The Business Of Selling A ‘Disruptive Innovation’-An Example


For some time, Bill Stumpf, an Industrial Designer, was observing the changes in workplace brought up by the emerging dot-com boom. The working culture had undergone a radical change. Employees were forced to sit for long hours. They were getting into a lot of health problems, back spasms, spinal injury, neck and hand pains. Their performance levels dipped. Their productivity began to lag. There were large-scale insurance payouts for treating ailments and also lawsuits.

Herman Miller’s communication should be to ‘Promise a better life and not a better product’ to customers.


Positioning is about creating an impression of our brand or product in a consumer’s mind. We need to provide a reference. Generally, consumers will remember instantly one or two brands/products in any category. Example- Pepsi and Coke in Cola category, Redbull and Monster in Energy Drink category.


Finding a Niche Market. Start small. Focus on a particular need, work on it, make your product distinctive and dominate the niche market. Smaller the segment, it is easier for the entire company to focus and meet the customer needs, wants and desires. Once you become a leader in the niche market, you could move to the larger markets


We have got to start with customer experience and work backwards to technology — Steve Jobs.

The Aeron chair was extremely engineered for great comfort, to simplify the user’s life, to provide a healthy life, increase productivity and keep them fresh.

An invention becomes meaningful when it provides a new meaning to consumer’s life.


The facility managers, ergonomic experts, common users have vehemently opposed the mesh, visibility of exoskeleton structure, mechanisms in the chair, though they appreciated the functionality of Aeron Chair. Many of them warned Herman Miller that it would be impossible to sell the chair without solid fabric, to corporate clients without solid fabric and even suggested to cover it up. But Herman Miller believed in their team’s problem-solving methodologies and kept their focus. They never wavered.


Design for Observability — Aeron chair had a contrasting look than other contemporary chairs — Slender model, stretched fibers, exoskeleton structure, black molded plastic, neatly done & clearly visible mechanical parts and a robotic appearance to provide a feeling of a top-notch engineered product.

  • Herman Miller team communicated “Principles Knowledge” — The reasons behind the design of each and every feature — How the new design could solve potential health problems — The pains it would help a user to avoid — how those movements help in reducing back stress, spinal compression, pains in legs, elbows, and neck.
  • The controls were positioned in a way — easy to access, easy to relate to the movement, easy to use — it was easy for people to figure about the controls and understand how to use the product.
  • The back stretchable material texture was designed to provide intimate comfort for the user and the consumer could feel the same when he uses the chair.
  • They worked on critical touch points of customer — The elbow rests and the Seat edge pads were specially designed to provide comfort, smooth texture and reduce pressure on legs and stress of elbows.
  • Herman Miller team got testimonials of early adopters-customers who used products for some time, some scientific data of Aeron chair, problems with the existing chair, data on potential health hazards, Aeron chair’s kinematics, Posture-fit advantages, Breathable material and communicated it to potential customers.
  • Breathability — Users could feel that air can flow through the pores in the Pellicle material stretched over the frame and was surprised by the material’s comfort.
  • Their brochures carried images of how to use the product and how the product supported a wide range of postures (Posture-fit was a strong point of Aeron Chair)

Seth Godin, after getting his first venture check, went and bought more than a dozen Aeron chairs that got him into front page of wall street journal

Buying an Aeron’s chair sent a message to the public about who you are.

Secular Humanist, Business Growth Consultant, Design Thinker, India. Reach me at or

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