Jack Kelley sails the Great Lakes the same way he cruises cyberspace—fast and with agility. He's as skillful on deck as he is online.
"The thrill of sailing is that it puts you in communion with natural forces," says the erstwhile divisional winner of the Queen's Cup and other trans-Lake Michigan races. "And the thrill of computers is that they put you in control of tremendous amounts of information."
Kelley uses his knowledge of computers as a driving force behind many of his furniture designs.
"You have to understand computers—and the people who depend on them—to design for today's offices," he says.
Kelley does more than stay abreast of the latest technological developments. He gets out into the real work world, meeting face-to-face with the people whose lives he's trying to make better—and more healthful.
Kelley has been captivated by computers since 1968, when he worked at the Stanford Research Institute with Douglas Engelbart, inventor of the world's first computer mouse. The mouse needed a pad, so Kelley designed it—the world's first mouse pad, an invention that brought him great satisfaction and an early understanding of the complexities of working in computer environments.
He did that work as a researcher/designer for the Herman Miller Research Corporation, headed at that time by Robert Propst, inventor of another world's first: the Action Office system. Kelley worked side-by-side with Propst throughout the 60s and early 70s and played a pivotal role in the design of many Action Office components.
During that time he also took up sailing, an avocation that dovetails nicely with his industrial design career. Both demand strict attention to detail, an understanding of obstacles, and a passion to overcome them.
"I won't tolerate anything that doesn't work on a sailboat," he asserts, "so why would I tolerate anything that doesn't work in the office?"
Kelley continues to turn that intolerance into functional and attractive products.
After more than 40 years of designing for Herman Miller, at an age when many feel awash in the tidal wave of technological advance, Jack Kelley is riding its crest.
Studio 222, Spring Lake, Michigan
IDSA Design Award for Arrio freestanding systems furniture, 1997
ID magazine Annual Design Review Award for Flex-Edge, 1995
IDSA Design Award for Scooter stand, 1987
IBD Gold Award for Ethospace system, 1985
IDSA Design Excellence Award for Ethospace system, 1985
Roscoe Award for Ethospace system, 1985
IDSA Worldesign Congress Best Design, 1960-1985, for the Action Office system, 1985