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Introduction to Humanscale ergonomic office chairs

Among the high-end, $1000+ ergonomic chairs, Humanscale makes some of the most unique models. These are comfortable, self-adjusting chairs that handle posture control instead of the user having to. For those who can’t be bothered fiddling with chair settings, Humanscale chairs are ideal. For others, they do the job — but the lack of manual control can be frustrating. This review assesses Humanscale brand chairs for home office workers.

Humanscale featured chairs
L-R: Liberty chair, Freedom chair, World One chair.

Founded in 1983, Humanscale is an American company based in New York. Three years after the debut of the Herman Miller Aeron, Humanscale released its flagship Freedom chair in 1999.

Freedom chair sitting concept
The Freedom chair uses a weight-based counterbalance system to provide consistent ergonomic support.

Designed by Neils Diffrient, this model matched the ergonomic complexities of the Aeron — with a simplified approach. Instead of the user having to manage complex controls, the chair does the work.

Humanscale seating concept

After around 10 minutes of sitting up straight, the spine starts to tire. Without support, users tend to fall into a slouch. In Humanscale chairs, as slouching starts, a self-adjusting recline system activates. It uses counterbalances to provide posture support through the full recline range. For instance, the flagship Freedom chair comes with an optional headrest addon. As the user reclines, the headrest tilts forward, ensuring that the eyes remain level.

Freedom chair posture support
The Freedom chair adapts to provide support as the user changes sitting positions.

At the same time, Humanscale backrests utilize a pivoting function. As the user leans back, the top of the backrest tilts backward. Concurrently, the bottom angles forward to provide deeper lumbar support.

Humanscale pivoting backrest
Humanscale chairs come with a pivoting backrest that tilts in two directions simultaneously.

Upon launch, the Freedom chair’s sophisticated features and futuristic design proved a hit in Hollywood. Freedom chairs first appeared in the Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU bullpen) on the hit show 24. They also showed up in Tim Burton’s 2001 film Planet of the Apes, X-Men 2, and other films.

Freedom chairs used in TV shows
Freedom chairs in use by government agents on the Fox TV show 24.

Freedom chairs featured in the CTU bullpen makes sense. Super-intense desk-working government snipers aren’t interested in ergonomic features. They don’t have time (or interest) to fiddle with tilt locks and lumbar units. Instead, they need a chair that does what it’s supposed to, when they need it to.

All Humanscale chairs follow these concepts. These are ergonomic chairs for people who can’t be bothered fiddling with settings. Below, we summarize three significant chairs in the Humanscale collection.

Humanscale Freedom chair

The Freedom chair is the flagship Humanscale product. It provides complex ergonomic support without any need for manually-adjusted controls. Before sitting, adjust the seat height to match your desk. You can also adjust the backrest height to better fill your lower back curve.

Humanscale Freedom chair

After that, you don’t need to make any other adjustments. When you sit, a self-adjusting recline kicks in. It uses counterbalances to provide posture support through the full recline range. Key technicals explained below:

Self-adjusting pivot recline

The highlight feature is a self-adjusting intelligent recline. When the user leans back, the top portion of the backrest angles backward. At the same time, the lower portion angles forward to maintain lumbar support.

Freedom chair dynamic backrest
The backrest tilts in two directions as the user leans back.

This provides core support through the entire range of recline angles. In its default upright position, the integrated backrest lumbar curve fills the lower back with very gentle tension. As the user leans back, the depth and tension increases. As the user leans forward, the reverse happens.

Dynamic head and armrests

Beyond the pivoting backrest are two other dynamic support essentials. First are 2D adjustable armrests that move in sync with the seat pan. As the user leans back, the angle between torso and legs opens up. In response, the armrests tilt up. That keeps the forearms parallel to the floor and in a prime position for keyboard work.

Freedom chair dynamic arm support
Leaning back tilts the armrests up and both lumbar support and headrest forward.

Simultaneously, reclining moves the (optional) dynamic headrest forward to fill the curve at the nape of the neck. That ensures the user maintains a near-constant eye level throughout the recline range.

Freedom chair feature summary

The Freedom chair provides complex ergonomic support without manually-adjusted controls. Before sitting, adjust the height of the seat. Then adjust the height of the backrest to fill your lumbar curve. After that, you needn’t make any other adjustments. Sit down in the chair and let the counterbalancing mechanisms do the work. Summary of key features:

  • Headrest: dynamic headrest with 5″ vertical range.
  • Seat: height and depth-adjustable.
  • Backrest: weight-sensitive pivoting; height-adjustable; integrated lumbar support; self-locking recline system.
  • Armrests: 2D adjustable (side-to-side, up or down). Arms also move in sync with the seat pan.
  • Color options: black, navy, or graphite fabric; standard black graphite frame. More options available by request. Check here to request fabric samples and see all color styles.

Freedom chair sizing

  • Seat height range: 16-21″
  • Seat width x depth: 20″(W) x 17.5-19.5″ (D)
  • Backrest: 18″ (W) x 20.9″ (H)
  • Armrests: 2D (18-21″ width x 2.5-8.75″ height from seat)
  • Chair height: 48.2-53″
  • Size rating: 5’0″ to 6’4; 300-pound weight capacity.

Freedom chair advice

Some people like to tinker. Others can’t be bothered. As one example, PC gaming enthusiasts love customizing PC parts and settings as part of their gaming enjoyment. In contrast, Xbox gamers can’t be bothered. They prefer the simplicity of plugging an Xbox or PlayStation into their living room TV.

24 TV show, Humanscale Freedom chairs
The President and staff using Freedom chairs while battling terrorists in the TV show 24.

The Freedom chair provides ergonomic support for those who don’t care about the process — they just want results. For instance, in the TV show 24, the Counter-Terrorism Unit’s command center used Freedom chairs. While battling nuclear terrorists, there’s no time to tinker with chair settings.

Humanscale Freedom chairs in a corporate environment
These are high-end, corporate-style chairs with user-friendly, self-balanced ergonomic support.

Freedom chairs stand out with sleek, high-end executive styling. The chair’s weight-activated recline function ensures plenty of movement throughout a workday. With the pivoting lumbar, there is never a point where the lower back isn’t supported. As a result, users gain more energy for concentration and productivity while they sit.

Freedom chair comfort example
No matter how you sit, Freedom chairs keep the spine in a comfortable, healthy alignment.

In hard-charging executive workspaces, these chairs will deliver. Staff using these chairs will sit straight and look good doing so. From SmartFurniture (official Humanscale retailer), some upgrades from the stock model are possible:

  • Gel foam seat: $48
  • Advanced (wider width range) armrests: $104
  • 5-inch extra height adjustment: $32
  • Soft casters for hard floors (instead of standard hard ones): $12.80
  • Polished aluminum base with black trim: $160

The most practical upgrade for people under 5’10” is to 2D “Advanced” armrests. These are 1.5″ thicker and can adjust by around 2″ side to side.

Freedom Chair from SmartFurniture $1135.20 (sale)

The Freedom chair is now on sale at 20% off from the list price of $1,419.

Humanscale Liberty Chair

The Freedom chair is the most expensive and complex model in the Humanscale collection. As the price scale lowers, so does the complexity of each model. The company’s second product was the Liberty chair, released in 2004. Niels Diffrient designed the Liberty chair to push the boundaries of minimalism.

Humanscale Liberty chairs
Liberty chairs have intelligent mesh backrests and only a few adjustable features.

Like the Freedom chair, it uses an intelligent counter-balance recline mechanism. That provides the right amount of support through the full range of recline motion. The dynamic qualities help users stay active with superb comfort and posture support.

Features

This is a simple chair with very few adjustments. The backrest is the standout feature. It has a self-adjusting recline that provides the right amount of support across the full recline range. In support of that, the backrest pivots as the user reclines. Leaning back increases lumbar depth. Leaning forward reduces it.

Liberty chair posture support
The Liberty chair provides support through the entire recline range.

The tri-panel mesh back follows the design principles of a tailored shirt. With three separate zones, each can provide different levels of support. Within each zone, the mesh feels soft to the touch with resilient flexibility.

  • Seat: fabric seat with a choice of standard foam or gel padding; height and depth-adjustable.
  • Backrest: tri-panel mesh back design; self-adjusting, pivoting recline. No tension, tilt lock, lumbar, or height adjustments.
  • Armrests: choice of fixed arms, or 1D-adjustable (up or down) for $40 extra. Both types move in sync with the seat pan.
  • Style options: choice of armlress, fixed arms, or 1D-adjustable (up or down); arms move in sync with the seat pan.

One problem with the armrests is that they are set 19″ apart. For people under 5’10” (178 cm), that will force the elbows to rest too far apart, instead of falling straight down from the shoulders.

Liberty chair armrests
The armrests are only 1D adjustable with a small height-adjustment range.

Conversely, for those 5’10” or taller, the padded armrests are soft and very comfortable over long periods.

Sizing

For the armrests to work as intended, Liberty chair users should be at least 5’10” tall. Without the armrests factored in this chair could support a full range of users, from 5’0″ and up.

  • Seat height range: 16.5-21″
  • Seat width x depth: 21.25″(W) x 16.5-18.75″ (D)
  • Backrest: 20″ (W) x 23″ (H)
  • Armrests: 1D (4-8.25″ height from seat, 19″ width between arms)
  • Chair height: 39.25-43.75″
  • Size rating: 6’0″ to 6’4; 300-pound weight capacity.

Liberty chair advice

Buyers will either love the Liberty chair or hate it. The sleek design and lack of controls should appeal to ergonomic chair beginners. If you find high-end ergonomic chairs intimidating, the Liberty chair is for you.

On the flipside, seasoned ergonomic chair users might feel annoyed by this chair. It’s comfortable and does well at supporting posture through all recline ranges. However, the lack of controls is frustrating. If you’ve used gaming or other ergonomic chairs before, this model may feel too restrictive.

Liberty chair from SmartFurniture $855 (sale)

The Liberty chair is now on sale at 20% off from the list price of $1,069 (this model includes 1D armrests).

Humanscale World One chair

The brand’s newest chair, World One, is a ‘work-from-home exclusive‘. Humanscale designed this as a cost-effective, user-friendly ergonomic sitting experience. In simple terms, this is a stripped-down version of the Liberty chair.

World One features

This model carries over key the Freedom chair’s pivoting backrest and self-adjusting recline. It also borrows the Liberty chair’s tri-panel mesh backrest and minimalist approach. The main difference between the World One and Liberty chairs is the lack of customization.

Humanscale World One chair
The World One is a simplified version of the Liberty chair with even less manual controls.

The World One chair comes with a standard black frame with black mesh and a black seat. It has fixed armrests and a fixed seat depth. That said, the armrests tilt slightly up as the user reclines. The only adjustment you can make is to the seat height.

World One sizing

  • Seat height range: 16.4.5-21.8″
  • Seat width x depth: 21″(W) x 18.25″ (D)
  • Backrest: 16″ (W) x 22.5″ (H)
  • Chair height: 39.25-43.75″
  • Size rating: 6’0″ to 6’4; 300-pound weight capacity.

World One advice

Humanscale markets the World One as a specialty “work from home” chair. It is comfortable, durable, and supports good posture. However, its high price and lack of functionality is an odd combination. For the price of this chair, you could buy a Secretlab Titan or two GTRacing Ace S1 chairs. Both come with 5-year warranties and plenty of user-controlled ergonomic features.

World One chair from OfficeDesigns $439.20

The World One chair is now on sale at 20% off from the list price of $549.

Humanscale chair supplemental info

How to buy Humanscale chairs

Like most large office furniture companies, Humanscale focuses on B2B sales. In 2020’s work-from-home era, many big brands have set up consumer sales divisions. As a result, you can now buy chairs directly from the Humanscale website.

Office chair industry procurement model
Most big office chair brands have historically focused on B2B sales; consumer sales has been a low priority.

However, for many years, big chair brands have relied on third parties to sell chairs to consumers. For instance, SmartFurniture specializes in consumer and small business sales. Founded in the late 1990s, the company maintains a headquarters in Chattanooga, TN.

SmartFurniture develops its own ergonomic office products. In addition, the company serves as It also an official retailer for all top office chair brands. Those include Herman Miller, Steelcase, Hon, Knoll, and Humanscale.

SmartFurniture only sells chairs in America. For consumers, the company offers a few sales incentives:

  • Free shipping: FedEx or UPS delivery is included on most orders over $39.
  • Low price guarantee: this applies to Herman Miller, Steelcase, and a few other brands. The price is guaranteed as the lowest allowed by the manufacturer.
  • 45-day money-back protection: orders under $2,000 qualify for a full refund. Orders over $2,000 get refunded minus a small processing fee.

Browse all Humanscale chairs on OfficeDesigns

Humanscale chair warranty

World One chairs come with a 7-year warranty on parts and components, plus 3 years on arm pads and textiles.

All other models (including the Freedom and Liberty chairs, come with a 15-year warranty.

Humanscale chair alternatives

In terms of quality and price, Humanscale’s most famous rival is Herman Miller. Herman Miller chairs use an opposite design approach. Instead of minimalist controls, Herman Miller chairs have plenty of knobs and levers.

Herman Miller gaming chair collection
In 2020, Herman Miller released a collection of ergonomic chairs geared towards gamers.

This year, Herman Miller released a gaming collection that includes its iconic Aeron and Embody chairs. Check out our Herman Miller gaming blueprint review to learn more.

Best ergonomic office chairs for your back
The best synchro-tilt task chairs cost between $450 to $1500.

Other top brands making elite ergonomic chairs include Steelcase, Sidiz, and Hon. To compare some of the best models in 2020, check out this review:

Best ergonomic task chairs with synchro-tilt

Conclusion

Humanscale presents an ergonomic alternative with an emphasis on user-friendliness. All models come with a pivoting backrest and weight-activated recline function. Whichever Humanscale chair that you use, you’ll find yourself moving throughout a workday more than if using other chairs. Movement while sitting boosts blood flow and blood oxygen levels. It also saves energy by distributing loads across different muscle groups.

Humanscale executive chair reviews
L-R: Humanscale Freedom and Liberty chairs.

On the downside, the lack of controls might frustrate seasoned ergonomic chair users. That quibble aside, all models ensure consistent support where you need it the most. Whether sitting upright to focus or leaning back for passive computing, all models ensure consistent support where you need it the most.

All Humanscale chairs are now 20% off from SmartFurniture. Click the button to check Humanscale holiday specials:

Browse all Humanscale chairs on OfficeDesigns

Ergonomic office chair holiday discount sales specials

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