While Herman Miller has been around for more than 100 years, who we are and what we do has evolved: From our humble beginnings as the Michigan Star Furniture Company in 1905, to becoming Herman Miller in 1923; from inventing modular office systems in 1968, to the launch of SAYL–our latest ergonomic work chair–last year. Throughout, our logo has evolved along with us.
“How can the workplace evolve to respond to the contemporary realities of work culture?” challenges Allison Arieff, author of the Times piece. “I’d argue that the focus should be less on floor plans and more on ways of working.”
We agree, and advocate for choice, creativity, and variety in workspaces to best support the people and the work being done in them. But we also recognize that culture differs from organization to organization and one formula will not work across the board.
There are no easy answers, but the fact that people are talking about it is encouraging.
What if products not only did no harm, but they actually benefited the environment, people, and the economy? That’s a pretty audacious goal–even by today’s sustainability standards–but in 1995 it was pretty out there. But that’s where chemist Michael Braungart and architect William McDonough wanted to be when they developed their Cradle to Cradle (C2C) certification to help business achieve positive impact. Since then, over 400 products have been certified.
We have the utmost respect for their work. So much so, that starting in the late 90′s Herman Miller began collaborating with them to help us develop our Design for the Environment (DfE) protocols, ensuring the sustainability of our products.
As part of a whirlwind tour to promote the new “C2C” website, Braungart spoke with Metropolis blogger Joanne Furio. Following is an excerpt from the interview.
The new version of C2C is being relaunched. How has it different?
It is more specific, and the process is as well, to make it more transparent. It also includes a lot of input from international standardization institutions—like the Japan standards institute or Jordan standards institute—to put it in standard form, which makes it more easily accepted across industries.
C2C has also moved the certification process from MBDC to the nonprofit institute. Why?
We wanted to make sure that all the companies that worked with us are treated the same. Certification needs to be done by a not-for-profit organization that is accessible to everybody without any doubts or questions. Everybody can do Cradle to Cradle independently whether or not he or she is working with us [at the design consultancy].
For more of Braungart’s Q&A, please visit Metropolis.
Less than one percent of all businesses last long enough to celebrate their hundredth birthday—a distinction we’re proud to have achieved. Along the way, Herman Miller has focused on design and worked with some talented designers. As a result, we have some good design stories.
Did you know a focus group of seniors led Bill Stumpf and Don Chadwick to design the Aeron chair? Or that a back injury helped Bob Propst imagine systems furniture? Good Design: Stories from Herman Miller is an opportunity to learn how chance conversations and everyday experiences were the catalysts for products that have defined the way we live and work.
The exhibit’s next stop is the Austin Museum of Art in Austin, Texas. Please stop by if you’re in the area.
The answer depends on your perspective. Certainly, the daily distractions and interruptions we experience in the office are annoying. They can be costly, too. According to one estimate, distractions cost American businesses $650 billion annually. And a recent poll of office workers found that 53 percent said distractions affect their productivity.
Distractions affect the one commonality we all share—our minds. And in a work world increasingly focused on ideas, we need uninterrupted time to think and concentrate. But, in many ways, distractions are not only unavoidable, they’re desirable. “Fortuitous encounters”—those hallway, coffee-station, and copy-room conversations—allow people to get work done.
Then, too, there is the fact that so many of us are working together more than ever. “The collaborative nature of knowledge work involves socializing, sharing, and connecting,” says Herman Miller’s Ginny Baxter, “and that in itself can be distracting. Even so, people in today’s collaborative work environments need to be involved and accessible.” So how do you balance concentration and being connected? Some think glass walls may do the trick. We’d love to hear your ideas.
The Coffee Bar is a vibrant place for Herman Miller employees to work, relax, socialize.
Have you made a great work connection by bumping into a co-worker at the coffee pot? Or at the proverbial water cooler? Or the copy machine? Increasingly these spaces are being recognized as vital places where information is exchanged and things get done.
In education we call them “hubs,” but in the office you can think of them as community areas: places where people gather to work, relax, and socialize. They’re often close by and comfortable, natural places for people to interact.
Ours is the Coffee Bar, a centrally located casual space for us to grab a cup o’ joe, and expresses the warmth, creativity, and whimsy inherent in our organization. It’s a place to share a highlight from the previous day’s game, and a chat about a current assignment before we go on our individual ways.
When we don’t need the formality of a conference room, the Coffee Bar is a place to have a meeting. There are booths, high tables, or–Michigan weather permitting–an outdoor courtyard. Because people are always passing through, a two person meeting might morph into a three or four person meeting when we wave someone over–or they invite themselves to join.
Community areas like the Coffee Bar interest us, and Herman Miller researchers are currently studying these spaces. Share your office’s community area with us and you could win a Herman Miller work chair of your choice. Send us a photo of your company’s community area along with your name, geographic location, and thoughts on what makes it a great place to work – and we’ll register you to win.
Any designer will tell you, including Yves Béhar of fuseproject, that designing a chair is a formidable task, and an appealing one. As this clip from the Wall Street Journal notes, the appeal is particularly strong for architects. That’s because, according to Barry Bergdoll, curator at MoMA, a chair “makes space, it has support, so in the end the chair is architecture.” Like architecture, chairs are so visible, our relationship to them so intimate, that designing them can give pause.
Béhar, an industrial designer, sought inspiration for his design of the SAYL chair from a very architectural form: suspension bridges. For Béhar, the project had appeal and risk. He says, “I practiced for more than a decade and waited to tackle the work chair. And it is only after turning 40 that I feel ready for such an epic design challenge.” Part of the challenge, says Béhar, lies in the fact that “every part serves a structural or tactile purpose. Every part is about creating comfort while needing to be visually cohesive and beautiful.”
An element of risk, certainly, but ah the rewards. And it’s especially gratifying when others recognize the achievement, in SAYL’s case the latest coming from IDEA.
Ask any person in global real estate, and he or she can recite all the challenges of designing offices across cultures. But some places are more challenging than others. Take Dubai, for instance. Why Dubai? Politically stable, Dubai has developed a reputation for being a safe place for people of all nationalities to work and for companies from all over the world to do business. But, in Dubai, nationals make up only 10 percent of the workforce. So designers must not only create offices that take into account cultural norms rooted in Islamic law, they must also make sure offices appeal to the other 90 percent, who come from neighboring countries, with their own cultures, and from the headquarter countries of the multinational. Talk about challenging. Do you have any insights to add to ours?
First, I’m not disparaging Danish design; quite the contrary. The zero represents an audacious goal for us: Getting to a zero operational footprint by 2020. For the Danes, the goal is to be known as the world’s leading design society by 2020. By that they mean a society where design is integral to the way everyone—from government official to average citizen—uses design to make life better. A big, audacious goal. Will they achieve it? If we’re any indication, yes. People laughed at us when in 2004 we said we’d get to a zero by 2020: no VOC air emissions, no process water use, no hazardous waste, no solid waste to landfills. Today, just seven years into it, we’re nearly 91 percent of the way there. Let’s cheer for the Danes.
Good design addressed needs, and in healthcare—where patients, nurses, doctors, and support staff are all interacting in one environment—there are a lot of people with a lot of different needs. Gary Cruce, design principle at Nemschoff, understands this and the award-winning Oasis overbed table is a result.
Gary and I recently had an opportunity to talk about the design of Oasis.
What are some of the issues relating to overbed tables?
There are a lot of different people competing for the same small space on an overbed table. For patients, it is often the only place they can reach and store things while sitting in bed. Nurses use part of the table for setup and prep when they are in the room. And then, threes times a day it’s cleared to hold a food tray.
Research was a part of the project early on, and we worked closely with Kerrie Cardon, a nurse consultant with Herman Miller Healthcare. A photo survey she put together, for example, really helped us understand all of the ways [an overbed table] was being used.
How did this understanding translate into the design of Oasis?
We started by creating a top with a low-walled space at one end to better organize items, but without being too prescriptive and creating cup holders and niches for specific items. It’s easy to move things there when the nurse is working or the food tray arrives. On the column you sometimes find a box of some kind; we designed a small tray instead, which we left open for easy access and visibility. We added tall edges to the tray to keep things from falling off.