Apparently, when it comes to snowflakes, we’ve been misinformed.
Adriana, a young and energetic participant in We Care, fills me in, “There’s a factory up in the clouds, stamping the snow, and that’s what’s shaping the snowflakes. They could be the same or different—it depends.”
It’s undetermined whether this explanation had anything to do with the holiday card she was decorating at the time—covered in silver ink-stamped snowflakes.
Here in Holland, Michigan, Adriana was one of 225 kids and 50 employee volunteers stamping, gluing, and coloring during the Herman Miller-sponsored arts and crafts extravaganza known as We Care.
Steve Hightower, a Herman Miller employee and avid volunteer of six years, said his favorite part is “seeing the kids smiling and running around. They get a chance to do crafts that maybe they wouldn’t otherwise. It’s really cool.”
This year marks the 16th anniversary of We Care, our partnership with Boys and Girls Clubs of America and local design firms. We Care reaches 30 communities across North America and this holiday, more than 6,000 youngsters came to craft.
What do materials bring to a design? Most immediately, they bring pleasure.
It’s the materials of a space that give it resonance, according to Susan Lyons, Creative Director at Herman Miller. Material colors and textures “provide the experience when you walk into a room,” she says.
Lyons says there’s a sort of alchemy that happens when everything comes together: “the form, the touch, the use, the product works, it looks beautiful, it feels good, and life is good.”
“We have to be incredibly mindful and purposeful with how we use our resources,” says Susan Lyons, Materials Creative Director at Herman Miller. This is a major idea behind sustainable design at Herman Miller—doing more with less material is a constant challenge, but one we’re passionate about. A great example: the Setu chair.
As Lyons explains, Setu’s Kinematic Spine, inspired by the chambered nautilus, uses “structure instead of mass” to create its strength and flexibility. And this sustainable innovation, designed by Studio 7.5, yields a lighter, ready-to-sit chair; with Setu, there’s nothing to tilt or tweak, just immediate comfort.
When Charles and Ray Eames were asked to produce a film for the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959, they agreed, but on the condition that the film would not be reviewed before the show.
Government officials who had sanctioned the film were clueless on the progress—even the subject—of the film, as documented inEames: The Architect and the Painter. During regular check-ins, a representative would sit down for a showing, the reel would start, and then shortly thereafter go blank. “Well that’s all we have so far,” was the comment from the Eames Office team. “Oh, okay, looks good I guess,” was the typical response from the minder. And so it went, all the way to opening day.
Arriving in Moscow the night before the scheduled opening, film in hand, Charles and Ray were ready to premiere their Glimpses of the U.S.A. Displayed on seven screens, each 20 feet high by 30 feet wide, their film stole the show. Time magazine called it “the smash hit of the Fair.”
But how does such a film end? It was George Nelson, exhibition design director, who suggested the Eameses finish “with love,” and they did: a single shot of forget-me-nots, translated literally in English and Russian.
As a Japanese-American in a time when the world was at war, Isamu Noguchi embraced both sides of his heritage culturally and artistically; because of this, it is fitting that Isamu means courage.
During World War II, Noguchi voluntarily entered a relocation camp for Japanese-Americans in Arizona as a protest against the camps—and then was unable to get permission to leave. After seven months, he was granted liberation. “I was finally free,” he said gratefully. “I resolved henceforth to be an artist only.”
Much had happened during his internment, including with Noguchi’s art. He discovered that someone had “borrowed” his design idea for a three-legged table. To Noguchi’s protests, the borrower replied, “Anybody can make a three-legged table.” Noguchi designed one as only he could, balancing a freeform glass top on a curved, solid wood base. The ethereal result has been in production since 1948.
Most widely known for his sculptures made from any and every material, Noguchi’s artistic experimentations were diverse: from baby monitors to stage sets, children’s playgrounds to fountains. “I like to think of my work as having some kind of relevance, no matter how abstract or how small or how big,” said Noguchi. “It has a voice which other people can hear.”
Solving problems through design is a core goal at Herman Miller. Because materials are an integral part of our designs, they can solve problems, too. In this segment, third in a series on Herman Miller materials design, Susan Lyons discusses the possibilities of materials and how they play a key role in problem-solving design.
“We spend a lot of time out and about, looking for materials that we may have no idea what we’re going to do with them,” says Lyons. Our job is then to ask, “How can we possibly begin to use this? What could we do with it? What could it turn into?”
The answers to these questions sometimes come naturally. “Nature is the most efficient designer,” she has said, and the best innovations already exist in nature. GreenShield, a sustainable nanotechnology textile finish, mimics the lotus leaf’s “micro-roughness,” repelling dirt and oil naturally. By experimenting with GreenShield and our own materials, we developed Quilty—a high performance textile that stays clean because of its design, not chemicals.
The lords are leaping and the maids are milking, but who’s been making all these stockings?
For the fifth year, holiday stockings hung along the corridors of the Herman Miller Design Yard and multiplied into the hundreds. And they’re not cookie-cutter stockings either—each are one-of-a-kind and handmade out of our textile leftovers. In fact, every once in a while, passersby try buying one for themselves to hang over their fireplace.
However, these stockings were not for sale, but rather made for a greater cause. In the season of giving, Herman Miller employees volunteered their lunch hours for sewing and decorating a total of 477 stockings. All those carefully crafted stockings were distributed to these handpicked charities: Holland Rescue Mission, Urban Family Ministries, Love INC, and St. Jude’s Ranch for Children. These organizations work directly with the families who took the stockings filled with goodies home for the holidays.
“Let the material be itself and do what it does best,” explains designer and Herman Miller Creative Director, Susan Lyons. Material honesty is about being true to the natural attributes of a material and taking full advantage of its capabilities.
The Eames molded plywood lounge chair (LCW), as Lyons mentions, is an example of this philosophy at work. The lounge, crafted from molded plywood and left uncovered, allows the wood’s natural beauty to shine. Combined with a sculpted form designed to the contours of the human body, the LCW has a utilitarian elegance that rightly earned it the distinction of Best Design of the 20th century by Time magazine.
Honesty is one of five material design principles Lyons and Herman Miller live by: honesty, utility, economy, pleasure, and possibility.
Five principles guide Lyon’s work as our Materials Creative Director: honesty, utility, economy, pleasure, and possibility. Each is essential when creating innovative products and environments.
Susan Lyons got her start printing “artsy” t-shirts for a college fundraising project which caught the attention of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, who later ordered 200 of them.
As her career grew, Lyons’ passion for textiles turned towards sustainability. “Spending my days in the [textile] factory made me realize how much I enjoyed the process of making. I had this idea that we could make things more intelligently, more green,” she said. Working with other environmental advocates, Lyons developed an award-winning collection of cradle-to-cradle compostable textiles.
At Herman Miller, Lyons has her hands in nearly every project. From color palettes to textiles and materials, she works with our other designers to make sure every design is just right.
“The stakes are high, the budget low, the deadline impossible.” Doesn’t that sound like every project you’ve ever been involved in? For George Nelson, who said this about the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959, the need to succeed was set against the backdrop of nuclear threats and deep distrust.
It was the height of the Cold War, and the United States Information Agency (USIA) chose to burden and bless Nelson with the mission of exhibition design director. The pressure on Nelson came from all sides; even President Eisenhower asked the exhibit to “open the door of the Iron Curtain a crack.”
If being design director wasn’t harrowing enough, Nelson later took on curator duties. With time running short, he designated tasks to outside designers, including Buckminster Fuller, who built a geodesic dome where Charles and Ray Eames’ short film, “Glimpses of the U.S.A,” was shown.
Nelson, who was also juggling the role of Herman Miller design director during this time, built an intricate jungle gym structure featuring a number of Herman Miller furnishings—the Nelson Coconut Chair and the Eames Lounge were among thousands of products. Another of his exhibition designs featured 90 fiberglass umbrellas that canopied over photography, architectural, and fashion collections.
In the end, Nelson was blessed with success. The first major American exhibition in the USSR over six weeks enticed three million Soviets to come and catch a glimpse of mid-century American life.