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Herman Miller is an American modern furniture studio founded in 1905. Its Director of Gaming Jon Campbell now oversees its new forays in gaming chair design with revisions to its iconic Aeron Chair, collaborations with Logitech, and more.
In this interview, we discuss with Campbell the aesthetic and practical nuances involved in creating the perfect gaming chair.
Was it a premeditated decision to get into gaming? Was it somebody's vision in particular?
Jon Campbell: I actually started working on this probably about three years ago, and my role before this was leading our North American task business. Part of what I was looking at doing was trying to figure out who our new customers will be: who are the people that sit and also value things like wellness and performance? And that led me down a path of a bunch of different people, from writers to photographers. But then there was actually one night where I was up late playing video games at my gaming setup. It was three in the morning, I’d lost track of time, and it kind of hit me. It's my community. It's the people that I hang out with and play with, people I interact with in these virtual worlds who can truly benefit from what we have to offer. And that really set us off on this journey to dive deeper.
What physically is so different between gaming and working?
As you would expect from Herman Miller, we spent quite a bit of time researching and sitting with gamers – watching them, observing them, asking them questions. What do they like most about their setups? What do they need? Posture wise, what we found was that a player sits more upright and slightly forward when they are very much in tune and in flow in their game. That's what we identified, and we started to think about how we can modify our existing products to better suit a player’s needs. We took that information back into our R&D lab and started to build bespoke products that are engineered and designed specifically for the player.
A lot of the people we talked to about gaming say that they like it because it's a more kind of active form of entertainment. So it makes sense that they would have different needs.
A competitive Counter-Strike player is using a 24-inch wide monitor and they're sitting fairly close to their monitor, because what they're trying to do is to sit and look at one point in the screen and through their peripheral. If you have to turn your head to see someone coming through double-doors on your left, then it's too late on the right hand side when someone comes and gets you. So we started by asking, how do we design solutions for both the enthusiasts but also the people that are competing at the highest level?
Was there resistance internally around engaging with gamers and gaming?
I think at first, yes. To be completely honest, there were some challenges. We're a 100-year-old furniture manufacturing company that is in West Michigan. But what we did have was really strong and visionary leadership within Herman Miller. When Andi Owen joined our organization, she was incredibly supportive of this idea and really wanted to see Herman Miller invest heavily in this area. So with her joining the organization and supporting us, we really were able to move very quickly into what we absolutely needed to do without having to get stuck in the perpetual cycle of explaining gaming to people.
Not to say that we don't still do that today. We do, but we're starting to build the expertise and the awareness internally at Herman Miller, where people are also starting to see, “Wow, this is a group of people that are truly engaged at a level that we haven't experienced before.” And I think the stereotypes that most people think of when they think of a player, that stereotype generally speaking has changed so much. You're seeing the convergence of style and fashion in gaming, you're seeing this convergence of performance within gaming, and you're also starting to see e-sports become much more widely accepted. And pretty soon one day, we believe you'll drop the “E,” and it's going to be sports.
It's also interesting to think about the way that you've styled these photographs. The gaming chair situated in this house also has indicators of a changing idea of what luxury is. I'm not sure you would see a Mac Miller LP on the Herman Miller website outside of this context.
We are really focused on redefining the gaming market as a market that should truly deliver wellness and performance. When we entered into the market with a $1,500 chair, where the typical price point was $200, what we heard from the community is there was a wide acceptance of that, because they realize their chair is the one thing that you intimately interact with on a consistent basis when you're gaming. It's the one thing that can really make your gaming session either great or maybe not so great, especially if you're dealing with lower back pain or neck pain. So what we're seeing from the industry is people are investing in themselves by investing in a high-quality ergonomic chair to help them continue to do the thing that they love the most. I don't necessarily define it as a luxury brand, I really see us as a performance brand.
What was it like working with Logitech?
We were looking to partner with someone who understood the consumer better than we did, and also understood performance really well from a gamer standpoint. Logitech is by far the leader in both of those categories globally, so we felt really confident in that partnership. We're very much aligned, and we were able just to work really easily together through this whole process.
Do you think that there will be more convergence between modernist aesthetics and gaming aesthetics? I'm curious how those kinds of trends interact.
I feel like you're asking me if we're going to put RGB lighting on our chairs someday.
No, it's more like, do you think that there will be more modern gaming objects?
Absolutely. We see a big shift in the industry towards that type of aesthetic desire, and we want to be able to deliver on that. We also want to deliver on Herman Miller's interpretation of traditional gaming design as well. At the end of the day, design is meant to solve problems, and that's really what we're setting out to do within gaming at Herman Miller.
What about your appetite for making digital assets? There are some people making digital furniture that's being sold as NFTs or within the context of upgrades you can buy in games.
There's a lot of in-game opportunities for us to start to think about how we partake in that. We're focused first and foremost on the way that we contribute to the gaming community. We're really trying to build up that trust and build those relationships with both players and teams and publishers. And in the future absolutely, I think there's some really great opportunities to further embed the tangible products that you can see, touch, and feel in your house in the virtual reality of games themselves.
What do you think about the metaverse question, augmented reality, and the third space that's in-between virtual and physical life? Is that a space that the company's interested in?
We're in the middle of doing this for each one of our chairs, where we can actually allow for someone to place the chair with their space. Augmented reality is one way for us to actually start to deploy products into people's homes through the digital space so that they can imagine what it would look like.
Do you think that this is part of the world becoming more gamified in general?
Absolutely. I can just imagine a world where you throw on your VR goggles and redesign your space right in front of you, moving product in and out. Instead of sitting behind your computer playing some type of Sims game, the game is real life where you're walking around your house and you look at your dog and you're like, “Instead of a golden retriever, I want a German shepherd.” You drop it in.
Do you think that there might come a time when gaming furniture and office furniture are kind of the same thing, or will those needs always be kind of distinct in your mind?
I think someday that gaming furniture will influence office furniture and really start to shape the way that we see work happening within the office. When you think about what gamers do and how they do it, they are an extreme use case of an office worker. What I imagine will happen is we'll start to gather learnings, insights, and solutions from gamers and adapt those things to the office so that we can better solve for the needs of the worker in a seated and standing position.