Best Office Chair Showdown & Reviews
One of the biggest topics of discussion in office design and office furniture is around the subject of ergonomic office chairs. What is the best office chair on the market? It makes sense that there’s so much interest in this, since practically a third of a person’s life can be spent sitting on an office chair. The difference between an ergonomically bad and good chair can drastically influence workplace well-being.
Here at Workified, we wanted to create a running thread and resource to help consumers discuss their thoughts on various ergonomic office chairs in the market. As we get more chairs to review, we will add them to this thread and keep it updated, but for now…here are the chairs that we have in our office that we were able to spend some time using and had the opportunity to review.
[* Please read our notes below regarding our unscientific review strategy]
Workified Score = 8
The Herman Miller Aeron is arguably the most iconic office chair of all time. Most likely due to the fact the during the first dot com era, funded startups burning cash were buying these chairs by the truckloads…making sure their employees were comfortable and working in style.
We were pretty skeptical whether this chair would live up to the hype. I mean, how much better can it be than a much cheaper mesh-backed knockoff?
Well, one of the first things you notice about this chair is it’s built like a tank. The “mesh” (what they call pellicle), is not some flimsy porous fabric. It’s a heavy-duty springy plastic material that really gives support to your seat and back. Of all the chairs we tested, this had one of the best lumbar supports, and the mesh-type seat keeps the sitters rump well ventilated and cool. Just about every part imaginable is adjustable, and the controls are all very intuitive and placed stylistically around the chair (unlike many of the ergonomic chairs out there that have ugly knobs and levers sticking out everywhere).
One of the downsides of the Aeron are the arm rests. They aren’t the easiest to adjust and sometimes go out of position. Also, for the price, we’re thinking they should come standard with leather armrests versus the cheap vinyl that came on ours. I suppose we can always upgrade them to leather. Also, the lumbar support bar that came on our Aeron has a tendency of falling off with our bigger sitter (6 ft, 220 lbs).
Although not our favorite chair of the bunch, we were really impressed by the Aeron and can definitely understand why this chair is in such high demand amongst modern offices. Buy Herman Miller Aeron on Amazon for about $850.
We loved this chair, and in our comparisons…it beat out most of the competition. It’s not the sexiest chair we’ve seen in terms of visual appeal, but the moment you sit on it, you quickly realize a great amount of thought and craft went into designing and building this chair. This was easily one of the most comfortable chairs we’ve experienced, and it has a very good blend of adjustability, without being overly complicated.
The first thing we noticed about the chair was the comfort. The seat pan cushion has a good amount of padding, and the hydraulic cylinder holding up the chair has a good amount of springiness to it. When the sitter reclines back, the seat back tilts back while the seat pan automatically shifts forward. This gives a very natural recline motion while keeping the sitters knees parallel to the ground and their feet on the floor…good ergonomics.
One of our favorite parts of this chair is the lumbar support. Steelcase included a lumbar control knob that adjusts the amount of lumbar support you need, much like the mechanism found in front car seats. Another much liked feature are the armrests. These armrests are the most adjustable of the bunch, can accommodate a multitude of positions, and we found them very sturdy and comfortable.
Overall, we were very happy with the Leap chair. We found it very easy to use, versatile, and encourages good ergonomics. Buy Steelcase Leap on Amazon for about $850.
The awards this chair has won is numerous…from the IDSA IDEA Gold Award…to the Red Dot Award for Product Design. Its list of accomplishments would make any mother proud. When we first pulled this chair out-of-the-box…we initially thought “sexy chair”. We received this chair the same time as the Steelcase Leap, and judging a book by its cover, we thought this Think chair would be the one to beat (we were wrong, we liked the Leap better).
Starting with what we liked about the Think chair. The visual design of this chair is excellent…sleek lines, mesh back, cushion seat pan, vibrant color. When you first sit on this chair, it’s definitely very comfortable and the pneumatic height adjustment cylinder provides a good amount of springiness without making you feel like you sat on a rock or sat on a bobble head. The Steelcase seat pan cushions seem to be the best out of the bunch. We also liked how the seat pan cushion slopes down towards the front and is forgiving for sitters who lean forward when they sit. It’s a much welcomed design when compared to the Aeron, which has zero flexibility in the front of the seat pan, which cuts off circulation on the legs.
The Think chair has the same highly adjustable arm rests we love on the Steelcase Leap. The arm rests are made of a very durable material, yet comfortable to the touch. Lastly, instead of the infinitely adjustable recline tension knobs found on most chairs, this one has a dial offering four simple options ranging from full upright lock to easy recline mode. Very nice touch and simple.
The biggest thing we didn’t like about the chair is the mesh backing. It definitely offers much needed breathability and ventilation for long periods of sitting, but the material just felt a bit cheap to us. Also, we weren’t convinced that the many horizontal metal bars running along the back to support the sitter was the most “thoughtful” approach to back support design on a chair. That said, we did like the adjustable lumbar support that’s padded for extra comfort.
Overall, this was the most affordable office chair of the bunch, and although it didn’t get the highest scores, we would definitely recommend it as one of the best values for the money. Buy Steelcase Think on Amazon for about $689.
Workified Score = 6.5
The tagline of Humanscale should really be “simplistic ergonomics”. With this chair, there’s almost nothing to adjust…which might make this the most user friendly office chair of the bunch. Don’t you hate it when you need an instruction manual to use a chair?!
This chair is built so that you just sit…then work. There’s no lever or knob to adjust the tilt tension, and from what we found…it does somehow magically have the right amount of recline resistance when you lean back into the chair. We found that it comfortably reclines big to small sitters without needing different tensions. The recline mode is really unique in that the entire chair feels like it shifts to match your body’s natural recline position.
And speaking of user friendly, this chair has, hands-down, the easiest mechanism to adjust arm position of any chair we’ve seen…which we’ve found is typically the most adjusted part of any chair. With the Freedom, the arm rests adjusts up and down with a mere tilt of the wrist. Brilliant!
The downside of the Freedom was the seat-pan. As compared to the Aeron, there were noticeable drawbacks to the Freedom seat-pan. For one, although we had the Freedom with the gel seat upgrade, the seat just felt dead and flat, while the Aeron pellicle seat-pan, although not padded, had a springy feel to it. Some users of the Aeron complain that the pellicle feels rough like sandpaper, but we found that the Freedom seat-pan is so smooth, that the sitter’s position has a tendency of sliding forward in the seat. Also, for our larger reviewer, the seat-pan depth was too short…even with the seat-pan adjusted to its fullest length outwards. Another negative with the Freedom is the inability to lock the recline function. We felt that oftentimes, locking the chair in the upright position offers better ergonomics than being able to rock backwards at any given time. Buy Humanscale Freedom Task Chair on Amazon for about $899.
This is basically the big brother to the normal Humanscale Freedom Chair. The only real difference with this model is the extra headrest above the height of the normal Freedom chair. Basically, all the opinions and observations of the normal Freedom chair above applies to this model with the headrest.
The only thing we would add is that we believe that the Freedom was designed specifically for this headrest version. The reason is because of the excellent tilt/recline mechanism of the Freedom. The Freedom has such good recline mode, the sitter has a natural tendency to recline the entire upper body, which includes the head. With this model Freedom, you can really feel the entire seat, from thigh to head, cradle the sitter’s body. After using the Freedom with headrest for some time, it’s hard to go back to the normal Freedom because it just feel like something’s missing.
The shame to this Freedom line is that the normal Freedom can’t be upgraded to the model with headrest. Why?! We’re thinking it’s basically the same chair, that should be able to be modded to fit the optional headrest. Anyways, we called Humanscale and were told that this upgrade is completely not doable. That’s bad news for owner’s of the normal Freedom who are looking to upgrade to the headrest model. If you’re in the market for a Humanscale Freedom, do yourself a favor and spend the extra money for the one with the headrest…cause we think that’s what the chair was most likely designed for. Buy Humanscale Freedoms Task Chair with Headrest on Amazon for about $1,045.
Workified Score = 6
This is probably the simplest chair of the bunch. Like the Freedom, there’s very little to adjust. In fact, we believe the only thing that can be adjusted is the pneumatic height. Depending on how you look at it, the lack of options can be a good or bad thing.
Although not “adjustable”, one of our favorite features unique to the Liberty is the auto pivoting back rest. We found this mechanism to be very comfortable as the sitter goes from upright to recline mode. The pivoting back rest follows your body’s movement and contours well to the natural curvature from the bottom of your spine to upper back. We also found the mesh back to have a good amount of lumbar support and resistance…better than the Freedom but not as good as the Aeron. We also thought the padded armrests were more comfortable and durable than the armrests found on the Aeron.
One of the biggest drawbacks of the Liberty is definitely the unadjustable armrest. Given the brilliant design of the armrest adjustment on the Freedom, this Liberty armrest is unforgivable. It’s basically stuck to a certain height on the chair…which means it can only fit a certain sized user (actually one of our smaller sized reviewers found this to be their favorite chair). Also, we found the cushioned seat-pan to be pretty bland. We thought if Humanscale was going to come out with a mesh-backed chair…then why not commit all the way and make the seat-pan mesh as well? This might have given the Aeron a run for its money for people wanting a fully ventilated mesh chair. Buy Humanscale Liberty on Amazon for about $959.
Workified Score = 9.5
Ok, so technically we don’t own the Herman Miller Embody in our studio (yet), but we just had to throw this chair into the mix and review the Embody because it’s probably our favorite chair of all time. From our limited experience with it in the showroom…it’s basically the perfect chair. In fact, we didn’t want to leave the showroom…can we apply for a job here? Anyways, Herman Miller has nailed it with their Embody chair.
On paper, no stone was left unturned in the design of the Embody. Meticulous attention to detail and ergonomics was given to every single inch of the chair. To the eye, the Embody looks like a piece of art. Every angle…front, back, top, side, bottom…fits into a cohesive statement that reassures you it’s been crafted to fit your body. As you finally sit down, you realize the name “embody” is the perfect description of this chair, as it embraces your body. You can envision yourself working productively for continuous hours…perhaps days…without the aches and pains of sitting on the job.
Yes, we’re aware this is a bold review of the Embody, which is why we’re not giving it a perfect 10 just yet. We’re still leaving room for some chair maker out there to reach that perfect score…although, we’d be more than happy to settle for this 9.5! Buy Herman Miller Embody on Amazon for about $1,199.
[* With all our reviews, we tried to get the opinions of at least 3 people in the office with different body types: large, medium, and small build. With the numbers rating, we just polled our reviewers and averaged their scores. With chairs, much of it has to do with personal preference and fit (much like trying on shoes). We've found that some chairs that people really liked, others did not care for...and many times just boiled down to personal preference. We encourage you to try them out at a local office chair retailer before investing in your chair. Special thanks to our staff writer Laura for modeling the chairs!]
Some chairs we’d love to get our hands on to review and get your thoughts on: