A writer all her life, Christine MacLean believes words well chosen make the world a better place. She's written for Herman Miller and other clients for more than 10 years.
December 27, 2010
To survive and thrive on the other side of the economic downturn, companies are going to have to take innovation to a whole new level—even companies like ours that have a reputation for innovation.
There are a lot of ways we enable innovation here. We work with leading designers, explore new materials and how they can be used in our products, and use ethnography to understand people and the way they work in the real world.
As part of our effort to continuously improve innovation, Jim Long, Director, Research and Development, began working with the NewNorth Center, founded by Nate Young as a nonprofit educational organization, which offers classes on innovation methods and helps companies bring discipline to their creative processes. The result is three workshops created specifically for Herman Miller. Each is built around a specific tool, including “A Day in the Life,” which puts participants in a customer’s shoes and helps them understand the customer in a very detailed way. It often reveals where that customer’s needs are not being met.
“Over time, these workshops will give us new insight into our own innovation process,” says Long, “which we can use to make something that’s already very good, even better.”
Pictured above: Nate Young, President of the NewNorth Center . Courtesy of MiBiz.
Design, Education, What's Up
December 17, 2010
Back in the 1970s, Max DePree (who was our CEO then) invited management guru Peter Drucker to talk to his management team many times. De Pree and Drucker forged a friendship based on mutual respect and similar ideas about why innovation and values were important. They also felt strongly that it was in a company’s best interest to help the people who work there realize their potential. It was the beginning of an enduring relationship between Herman Miller, Inc., Drucker, and eventually the Drucker Institute, a think-tank formed in 2006 to further Drucker’s ideas.
When the Institute decided to redesign its office space, it turned to Herman Miller. The Institute wanted a flexible space that would improve communication and support collaboration. Their new offices don’t have any walls, a move that encourages what Drucker called “sideways communication.” Furniture is on casters, so reconfiguring it is a snap. And the perimeter walls have been painted with Idea Paint, a paint that turns surfaces into marker boards.
The new office space is “the perfect blend of form and function,” writes Institute Director Rick Wartzman in his own piece about the project. Clearly, the Drucker/Herman Miller connection is still a synergistic one.
Design, What's Up
November 22, 2010
On November 4, the Art Directors Club inducted designer, architect, and author George Nelson posthumously into its Hall of Fame. Every two years the Club honors individuals who have made “significant contributions to art direction and visual communications, and whose lifetime achievements represent the highest standards of creative excellence.” The others inducted this year include Fabien Baron, creative director; Matthew Carter, typographer; and Brigitte Lacombe, photographer.
Nelson is a big part of Herman Miller’s history. He was director of design here from 1946–1971 and he designed many iconic pieces, including the coconut chair, the marshmallow sofa, and the platform bench. And we think his design philosophy—“total design is nothing more or less than a process of relating everything to everything”—is more relevant than ever.
If you’re in New York, you can see works by the new inductees free of charge at the ADC Gallery until November 23, 2010.
Nelson’s work is also part of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.
Better World, What's Up
November 11, 2010
Over the years, we’ve received some national and international recognition for everything from our products and processes to our practices and even our picnic posters. Recently we were named the first recipient of the Excellence in Business award, sponsored by the Zeeland, Michigan, Chamber of Commerce, in honor of former Chamber president Ann Query. The award is given for business excellence and contribution to the community.
Zeeland is our hometown and the hometown of our first president, D.J. De Pree. Community service is a way of life here. (One example: The Holland/Zeeland area CROP Walk has raised more than $100,000 for 23 consecutive years.) To be recognized by our own community, where the bar is set so high, makes this award special.
“Herman Miller’s employees aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty volunteering,” said Jim Schoettle, Chamber president. Jay Link, manager of corporate giving at Herman Miller agrees: “The award is a tribute to our employees, who consistently give back to the community in lasting and tangible ways.”
D.J. believed that “A business is rightly judged by its product and service — but must also face scrutiny and judgment as to its humanity.” We’re pretty sure this hometown award, more than any of the others, would make him proud.
October 13, 2010
This summer, a team of 30 University of Florida students traveled to Madrid for the Solar Decathlon, an international competition that requires building the best self-sustaining house using solar energy and other energy efficient technologies.
The students spent two years designing RE: FOCUS, a modern interpretation of a Florida “cracker house” and their wish list included Herman Miller furniture. The students approached the company about an in-kind donation and it gladly sent a Setu lounge chairs for the project.
It was easy to say yes, says John Kim, Better World marketing manager at Herman Miller, because it was a good fit with the company’s values. “We have a strong connection to higher education, and this was an interesting way to support the students’ learning and to help push the boundary of what makes an environmentally friendly home,” he says.
While the RE: FOCUS project didn’t win the competition, it did take first place in the Communications and Social Awareness category and second place in the Energy Balance category. The Setu lounge chairs helped the team meet the sustainability criteria (it’s 93% recyclable). And, because it’s comfortable and has breathable material, it provided a place for visitors seeking respite from 95-degree heat.
Photo 1 courtesy of the University of Florida
Photo 2 courtesy of Pete Vastyan
September 7, 2010
Designers excel at thinking about form and function. They are less adept at thinking about objects as cultural expression, says Prasad Boradkar, an associate professor of Industrial Design at Arizona State University and author of a new book, Designing Things: The Cultural Meaning of Objects.
“It’s not a part of normal design discourse to talk about theory—to talk about how we [designers] think about objects,” he says. He hopes the book, which is an interdisciplinary look at the cultural meanings of the things we use every day and the designer’s role in that process, will be the impetus for more discussion.
The book also explores the worth of things, the making things, the greed imperative, planned obsolescence, and even fetish objects, all the while using product examples from companies like Nike, Bling H2O, and Herman Miller.
He was inspired to include Herman Miller in the book not just because of the iconic nature of some products but also because of the company’s values, including the way it embraced design early and for the right reasons, its emphasis on durability (the 12-year warranty), and sustainability. And he admires the way the company engages external designers. It’s a great way, he says, for the company to get “a fresh perspective every time.”
June 23, 2010
Remember Frasier’s father on the TV show Frasier? He was very attached to an overstuffed recliner, “Just like my dad,” says Larry Fischer, principal at Perspectus Architecture in Cleveland.
When Fischer’s 89-year-old dad had hip replacement surgery a few years ago, Fischer started looking for a chair that would offer more than familiarity. At the Healthcare Design Conference in Florida that year, he found it. The Nala chair was not yet in production; however, Fischer was among the first to place an order.
When it arrived a few months later, Fischer replaced the recliner with the Nala–without consulting his father, who thought his low, cushy recliner was just fine. “At first, he was skeptical that it wouldn’t be comfortable because it looked kind of skeletal and he was used to overstuffed,” says Fischer. “He’s lived in that house for more than 60 years, and [stylistically] it’s definitely a typical grandpa’s house. And the chair looks pretty radical in that kind of home.”
Over time, however, he bonded with the Nala, which stops at any point along the recline range and provides correct body support. The arms that flip up all the way, allowing him to turn 90 degrees and get to his walker more easily, have been a boon. “At his age, you lose a lot of your upper body strength and that makes it hard to get out of a chair,” says Fischer, who couldn’t be more pleased that the executive decision he made to replace the chair has paid off.
“In terms of getting in and out of the chair and the comfort it offers, Nala has absolutely changed his life.”
Photo via: Larry Fischer
June 21, 2010
Okay, it kind of is, but with good reason. As almost anyone who is unemployed and looking for a job will tell you (but anyone among the majority of Americans dissatisfied with their jobs may find shocking), work is a predictor of happiness. Only about two-thirds of unemployed workers say they are satisfied with life, while more than three-quarters of working stiffs are.
That may be because work daily gives us access to other predictors of happiness. Events like staff meetings and birthday cake breaks provide social connection, which is a major predictor of happiness.
Work can also provide a sense of purpose and an opportunity to help others. And, if you have work that challenges you but is still within your capabilities, work offers flow experiences—those stretches when you’re so engrossed in an activity that you lose track of time.
“The most satisfied workers find their skills tested, their work varied, their tasks significant,” writes psychologist David Myers in The Pursuit of Happiness. A lot of that has to do with how a person frames his work more than what kind of work he does. An 18-year-old brick maker in Pakistan who makes $3.50 a day working alongside his siblings told NPR, “I’m happy because we are builders of the nation. If we don’t make bricks, people can’t build anything. Pakistan is going to develop every day because of us.” Knowing how you contribute to the bigger picture—whether as a member of a work team, a sports team, or the human race—boosts feelings of wellbeing.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who coined the term “flow,” has some suggestions for how to increase enjoyment and opportunities to experience flow, whether at work or at play. Set goals and measure your progress, immerse yourself in the activity, and focus on that moment in time, rather than worrying about tomorrow.
Money, by the way, doesn’t buy happiness, once basic needs are met. But happiness may bring more money. According to Myers, in recent research “Today’s happiness predicted tomorrow’s income better than today’s income predicted tomorrow’s happiness.”
Photo via: NPR
April 9, 2010
It started where it always does, with me wishing for more time. Since 24 hours a day is all any of us get, I’d need to be more efficient. Enter RescueTime, software that records, in a very Big Brotherish way, where you spend your time on your computer. As you use Word or Excel, shop at zappos.com, or play Farmville on Facebook, RescueTime is running in the background, mercilessly recording ever minute of it.
Initially I thought it was cool. The very first day, RescueTime awarded me a blue ribbon and told me I was in the top two percent of users—oh, the rush! But it turned out I hadn’t properly launched the program the day before, and those stellar results were only for the previous five minutes.
I have several computers I use throughout the day for different projects. Every time I returned to the computer on which I’d installed the software, RescueTime demanded to know where I’d been. The default responses include “Leisure” and “Other work” and the program allows you to customize. (I created a category called “Doggy management,” since I have a high maintenance dog.)
Often it was tough to be accurate. On a normal day, I might be away from my main computer for four hours, during which I’ve worked on a client’s project, thrown meat in the crock pot, and played tennis. There’s no way to log those activities individually, unless you remember to return to your computer between each one.
Furthermore, I sometimes found myself responding to the constant “where have you been, young lady?” like a recalcitrant teenager, clicking on the “None of your business (don’t log this time)” button, even when the time had been spent productively. While this tactic was personally gratifying, it did not help my productivity score.
To its credit, RescueTime did curtail my Facebook habit. I work alone and Facebook is to me what the water cooler is to office workers. RescueTime noticed when I lingered there too long (something you can set in the preferences) and notified me. I learned how to go to Facebook, skim my friends’ status updates, comment on a few, and leave. No more disappearing down the rabbit hole!
That worked great until a friend emailed me a link to Superwolf Ogles, a Facebook page written by a cat who is in an open relationship and has political leanings (Meo-ism).
Impossible to resist, right? I took a quick peek. Soon I was looking at a picture of a young woman named Steffani sitting on the Great Wall of China, and then at wedding photos of another complete stranger.
RescueTime waggled its Big Brother finger at me, but, already on my way to the video clip of Jim and Pam’s wedding dance (on “The Office”), I just sneered. The only one who can rescue my time is still me.
Technology, What's Up
March 24, 2010
Social media tools like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can be frivolous or useful. Frivolous: More than 724,000 kids (my son included) are Facebook fans of “Don’t complain about grading 140 essays over the weekend, you assigned it.”
Powerful: 18,000 people bypass the hype-steria surrounding the H1N1 flu by following the Center for Disease Control on Twitter. The CDC provides factual updates as information becomes available.
For most people, social media lies between the two extremes.
According to Forrester Research, almost 60% of Internet users use social media. Other research shows that a third of social media users are quite active, updating their statuses at least once a week. Their reasons vary, but 54% say they do it to stay in touch with friends and family. Less than five percent report they “regularly” use it to make buying decisions.
That will likely change. Nielsen says global consumers spent more than five hours on social networking sites in December 2009. That’s an 82% increase over December 2008. With that kind of growth, more and more companies are using social networking. They see an opportunity to build their brands and strengthen their connection with customers.
Carnival Cruise helped an unhappy customer locate the t-shirts he thought the cruise line stole from him. They only way they knew he was unhappy about it was that he tweeted about it. But companies like more than just broadcasting via social media. In fact, for the individuals who actually tweet for a company, the best part is hearing from followers.
Herman Miller uses Facebook and Twitter to share good news (such as its inclusion on FORTUNE’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list), product information, and job openings, and to find out what’s on customers’minds.
What is on their minds? Sometimes it’s their chair’s warranty, but other times it’s a pet. Take the tweet from @stacyharmon: Apparently my cat finds my Aeron chair as comfortable as I do. http://post.ly/KL10. All of it helps “humanize the brand,” social media experts say.
Social media—especially Twitter, which doesn’t allow tweets to be longer than 140 characters—also forces companies to be clear, concise, and clever. That’s good news for consumers. If they don’t have us at hello, then we say buh-bye.
Photo via: Harmon Enterprises