For nearly a
century, Herman Miller built a business by getting people to sit down, introducing iconic objects like the Aeron Chair and the classic Eames Lounge. But the company's newest product, Live OS, suggests that maybe it’s time to stand up.
Live OS is not a line of furniture, but a cloud platform that tracks how people make use of office space. Attach an infrared sensor to the underside of your desk and Live OS will log when you sit and stand, come and go, all the while pushing information to a beautifully designed dashboard. The sensors included added capabilities on Herman Miller brand pieces, like instructing the sit-stand desk to rise or lower at certain intervals throughout the workday. The goal, as Herman Miller tells it, is twofold: First, to help rid employees of their sedentary habits; and second, to give companies data on how their employees interact with the furniture.
One size desk no longer fits all. Employees don’t want to be confined to a cubicle; they want collaborative, shared workspaces. But before you can design an office optimized for the future, you have to understand what employees need and how that space will be used. “We heard very clearly that it’s tough to know what the right formula is for creating an effective space,” says Ryan Anderson, the Director of Commercialization for Live OS. “There are very few ways of measuring." Live OS uses tracking data to fill in those gaps, creating a holistic picture of how employees move throughout the space.
“Basically," Anderson says, "the furniture talks to each other.”
When employees first start using Live OS, they’ll be prompted to set goals around how often they’d like to sit or stand. Then, using data gathered from the sensors, the desk will track employees' movement and use that information to send a light haptic buzz and soft blinking light when it’s time to change positions. The desk will notify employees three times before asking if they’d like to ignore the suggestions for the day. “We’re shooting for being subtle but useful,” Anderson says. “It’s at the service of the person rather than demanding compliance.”
Anderson adds that while companies can track how individual desks are used, the data will scrub names and identifiers. The point isn’t to follow individual employees, but to get a better understanding of big trends in the office. For the privilege, Herman Miller will charge $60 annually per sit-stand desk and $36 per fixed height desk.
In January, Herman Miller will introduce a connected version of the Aeron chair, which will offer more fine-grained data on posture and ergonomics. If you perch on the tip of your chair, for example, Live OS will take note and, after a while, might send you an email offering tips to readjust your posture.
Eventually, Herman Miller plans to roll out an entire line of connected furniture with the goal of creating an office that can anticipate your needs before you do. To make that happen, it's going to need as much data as possible. Anderson says the furniture company will still keep doing what it does best—working with woods, plastics, and glass to craft beautiful objects—but with something else added to the mix. The new material, he says, is data.