Sure, there's a lot of great tech at CES. But aside from wall-mounted TVs and smartphones, you've almost always got to have a place to put it.
That's why Herman Miller is here. The furniture maker, known to consumers for the Eames and Aeron chairs and known to businesses for inventing the cubicle, is still providing the marriage counseling necessary to preserve the union between the utilitarian and modern.
While the realm of furniture may not seem like a ripe area for progress, our trip to Herman Miller's booth at CES suggested otherwise. Unlike the fashion world or other parts of the design community, aesthetics are only one part of furniture-making—ergonomics and ease-of-use are areas in which improvement can always be found.
According to representatives at Herman Miller's booth at CES Digital Experience, the inspiration for these new pieces stems from the rise of telecommuting and working from home. Today, people need a desk and chair ergonomic enough for a long work day that is up to the visual standards of the home and the quality of the office. While furniture is often made chiefly with aesthetic and comfort considerations, these pieces try to hit an optimization of comfort, ergonomics, ease-of-use, and aesthetics in their design without compromising anything. As you may expect, that ain't cheap.
The arduous design of a piece can take up to four or five years and $10 million and involves heavy input from ergonomic experts, and the resulting product can cost ten times more than the stuff you'd find in an office superstore. However, it's clear where the money goes. The combination of the Envelop desk and Embody chair we saw and — thankfully, after a long day of walking across convention center floors — sat in allow for a reclined position while at the desk. The desk slides forward and "envelops" the user like a hug, but a hug bearing TPS reports. There's also an electric version that can raise itself to standing height.
But what caught really caught our attention was the display mounts. The "Flo" monitor arms were previously the realm of business purchases only, but Herman Miller started selling them to individuals in 2012. They go along with the theme of individual customization, as one can easily move the monitor to the optimal position. We saw an iPad mounting, a single monitor mounting, and two monitors working in concert on a double mounting. Fully implementing the IT requires an important conduit between human and machine, and it will be interesting to see if modern and utilitarian furniture trends catch on as computers and monitors grow and evolve.
As for Herman Miller, this is their second CES, and they're planning on coming back next year. It's clear that even though their products are made of wood and often don't plug in, they think there's a place for them in the tech world.