outlines the bridge's cables and towers. In 1999, the American Institute of Architects ranked it fifth on the list of America's Favorite Architecture.

There aren't a lot of connections between the way the bridge was built and the things that Yves Behar builds, but they were both ahead of their own time. In the same way that Strauss created innovative designs and mechanisms for "his" Golden Gate Bridge, Yves Behar creates beautiful and revolutionary designs for the world today. The Golden Gate Bridge was the best of the best in its time. Yves Behar's designs are nothing less than the best of the best. There is nothing that Yves Behar designs that is not top-notch in almost every class—including eco-friendliness, ergonomics, price, aesthetics, and so much more.

When Yves Behar looked at the Golden Gate Bridge he may not have seen the connections between himself and Strauss and his company of designers and architects, but the similarities are unmistakable. All of the designers, architects, constructors, and engineers of the Golden Gate Bridge were revolutionary. Yves Behar is the same way. Both are and were ahead of their time, and Yves Behar continues to create pieces of the 21st century that shock and appeal to the people living in it. If the original ideas for the Golden Gate Bridge had not been shot down due to a less-than-pleasing aesthetic, the Herman Miller Sayl Chair by Yves Behar might not have existed. The beautiful contours and draping of the bridge's suspension detail allowed Yves Behar to be inspired and create one of the most unique chairs of our time.
 
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