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Review of the Steelcase Think (v2) chair

Photo of the Steelcase Think chair

This review is part of my series of reviews of ergonomic office chairs. People have wildly varying opinions when it comes to chairs, and you should always test a chair for a few days in your own work environment before buying it. (See more advice on how to buy a good chair.) Don’t use my reviews to decide which chair to buy; use them as a starting point for your own testing.

After test-driving the Herman Miller Embody and the Steelcase Gesture, I felt a bit down. I had just tried out two top-of-the-line models from the two most renowned high-end chair manufacturers and neither was good enough. Would I ever find a suitable chair for myself? As it happened, my next candidate, the Steelcase Think, restored my faith in ergonomic chairs.

The Think is something of an overlooked model in Steelcase’s lineup. In fact, I wasn’t even supposed to try it out. The salesman who gave me a demonstration of Steelcase chairs didn’t even consider it worthy enough to show it to me, and I had never seen it mentioned on the Internet, so I wasn’t even aware of its existence. The only reason the Think ended up in my apartment was that, on a later visit to the Steelcase dealership, I noticed one of the employees sitting on it, and requested a quick test. Apart from the stylish design (which I admit was what caught my eye in the first place), I noticed it had a unique recline mechanism, a mesh backrest, and highly adjustable armrests. It definitely deserved an extended look.

The Think is – in my humble opinion – the best-looking chair made by Steelcase. Its striking lines make more conventional models like the Leap or even the Gesture look positively mundane. I think it could even give the gorgeous Herman Miller Embody a run for its money.

The backrest on the Think is unique. It has a coarse mesh supported on a flexible, plastic “ladder” that presumably is there to prevent you from “falling in”. There is also a built-in, non-optional lumbar support – a plastic-and-metal bar that you can slide up or down. Here’s a clip showing how the backrest responds:

For complicated reasons, I actually test-drove the Think twice, with a 6-month break in between. On my first test, I found the backrest comfortable enough, as did one of my friends (who ended up buying the Think and is happy with it). However, another friend immediately rejected the Think, complaining that the plastic strings in the back dug into his upper back. On my second test – for reasons I cannot fully account for – I started feeling the same hardness that my other friend had noticed. After several hours, my shoulder blades got a bit sore from the continuous pressure. I had to place a thin layer of white foam (the type LCD displays come in) between the 3D mesh and the topmost string, which solved the problem for me (and made the chair look slightly less good). After about two weeks, I removed the foam and never looked back. I suppose my back just got used to the small discomfort.

Apart from that brief episode, the Think’s backrest was pretty comfortable for me, although it is, of course, a highly subjective thing. I will say this, however: if you’re looking for comfort, you would do better to pick a chair with a padded backrest or one made of a soft mesh (i.e. not like the Herman Miller Aeron or Mirra).

The backrest on my test model was the default, “3D-Knit” version. You can also order a backrest that’s covered in fabric – which might temper the hardness of the plastic ladder, but doesn’t look as good as the 3D-knit version (I think Steelcase knows this – in their marketing materials they only show the mesh backrest), and provides less airflow (though not dramatically so – the fabric is quite thin). I think I would recommend the mesh version (with the foam mod, if necessary).

Speaking of airflow, the chief advantage of a mesh backrest is coolness, and the Steelcase Think does not disappoint. On hot summer days, with the temperature in my room exceeding 27 °C, the Think was 25% cooler to sit on than the Steelcase Amia. Wait a second, what does “25% cooler” even mean? Glad you asked. That’s a totally subjective figure which is supposed to represent how hot I felt after sitting for a period of time (between 30 and 45 minutes) on the Think versus how I felt on the Amia in the same conditions. Yes, I know it’s pseudoscience, but I did many rounds of tests, and I stand by my figure. I’m comparing the Think with the Amia because I happened to have those two chairs in my apartment at the same time. For reference, the Amia’s thermal performance is a bit better than that of the Steelcase Leap or Please. All of these are chairs with padded backrests.

The vital service of supporting your lumbar spine is provided by a movable plastic-and-steel bar. The problem is that the bar is almost as flexible as the plastic “rungs”, and I didn’t feel much of a difference regardless of where I placed it. This lack of firmness is the reason why lumbar support is not the Think’s forte. It is perhaps a little better than the Amia, but can’t hold a candle to the likes of Leap, Please, Gesture or Embody. For my uses, it’s acceptable, but if you intend on spending a lot of time working in the upright position, and you don’t have a habit of maintaining a good lumbar curve, I would look elsewhere.

The unique backrest is attached to a unique reclining system. The Think is equipped with a weight mechanism. With most chairs, you get a knob that lets you choose how strongly the backrest pushes you forward. The optimum position of the knob depends on your body mass (heavier users need more resistance, or else they will drop all the way back) and your preferred recline angle. With a counterweight system, the backrest is connected to the seat, so that a heavier user will automatically get a more resistant backrest. The most obvious advantage is that the chair doesn’t have to be adjusted for each user, making it great for environments in which the same chair is used by different people. (This review, however, won’t be concerned with that scenario.)

Usually, the biggest weakness of weight-based systems is that they only take into account one of the two variables that determine the backrest’s resistance (your body weight) – and not the other (your preferred recline angle). As a result, you’re locked into whatever the chair’s designers decided to be the “optimum angle” (for an example, see the Humanscale Liberty review). The Steelcase Think eliminates this weakness by giving you a four-stop dial to modify the weight-based recline angle:

  1. Upright (tilt limiter) – 111° hip angle
  2. Mid-stop (tilt limiter) – 117° hip angle
  3. Near-upright (“boosted” setting) – 115° hip angle
  4. Maximum recline (standard weight-based setting) – 123° hip angle

Here are photos showing positions 1, 3 and 4:

Photo showing 3 main positions on the Steelcase Think chair

I did not include a photo of position 2 (mid-stop) because it is almost indistinguishable from the “boosted” setting. The only difference is that with the boosted setting, you can recline to the max if you push hard enough, while the mid-stop setting has a hard limit. I’m not sure why anyone would prefer a hard limit to a gentle, bouncy limit.

The recline mechanism is of the “smooth” type – you can tilt the backrest back and forth around some “neutral” position, but you cannot recline too far back because the force exerted by the backrest on your back will eventually go up. In fact, the resistance on the Think increases quite steeply. Whereas most other “smooth” chairs are pushovers that will let you easily tilt the backrest back by a large distance, the Think fights back and will quickly ramp up the opposing force. It does not feel like a rocking chair – it’s a more crisp, high-energy sensation, like bouncing against something. The Think is, in fact, the most “bouncy” chair that I’ve tested. Viscerally, I found it quite satisfying, and I think this kind of springy, limited rocking is a good match for an office chair, as rocking over a large distance would probably make it more difficult to type and use the mouse.

I am quite convinced that the combination of a smooth backrest and the four-stop position dial is a near-perfect system. This is for two reasons:

  • You can instantly switch from a “typing” (near-upright) position to a “casual browsing” (reclined) position, and back again (because the two positions are pre-set, you don’t have to fiddle with a continuous knob every time). This encourages frequent position changes.
  • You keep the ability to rock, whether you’re near-upright (position 3) or reclined (position 4). This is not the case when you use a standard tilt lock or tilt limiter. Rocking is fun and probably good for your health.

You might think that the pre-set recline angles – as opposed to “infinite”, continuous resistance adjustment – limit your freedom to set the recline angle “just right”. However, in my testing (and I had the chair for several weeks), I never once wished for an extra preset. In fact, adding intermediate stops would ruin the main advantage of the chair, as more clicks would be required to go from a near-upright to a reclined positions.

It would seem that all the chess pieces are in place for a resounding victory – finally a chair that lets you easily switch back and forth between a near-upright and reclined positions, with one click (of a knob), without sacrificing “rockability” – a feat that is out of reach for Steelcase’s “sticky backrests” (Leap, Gesture, Amia, Please – which have very little rockability) and for the “smooth backrests” like the Herman Miller Embody (which have no rockability when the tilt limiter is engaged).

Unfortunately, the Think squanders some of its advantage because of mechanical details. Although the resistance dial on the Think is thankfully pretty easy to access, you have to perform some gymnastics in order to switch from one mode to another. You cannot simply turn the knob – you have to lean forward before that. If you neglect that first step, the knob will (1) not turn at all, or (2) it will turn but the mode won’t change (the click sound will be subtly different). The second failure type is particularly user-unfriendly because it doesn’t give you sufficient feedback that you did something “wrong” and can have you wondering why the new mode feels the same as the old mode. (In some cases, you can turn the knob and then lean forward to “activate” the change, but this works only for some position changes and it’s probably best to just use the more universal sequence in all situations.)

I also have to mention that, after a few weeks of using the chair, the mechanism degraded to the point that it became completely impossible to switch from mode 3 to mode 4, no matter what I did with the backrest. The only way I could get it to work is by turning the knob very rapidly from mode 1 to mode 4. This is a clear mechanical issue that would be covered by warranty – I’m not sure if it’s a manufacuring defect with my demo unit or a manifestation of some design flaw. The issue is not shown in the video below because it cropped up after I recorded it.

All the mode-switching gymnastics are made easier by the fact that it is quite easy to lean forward on the Think due to its “bounciness”. The optimal technique is to first lean back, compressing the spring in the recline mechanism, and then have the spring push you forward with little effort from your abdominal muscles (and without bending your lumbar spine too much).

At great expense, I made a video so that y’all could see exactly how the recline mechanism on the Think works:

The biggest problem with the backrest (and the chair as a whole) is that it doesn’t recline far enough. The maximum hip angle is only around 123° – even less than the Steelcase Amia and Herman Miller Embody. When using the chair, I often wished that I could give my lumbar spine a bit more rest.

Another pretty serious issue is that the lumbar support keeps sliding down, especially if you use the fully reclined position a lot. During my tests, I had to readjust it a few times a day. This is a surprisingly common problem – I’ve experienced it, to some degree, on every Steelcase chair fitted with a height-adjustable lumbar. Fortunately, on the Think, the issue is easy to fix by sticking two appropriately sized pieces of plastic or hard cardboard into the slot in the side of the frame, below the tabs which are used to move the support. It worked perfectly for me – no more sliding down lumbar support.

Photos showing the lumbar support on the Think in the initial position and after two hours of sitting.

The lumbar support on my Think would keep sliding down, especially if I switched positions a lot. (Actual photo before and after 2 hours of use.)

The armrests on the Steelcase Think v2 are one of the best in the industry:

  • They stay level as you recline, enabling you to keep using them in all positions.
  • You can adjust them inward in order to support your forearms as you touch-type.
  • You can retract them quite far, enabling you to move close to your desk – you don’t have to stretch your arms out to reach the keyboard.
  • You can pull them down if you want them out of the way.
  • The armrest caps have the right amount of friction to allow you to slide your forearms on them as you move the mouse.

There are minor differences between the armrests on the Think and the excellent armrests on the Leap and Amia. The Think’s armrests have a bit less left/right adjustability (though still enough to comfortably rest your forearms on them as you use the keyboard) and the caps are less soft (though by no means hard). If I had to criticize the armrests on the Think, it would be on that last point – though, in truth, they never caused me any discomfort when using the chair. I only noticed the difference later, after I had the chance to try out the Steelcase Leap.

The Tom Test

How does the Think fare on my checklist? Let’s have a look:

  • Easy changing between at least two positions (near-upright and reclined): I’m not sure. The reclined position is not very reclined. You can go from the near-upright position to the reclined position with a single click of a dial, but you have to lean forward first.
  • Open hip angle in the reclined position: I’m not sure. The backrest doesn’t recline enough.
  • Lumbar support: Pass. It’s decent, but not firm enough, and keeps sliding down unless you mod the chair.
  • Backrest should adapt to your back: Pass. It conforms to your back better than most chairs, but the plastic supports can dig into your shoulder blades.
  • Seatpan must not be too long: Pass.
  • Micromovements: Pass. The best “rockability” among office chairs, in every position.
  • Armrests (if you care about them): Pass. Exceptional adjustability, no real shortcomings.
  • Annoyances: Lumbar support keeps sliding down. Mechanical glitches when switching positions.

Final words

The second edition of the Steelcase Think is an interesting chair that I feel does not get the attention it deserves. After testing about 10 high-end chairs, I was seriously considering buying a Think because of its good airflow (suitable for hot summers), and the unique reclining system that enables rocking in every position and – on the whole – easy switching between positions (despite some mechanical niggles). I am also partial to good armrests, and the Think’s are almost perfect. Finally, at $840 or €670 (incl. VAT), the Think is priced more reasonably than other high-end chairs.

On the negative side, the Think doesn’t recline far enough to give your lumbar spine a satisfactory rest break. The lumbar support is not firm enough and if you like to work sitting upright, there is a danger that you will round your lower back and the chair won’t stop you. Because of these shortcomings, I would only recommend the Think to a subset of users – people who work in a (semi-)reclined position or are trained to maintain the correct lumbar curve.

21 Comments so far

  • Jack

    What did you end up buying?

  • makel

    I read your review & I think the problem is the think v2 with the ”3d Knit” and the new lumbar support.

    I recently bought a second hand office think v1 black leather and it sounds like it is miles better than the v2 you reviewed, it is very comfortable, soft and smooth, not too thick either like the 3d knit is, also the back lumbar is not restricted only one certain area like the v2 you reviewed, it can moved right to the bottom or as high as you’d like, I’ve not noticed it moving about either, the mechanismworks perfect and the leather runs all the way up even to the back of the lip, by the stamp underneath the chair it seems like this chair is over 10 years old yet I can’t believe it’s still this great, I’d advise you try out a used one on eBay it cost me only 199 euros delivered.

    I actually also loved the design of the think I do think its one of the best designs also and I also like the name ” think” as someone who sits of the computer for long periods of time that is what I need it do! lol, I made the purchase after watching your youtube video & a few others, all the best.

  • yann

    The perfect THINK would be:

    A backrest that can be tilted 135 ° with headrests for a sitting, standing position for resting.
    The armrests as flexible as the gesture; for me!
    A lumbar support that does not slip, with more rigid.
    Better mechanical reliability, to switch from one tilt mode to another.

    It must be improved, even if it’s a steelcase, and it deserves your incredible attention:

    Thank you very much.
    Yann. France.

  • Ben Childs

    Hi, a god article, thanks. Are the arm rests completely removable?

  • Bill Brunelle

    I love your approach to reviewing. Very helpful.
    Between the Amia, and the Leap, which do you prefer?
    I’m considering a new Amia or a refurbished Leap with a
    a 2 year warranty with a company that has a good reputation.

    My question presumes that you do prefer the Amia over the Leap.

    Many thanks.


  • Aditya

    One of the rare reviews on this chair I am considering. Thanks a lot for noticing the abscence of good, actually any content on this chair. You took a crucial step in filling the void. I will try to make a review too if I end up buying one.

    • Nishant

      My Think V2 with 3D knit got delivered just day before yesterday and it is good chair overall but the backrest is not the best. I have been facing the same problem as Tom with the supporting plastic digging into my shoulder blades. If you are over 5’10” in height then you might face the same problem. You can try adding a foam or a thick towel between the mesh and the supporting plastic but it might not be very useful. At least in my case it didn’t help.

      Also, thanks Tom for your very thorough review. It is very useful.

      • Pannaga

        I think this is by far the most comprehensive reviews I have seen. Going by Tom’s and your assessment, I’m inclined to pick the Featherlite Helix (one of their best chairs) over this. I tried both chairs twice, and it isn’t an easy decision.

    • Pannaga

      Hey Aditya,

      Did you actually end up buying one? I’m deliberating between the Think V2 and the Featherlite Helix, both fantastic chairs.

  • Pannaga Simha

    Fantastic review. I’m in the process of replacing my average home office chair with something that has better ergonomics and the Think is on top of my shortlist.

    The only thing that somewhat bothers me in the 2 short auditions that I have done is that the back does not have a firm fixed setting when upright. Is the play (rocking) something that people get used to over time or can that turn into an annoyance?

    Appreciate insights.

  • Britt Schmidt

    Thank you so much for this insightful review. Would you by chance have a picture of where/how you inserted the plastic/cardboard to keep the lumbar from sliding down? I can’t seem to keep mine in one spot either, and this is the first I’ve heard of this type of solution. Thank you!

    • Tomasz P. Szynalski

      Sorry, I don’t remember the details and I couldn’t find any photos of my “solution”. If I remember correctly, I just jammed something into the slots in the sides. It was a piece of plastic or cardboard that I cut to size, so that it rested on the bottom of the slot (to stop it sliding down) on one end and propped up the lumbar on the other end (to stop the lumbar from sliding down). I may have also used some kind of sticky tape to make sure the plastic strip didn’t fall out of the slot. The obvious downside to this solution is that you can no longer adjust the lumbar down beyond a certain point, but if you’re the only user, it’s not a problem.

  • Min Tran

    I talked with a Steelcase dealer in my country and they said that Think is their bestseller/Steelcase’s most popular chair. I’m torn between the Think and Gesture.

  • JO

    Bought Think2 with headrest few months ago. This is the worst chair I’ve ever bought (in term of the price).
    Headrest is the worst thing. Cheap plastic, uncomfortable, bad design, too thin structure makes it sway (make me feel like carsick).
    Adjustable knob for backrest always stuck. Sometime the knob can be twisted but the backrest doesn’t move to the right position. And the cable that control the adjustment sometime move out of the place and stuck.

    Have to thrown away and bring back old IKEA chair with 3 time cheaper but better.

  • MF

    i also bough the 3D Knit Back and its very hard and uncomfortable. the worst part is the lumbar support, that’s pressing the plastic ribs into my spine.
    I regret buying this chair a lot. My 50€ chair was more comfortable.

  • Ben

    Thanks so much for your insightful review. I would like to point out a couple things about your review that I think are particularly helpful:

    1. You do a great job of characterizing the reservations that I have about office chairs that claim to use a “weight-sensing” mechanism. It assumes that it can infer the angle the person wants to be supported at merely from the person’s weight and the position the person is in at the moment. This is often an incorrect assumption–particularly when the person is changing positions in the chair. I frequently like shifting from a position where I have both legs on the floor to one where I am sitting on one leg (for brief periods of time, to stretch the hip muscles on the side of the leg I am sitting on).

    In a weight-sensitive chair, it frequently has me leaning back too much when I am sitting in this position. That’s why my favorite chairs are ones that have tilt-limiters. However, I appreciate the point you’re making about it being healthy to rock for circulation purposes.

    Incidentally, this is why, in fancier office chairs, there is frequently a small amount of travel even when a chair is locked into a specific position (i.e. in chairs that have multiple tilt-locks, not chairs with tilt-limiter chairs which I prefer).

    2. You do a great job of explaining what is unique about the Think mechanism. It sounds like what makes it special is that the spring resistance does not respond linearly to a given amount of deflection. That is, on some modes (presumably the boost modes?), it resists a slight deflection only slightly, but increases the spring resistance at a greater rate than is typical with office chairs if you try to deflect the chair to a greater degree. I can see how this would create a very pleasurable sensation, as it lets you rock slightly at a given incline, but if you have to briefly shift your weight so that you are deflecting the back significantly, it ramps up it’s support to a large degree to help you resume your previous position.

    I am trying to think of an analogy to explain this spring sensation to someone. Perhaps a coin purse with a gusset? Although that seems to have the inverse response (i.e. if you deflect it a little, there is great resistance, but if you deflect it a significant amount to open it, the resistance decreases).

    If you are still interested in advancements in office chairs, I can say that I was impressed with the spring mechanism on the X Chair. I believe it has double springs that are quite heavy duty. This enables the user to have more granular control over the spring tension, provides a greater range of adjustment than I have seen in most chairs, and feels more stable and strong than spring tension mechanisms that I have encountered in the past. I’m not sure if the spring tension has the dynamics that you described in your article, but I’d be curious to hear your impressions of it if you ever get to try it. Please note that I am not endorsing the X Chair, as I find it has a sort of mesh, “bucket-seat” effect that I find quite uncomfortable.

    Sorry to write such a long post, but office chairs are very important to me, and so I really appreciate when I read thoughtful opinions on them. I wanted to provide one observation that I have encountered. That concerns the need to lean forward when shifting from one weight mechanism setting to another. In my experience, this requirement that one shifts one’s weight forward in the chair to change the setting is present in all office chairs that offer variable tilt settings (other than perhaps ones with a mere tilt-lockout, as in the chair is limited to being totally upright or allowed to recline fully across the range of the chair’s mechanism).

    The reason that chairs require this is actually a safety mechanism. Consider if a petite person sits in a chair that has infinite tilt lock (i.e. the chair’s recline angle can be locked in multiple levels of tilt, and stays at that tilt level so long as the tilt is locked), and the spring tension is turned up for a larger person. If the petite person unlocks the chair while they are reclining, they can be thrown out of the chair while in a reclined body position. While this is possible even if the person is sitting up, requiring them to sit up slightly forces them to brace their body such that they are less likely to fall over if the chair suddenly “springs up”, because they will likely have their feet on the floor and their body in a more “upright” position in order to lift their weight up from the chair in order to change the mechanism setting.

    I even believe this requirement may be part of some office chair safety standard. However, I am not certain of this (or even that it is present in most chairs). I have merely seen it referred to in some chair descriptions as a safety feature and noticed that it is required in essentially every chair that I’ve had.

    Anyway, thanks for your review of this chair. I hope to read more of your thoughts on ergonomics.

    Your review has motivated me to look more closely at the Think chair the next time I have an opportunity to try it. I would like to here more about the differences between v1 and v2 of the chair.

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