Who Are the Leading Designers in Ergonomic Office Furniture Today?
Why ‘Who Designed That?’ Still Matters In The Commercial Office Furniture Industry
In the ‘commercial contract‘ industry where behemoth office furniture brands like Steelcase and Miller Knoll live, the product designer’s cache can still make or break a new chair or table design. When big companies prepare to make a bulk purchase of furniture for a new facility or remodel where thousands of employees will be working, interior designers often get a very strong vote on the finalists for the bid. And interior designers are either impressed or not impressed by the name of the designer behind the product. So, these large companies will often lead their product descriptions with the name and background of the designer who created the product.
Outside of industry circles, consumers may not be as tuned into big name designers, even if they’ve been sitting in their chairs or working at their desks for years. Even if they’ve been sitting at an iconic Eames chair for decades, they may not be aware of who Charles and Ray Eames were. Although, if they happened to be a contestant on the popular quiz show Jeopardy! on July 11th, 2019, it would have been profitable to know their names to answer this clue card: “It’s Easy to name this chair that’s molded to fit the body’s shape & named for the married couple who designed it.” (Learn more about some of the most famous Herman Miller furniture designers.)
But visit any major office furniture company’s websites that speak most directly to interior designers and architects (as opposed to ecommerce buyers) and along with the specs, warranty, and shipping information you’ll very often find a section about who designed the product, with links to their full bios. These are the highly-paid celebrity talents in the industry, and you’ll sometimes see them speaking on panels at industry conferences like Neocon. If you’re a big time interior designer shopping for your client’s new office tower, you’re very likely going to be pranced through the product design studios at the manufacturers’ headquarters to witness the alchemy of turning metal, wood, fabric, and other materials into functional works of art.
An example of this is the Aeron Chair, one of the most successful ergonomic office chairs ever created—and probably one of the most knocked-off designs. The original Aeron is still one of the top-selling chairs since its debut in 1994, especially in higher-budget offices around Manhattan, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley.
In case you didn’t know, these are the designers of the famed Aeron:
Why ‘Who Designed That’ Is Starting To Matter in E-commerce Ergonomic Furniture As Well
Online consumers have been asking about the designer’s name behind those standing desks about as often as they’ve asked “Is it ANSI/BIFMA Certified?“. That is, just about never. And that’s simply because there haven’t been many brands bothering to have their products ANSI/BIFMA tested for products sold online to consumers, and even fewer had any real industrial designers involved in the creating of their standing desks.
The vast majority of manufacturers simply pair an off-the-shelf OEM lifting base with an off-the-shelf desktop, offering little more design flair to their catalogue than selecting the colors that will be available. As a consequence, there is a mind numbing sameness to 97% of standing desk offerings you’ll find on the web. Out of hundreds that we’ve tested in our labs or at company sites or trade shows, only 3% evidence any sort of actual attention to aesthetic design.
Out of the many hundreds of digitally native standing desk manufacturers out there today, only two have ever promoted their designers’ bona fides—iMovR and Fully—and it’s basically the same person, Vincent Leman, who started out with designing high-end solid wood desks at Fully and eventually moved on to become iMovR’s Lead Designer, creating not only their solid wood standing desks but a wide assortment of matching solid wood accessories like filing cabinets, credenzas, and fly decks.
As Big Furniture was forced to at least attempt to move into more ecommerce when the pandemic lockdowns hit, they have also started naming the designers on some of their standing desk offerings, such as Miller Knoll’s Renew Standing Desk which was purportedly designed by Brian Alexander. That said, there’s not a lot of evidence of actual ‘design’ being applied to Miller’s standing desks; like the rest of the contract furniture industry, they’ve so far restrained themselves from doing the same level of actual industrial design on height-adjustable desks as they do on many of their fixed-height desks. Miller’s other consumer-available sit-stand desks like the Motia and Nevi are disappointingly just plain Jane slabs on top of OEM lifting bases with no particular elegance, ergonomic, or tech-forward features.
Steelcase, and other peers of Miller Knoll have not bothered to associate a designer name with the standing desks they sell online, like the Solo, perhaps recognizing how disingenuous it is to call a standard concoction of HPL laminated surfaces and off-the-shelf OEM lifting legs a ‘designer’ furniture product.
Arguably the First True ‘Celebrity Designer’ in the Standing Desk Industry
When it comes to the most important element of your ergonomic workstation, the standing desk, the freshest bona fide designer on the scene for at least the past seven years has been Vincent Leman.
Fully (which has seen been folded into Knoll, which has since been folded into Herman Miller, and now part of the $3B+ Miller Knoll empire) was actually the first standing desk maker to introduce designer desks some years ago, with models such as the Jarvis Albright. They co-ventured with Vincent Leman, the most preeminent furniture designer working in the standing desk industry today, to create their original solid wood standing desks.
The Jarvis Evolve was actually Leman’s first design, and let’s just say he’s come a long way since then. At the time, surprisingly, it seems that neither Fully’s marketing team or Leman were well versed in standing desk ergonomics. While today Leman is known for being iMovR’s lead furniture designer, working with a veteran team of ergonomists, engineers, and artisan woodworkers to create the very best ergonomic furniture in the market today, back when the Evolve was created they missed some real basics. Chiefly, the fact that the entire desktop is 6″ thick, making it impossible to use at sitting height without crushing your lap.
Since getting acquired—and acquired again—however, it feels like Fully has taken their focus away from designer standing desks, solid wood standing desks, and executive standing desks, and moved diametrically towards the other end of the market with more of a commodity focus and Chinese-made products. Nowadays, these fancy variants of the Jarvis standing desk line are hidden away in a dusty corner of the site at the bottom of a very long page of their standing desk listings, so we can understand why so few are sold anymore.
Sadly, Fully seems to be much more interested in high-volume, bottom basement desk models, and has neglected the pricier niche products—continually thinning them out over the past couple of years. The Evolve and Albright seem to be the red-headed stepchildren in their product offering line-up now, with a much more narrowly limited number of sizes and species being offered, and a markedly lower production quality than they featured when initially introduced.
Since switching teams and joining up with the top-ranked standing desk technology team at iMovR, Leman has been far more prolific. The pinnacle of his work so far has been the Lander Executive Desk, which is far and away the most sophisticated, tech-laden and expensive standing desk on the market today, featuring many drawers and specialized compartments on a base with a 540 lb lift capacity. His best-known designs, however, are the original Lander, Lander L-Desk and Lander Lite, that are still the top-selling premium standing desks on the market today. In iMovR’s nautically-themed Baltic Line, the Captain’s Desk and Ensign’s Desk are both Leman designs.
One thing differentiating Leman’s designs from all other standing desks and sit-stand conference tables in the market is the breadth and depth of matching solid wood accessories pieces. While most standing desk makers these days offer metal file cabinets in paint colors matching their lifting bases, iMovR offers entire “collections” of matching solid wood accessories to complete the executive office, from mobile file pedestals to credenzas to fly decks and keyboard trays. More items like bookcases and etageres are in the works, we are told.
Leman still maintains operations of his original business, Dust Furniture, which produces exhilarating and whimsical, sculptural art pieces, including “stacked pieces” (like the ones shown here), bookcases, cabinets, tables, clocks and accent pieces. Note that many of these items can be ordered in the same species and stains to perfectly complement an iMovR sit-stand desk or table.
Designer Standing Desks
The following are all the standing desks in the market that are claimed to be designed by bona fide furniture designers, as opposed to engineers. Typically these pricier desks are made with artisan hand-craft solid wood surfaces and offer many options in finishes, and some also include built-in drawers. The exception being the units from Miller Knoll, which have an associated designer name but do not appear to have anything special about them as compared to hundreds of other commodity standing desks out there.
If you’re looking for the most elegant and sophisticated standing desk available in the market today, you’ve found it. But be prepared to pay what it costs for this kind of quality workmanship and materials as this desk is made 100% of solid wood, and the most premium select cuts of wood at that. This is a truly bespoke product, with 6-8 weeks of artisan woodwork labor to produce it. Even the delivery experience is exceptional. The lifting base is the strongest we’ve ever seen on any standing desk at 540 lbs, as it needs to support the weight of three drawers, the full-length concealed electronics cabinet, and all the desktop equipment and drawer contents that an executive user might add to their desk. The full-length concealed electronics cabinet is a major innovation, as is the optional 1800W Executive Power Bus that goes in it. Like test driving a Bentley (which we actually did in preparation for this review), when we got to test out the very first Lander Executive units, we were blown away by all the little touches that make it a true luxury product.
The Lander is clearly more future-proof than any other standing desk we’ve had the pleasure of testing. There have been some gimmicky predecessors that had an iPod built into the desktop (e.g. the Stir Desk) or a smartphone app (e.g. the Autonomous SmartDesk 3, from a bottom-bracket Chinese manufacturer with extraordinarily bad reliability and customer service record). And there have been multiple attempts at building in standing reminder notifications, but the results have been clunky, at best. The Lander is the first desk we’ve seen to put it all together in a clean way, with true ease-of-use, and on a top-tier mechanical platform.
All this comes at somewhat of a premium price, naturally. While the Lander isn’t the cheapest desk on the market, given its premium components, the value is clearly there. Desks built this well tend to last longer and easily justify their higher price by promising lower cost of ownership (purchase price divided by years of use) than cheaper models from China.
iMovR has managed to take the industry’s No. 1-rated, premium-technology standing desk, the original Lander, keep 90 percent of the technology features and significantly lower the entry price with this new Lander Lite offering. It’s a winner because of features like factory pre-assembly, Bluetooth-enabled height control paddle and smartphone app, built-in health coach, and the choice of over 50 colors of Surf(x) 3D-laminated or solid wood desktops resulting in superior value to consumers.
If you’re tired of the typical “two legs and a slab of wood” standing desk design, the Captain’s Desk is a breath of fresh air. Packaging that design with the technological features of the Lander Lite base makes for an exceptional desk. You get the warranty, assembly, stability, height range and quality you would expect from a premium, American-made iMovR desk, plus a stunning design and the strong Baltic or Red River birch desktop.
Perfected ergonomics and designer furniture panache combined? This desk brings it all together like no other we’ve seen because it allows you to pick the configuration that best fits both your sense of style and your ergonomic needs at the same time. The Scandanavian-styled Red River or Baltic birch top, curved edge option and optional Fly Deck monitor stand together to form one of the most beautiful standing desks we’ve seen. Plus, it has the trusty Lander Lite base beneath it. It’s a desk that forces you to make very few compromises.
With the collapse of office furniture sales as a result of the pandemic, Herman Miller and its peers are scrambling to re-position, re-price and re-box a tiny subset of their commercial office furniture products to market through retail and e-commerce channels to the new Work From Home (WFH) army of consumers. In alien territory that is dominated by online brands like UpLift, Fully, iMovR and countless Chinese brands on Amazon, these multi-billion dollar companies are like elephants in the duck pond, trying to figure out how to float and fly. Despite their resources, they cannot have too much channel conflict with their decades-old, protected dealer network, so they took only a very limited number of products, severely cut back the options selections, and started selling direct-to-consumer, working around their costly dealer channel. As with offerings from Steelcase, Knoll, and other commercial office behemoths, what Herman Miller has delivered here is a vastly overpriced, severely limited offering with a sketchy delivery and installation experience for users at best. It is so overly limited in desktop shapes, sizes and finishes that you’d have to be pretty lucky to get a good match with your home office space. And you better not be too short or too tall because this hacked-back Motia standing desk doesn’t even meet ANSI/BIFMA G1 standards for ergonomic height adjustment range.
Like the other two standing desks in the Herman Miller work-from-home line-up, the Nevi is severely overpriced, barely configurable, and of poor quality. With a weak warranty and the most spartan of features, it tries to compete with standing desks that cost half as much and pack a lot more value. The $199-$299 delivery and install cost seems incongruous with a bottom-end standing desk, where most consumers would rather make a DIY project out of assembling it, but apparently that would entail too much of a redesign job for a desk meant to be put together by professional furniture installers. The one user review of the Nevi on the Herman Miller website is a 1-star where the customer wished they could leave “negative stars,” which kind of says it all.
With the collapse of office furniture sales as a result of the pandemic, Herman Miller and its peers are scrambling to re-position, re-price and re-box a tiny subset of their commercial office furniture products to market through retail and e-commerce channels to the new Work From Home (WFH) army of consumers. In alien territory that is dominated by online brands like UpLift, Fully, iMovR and countless Chinese brands on Amazon, these multi-billion dollar companies are like elephants in the duck pond, trying to figure out how to float and fly. Despite their resources, they cannot have too much channel conflict with their decades-old, protected dealer network, so they took only a very limited number of products, severely cut back the options selections, and started selling direct-to-consumer, working around their costly dealer channel. As with offerings from Steelcase, Knoll, and other commercial office behemoths, what Herman Miller has delivered here is a vastly overpriced, severely limited offering with a sketchy delivery and installation experience for users at best. It is so overly limited in desktop shapes, sizes and finishes that you’d have to be pretty lucky to get a good match with your home office space. And you better not be too short or too tall because this hacked-back Renew standing desk doesn’t even meet ANSI/BIFMA G1 standards for ergonomic height adjustment range.
Discontinued Standing Desks
The minimal design of the Albright solid wood standing desk is certainly attractive. But when you really look at it, Fully could have thought it through a bit more. With two drawers top-side, not attached underneath the desktop, you need to clear the space in front of them if you want them to open up. Another issue is compatibility with monitor arms because they would have to mount on the shelf, which creates some ergonomic problems. The solid wood quality of the woodwork is on par with UpLift’s, but nowhere near the quality of American solid wood tops like iMovR’s. At the end of the day, it’s a decent handcrafted solid wood product on a cheap Chinese-made Jiecang lifting base with an annoying assembly. So, unlike other designer desks that marry high-quality American constructed tops with reliable American-made bases (and better warranties all around), we don’t get the reasoning for this mish-mash.
The Evolve falls into several premium categories that occupy the rarified air of designer standing desks. It’s priced at $2,300, so that puts it in the most expensive “executive standing desk” tier. And of course it’s made of solid wood, as is to be expected of any desk in this price tier. And it has not just one, but three drawers. Artisan handcrafted in Michigan, it’s certainly beautiful to look at. That’s the good news. The bad news starts with the fact that the drawers are so thick that you can’t actually bring this desk down to sitting height without crushing your lap. It is strictly a “standing desk,” not a “sit-stand desk,” from an ergonomic point of view. The design also disallows the addition of any ergonomic accessories like monitor arms or keyboard trays, so it’s pretty much a laptop desk. We’ve never understood Fully’s (and some of their other competitors’) choice of pairing an expensive, American-made desktop with a commodity-grade lifting base from China (Jiecang, like on all the Jarvis desks). While Vincent Leman has risen to the top of the field in designer standing desks nowadays, the Evolve was his very first creation. That was quite a few years ago now, and sadly the Evolve lacks any ergonomic sense whatsoever. Like the other Fully solid wood desks, it’s finished to a minimal level to minimize cost, and lacks some things you’d expect at this price tier, like high-quality drawer slides, ergo-contoured edges, more precisely aligned drawers, and at least a full sealing of the bottom of the desk, if not staining.