Simplicity . . . balance . . . spirituality . . . harmony. These words flow like silk in conversation with Eric Chan. Born in China, Chan grew up in Hong Kong and strongly believes in the Eastern philosophy of creating harmony between man, nature, and society. But as an industrial designer living in New York, he recognizes that technology has also become part of the equation. And therein lies his challenge.
"More than ever, the designer's task is to mediate the balance between people and objects, poetry and logic, technology and nature," says Chan, who received his master's degree in design from Cranbrook Academy of Art. "I am most interested in translating complicated technology into simple, understandable, and friendly products for people."
Chan says his education at Cranbrook Arts Academy taught him how to enjoy rethinking and improving everyday objects—an ergonomic telephone, a more comfortable pair of scissors, a toothbrush that's easier to hold—always striving to achieve what he calls the "aah" experience, where everything comes together, creating beauty in both form and function.
Chan understands, too, that marketing plays an important role in the process. "We're not in business to place products in museums," he says. "If beautiful forms are meaningful in the marketplace, that's when we've done our jobs. Design must be aimed at superior performance, aesthetic appeal, and marketing success."
Also an inventor, Chan holds a number of patents and has earned awards in over 20 design competitions and exhibitions throughout the world. One particularly innovative product: a venetian blind that converts solar energy into light.
In approaching the design of any product, Chan first examines the world around it. Before he began designing furniture for Herman Miller, he spent a good deal of time simply watching people work. "We observed their behavior and how they interact with others and asked, 'How can we use technology to enhance this process?'"
From his observations came the Kiva Collection, designed not only to let people work more naturally, productively, and safely, but most importantly, he says, "to allow workers to control their own way of working."
Chan is also interested in creating more harmony between work and home. "Technology allows us to travel and be more mobile, but is it really all that enjoyable or even natural?" he asks.
"It's easy to lose track of the meaning of the simple life," says Chan. "We don't need a lot to survive and be happy. I'm not sure more technology is the right answer, but the right technology can help us find new answers, and even, perhaps, simplicity."
Ecco Designs, Inc., New York, New York
Appliance Manufacturer magazine Best Overall Design Award, 1998
Seven Chicago Athenaeum Good Design Awards, 1994-98
Design News Best Product of 1990
Design-Innovation 90, Highest Award, Industrial Essen, Germany, 1990
Design Plus Award, First Prize, Frankfurt Fair, Germany, 1990
Eight Industrial Designers Society of America IDEA Awards, 1989-98
Ten ID magazine Annual Design Review Awards, 1988-99
Business Week magazine Best Product Design Award, 1989