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Office Chair Review: Knoll Generation Chair

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The Generation Chair by Knoll - Tested and tried at NeoCon 2009

This is a very unique chair - The first of its kind in terms of backrest motion and malleability.  Not to mention a very good looking little task chair.  But is it a once in a generation chair?  We sat and tested this chair at NeoCon Chicago 2009.  It is one in a new movement towards creating more unique tasking solutions.  The idea in concept is very sound, and the design team hit a home run on the backrest, but there are certain detraction's that left us a bit disappointed, considering the hype.

To start, let's put this chair in perspective to what it is, as it cannot be compared to leather office chairs, for example. More reasonable comparisons are the Humanscale Diffrient Task chair and the Herman Miller Setu Chair.  (We'll be reviewing the Diffrient Task Chair shortly  - the Setu was also tried out, and we'll have a basic review of that as well...) It is a task chair, meant for, and creating for, working environments.  With that said...

According to Knoll, it is a task chair meant for "collaborations" and fluid work environments.  However, if you sit in your desk typing all day, I hardly think this chair will do you any good.  Why?  The philosophy behind the chair is that we actually spend more time moving in our chair than sitting in it - this should be true, we should be moving, but do we? I mean, how many of us can type effectively in any of the positions shown below?  These people demonstrating the chair are in the act of talking, hanging out, possibly working.  The world will know.  But the basic fact remains that a workplace envornment where 95% of the time these are the ideal sitting positions doesn't exist.  And you certainly cannot type in any of these positions.  Have you tried typing with your leg over the armrest?  More errors than you can imagine!  Which brings us to the next point regarding the use of the chair in respect to what it capacity the chair could be beneficial in...

As I mentioned before, it is a very good chair to collaborate in.  In spaces where people meet informally, talk a lot together, brainstorm, etc, it is an ideal chair.  You can relax well in the chair.  But I'm not sold on it as a cubicle chair for a variety of reasons...Let's go into detail about the good, bad, and my lasting thoughts on the chair...

What's Good about the chair?

There's plenty to like.  It's a nice looking chair - modern, sleek lines, and a nice selection of colors for the back and the seat.  It is VERY green, recycled and recyclable.  It is not an eyesore, and only complements modern work environments. The backrest is the real success story regarding the chair.  It is a mid back, meaning, for 99% of the population, the backrest is not going to provide support above the shoulders, and for most won't reach the shoulder height.  But with this chair, that's ok.  The flexing back material (seemingly made of a rubber composite) has no frame on the back, which allows for flexing in a wide range of motion, particularly nice for stretching or turning around, (albeit you could just swivel around) and talking to co-workers rather easily.  The backrest is also comfortable, not a hard plastic, and molds well to your back shape.

Add in the optional lumbar support and you get sufficient lower back support. Won't relieve back pain, but won't cause it either.  Essentially, the motion the backrest allows is good - I'm just a little skeptical about how much we would use it, and the price vs. functionality that an innovative feature like this commands.

And the not so good?

Unfortunately, there is one area where the Generation Chair takes a step back to the previous generation.  It was uncomfortable enough to spoil the uniqueness and comfort of the Back - the Seat.  It seems in designing and implementing the back, Knoll forgot that the seat is where our all day pressure is.  It really was not comfortable for me, right off the bat.  The seat has a thin foam cushion which is upholstered on what seemed to be a plastic seat pan - not solid plastic, but plastic strips.  I could feel those within 5 minutes of sitting on it. Not ideal.

The foam itself is not soft, rather firm, but even so, the thinness of it was quite surprising.  The seat does have a seat slider, but in using it, I encountered another issue.  I adjusted the seat pan a bit forward (I am 5'7", 145 lbs.) but not much.  After re-sitting on the adjusted seat, I felt towards the back of the seat two hard pressure points.   It felt like two little blocks of wood on my buttocks.  Not comfortable at all.  I sat in another Generation (the showroom at Neocon must've had over 50 Generations) and felt the same issue.  So I asked my brother to give it a whirl.  He is 5'11", 195 lbs, and he immediately remarked, "What is that?!".  It was disappointing, to say the least, to have experienced this.  We sit on the seat of the chair on average 8 hours a day, and are not always leaning against the back.  This is why the seat is THE most critical part of the chair, and the easiest to make comfortable.  Knoll simply forgot how to on this chair, and the chair lost all long term comfort value for us.  From being a nice innovative task chair, the way the seat felt immediately moved it into the "1-2 hour meeting chair mode".

Update: Knoll apparently offers a thicker seat cushion at no extra charge.  I would recommend this.  I don't know how it feels, since we weren't told at the showroom which ones had it, but I can imagine with the thicker cushion it would be much better.  If the thick cushion makes it so you don't feel the plastic straps, then it would be a much better task chair - it would be worth the price at that point.

What's the price?

We don't know the price - the chair doesn't release until July 15th, but were told at NeoCon by Knoll representatives that the chair will be retailing from $750 to upwards of $1000.00 USD, depending on the options selected, such as arms, leathers, lumbar support, etc.

Grade:

For a task chair, to sit in 8 hours a day and hash out emails, etc, it is not the ideal chair.  The seat will kill you and really be painful after 4 hours, especially if you are heavier.  Combine that with the estimated price, and the chair becomes, in our opinion, overrated.  As a conference, meeting room chair for informal settings, for a modern workspace where employees don't have to sit 8 hours a day, it could be a nice chair.  It would look nice anywhere, but unfortunately, it doesn't feel nice everywhere.  And you need that in a chair, we think. Thus the 3 - a pricey, sub-par chair with a great and unique backrest.

Update: It would get 4-5 "chairs" if you got the chair with the upgraded seat cushion, which would minimalize the seat cushion issue.  But I don't know for sure whether 4 or 5, since I've only sat on it with the thin seat cushion.  If anyone has one with a thick cushion, let us know what your value assessment of the chair is!

11 thoughts on “Office Chair Review: Knoll Generation Chair”

  • KonstantinMiller

    I think I will try to recommend this post to my friends and family, cuz it's really helpful.

  • David Mendell
    David Mendell July 6, 2009 at 9:09 AM

    I've spent over 5 hours in the chair - in a private office setting. I'm mostly sitting at a computer - tapping away (50% of the time), and writing, receiving guests in meetings in my office (25% of the time), and miscellaneous (25% of the time). I'm finding the chair to be very comfortable. I don't feel these "strips of plastic" that you refer to at all. I'm about 160 lbs. - probably the mean in percentile. I'd give it a thumbs up, without any of the work/play features that it is designed for.

  • Bruce Wiggs

    The " bad" comment should be corrected because there is a thicker seat cushion avaialable as well at no upcharge.

  • Umsonst Film Downloaden

    Sometimes it's really that simple, isn't it? I feel a little stupid for not thinking of this myself/earlier, though.

  • Alec

    Regarding the seat, it seems like there is some controversy! Knoll apparently offers an upgrade, which I would recommend. That would change things, I guess, but the samples I sat in at their showroom in Neocon reflect exactly what I felt - it didn't feel the best, especially at that price. Could they have included the thicker seat standard? Probably. Like I said, the back is great. Get the upgraded seat if you're going to order the chair.

    David seems to like it, which is might be a more worthwhile review than mine, considering I sat in it for about 30 minutes, while speaking to some Knoll folk, in chairs that had probably been sat in a lot. Either way, the my opinion doesn't change - I can't change how the chair felt for me. And for me, the seat wasn't the greatest. But the back was.

    FYI, we sat in the Humanscale World Chair, which was overall more comfortable...but not as unique in the backrest - a little more traditional.

  • mike

    I didn't know bad customer service existed any more. Unfortunately Knoll's customer service is not good and warrants a sober second thought knowing that if you need to contact the company, a 'company responce' is all you'll recieve.
    -My issue lies specifically in trying to add arms to an armless generation chair which for some reason is reported to cost $300.00 (for arms).

    • Chelsea

      Wow that is a lot for just a pair of arms! While parts do cost more than average to order them after you have received your chair, none of our manufacturers would charge near that amount for an arms part request. Sorry to hear about your bad experience!

  • John

    Mike,

    Call a dealer in your area, should be listed geographically in your area. You're being told a list price without any discount.

  • Marisa

    This is easily the most uncomfrotable chair I have used at work. I agre that it simply is not functional in an actual office setting. My back and legs hurt every day. I strongly recommend against this chair.

  • rob

    Marisa, are you using the thin seat that is standard, or did you ask for the thicker upgrade? Can you be specific about what the problem is? I am considering this chair as opposed to the Herman Miller Aeron and yours is the first totally negative review I have read on any site. Thanks.

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