Kate Convissor is testing the limits of mobile technology as she writes for Discover while on an extended road trip. You can follow her travel blog at www.wanderingnotlost.org.
Design, What's Up
December 24, 2010
Pictured above: Pauline Verbeek-Cowart, associate professor at KCAI
“Design is a response to social change.” –George Nelson
Certainly, a lot of social change has taken place since George Nelson, Herman Miller’s revolutionary lead designer in the 40s and 50s, said those words. The way offices function and the way people work has changed dramatically.
So, what might contemporary artists and designers have to say about design and social change? I quizzed a student and a professor at the Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) about their response to George Nelson’s statement and about the relationship between art and design in general. Here’s what they had to say:
Theo Bunch, a senior at KCAI, said that, while design can be a response to social change, it’s also a response to life. “Design is part of life. We’re always changing,” he said. “Design, like art, represents human expression and creative thought. It’s planned, intelligent, creative thinking. Design is applied art, like physics is applied math.
According to Pauline Verbeek-Cowart, associate professor and chair of the Fiber Department, “Artists and designers have always responded to the world around them, this action is often a reaction to the status quo, to the current culture. What happens in the world of art and design is a response to societal norms, and social change can be the outcome.
So, there you have it, a contemporary reflection on a past visionary. Let the discussion continue…
December 6, 2010
Derrell Jackson does not miss opportunity when it knocks. In this case, opportunity not only presented a chance to showcase Herman Miller product on ABC’s highly popular “Extreme Makeover,” but also to do some good in the process.
“Lately, the show’s producers have focused on choosing families who need help but who are also trying to help others,” says Jackson, a member of Herman Miller’s Presence Marketing team. The Anderson’s, a Cleveland mom and dad who were chosen for this episode, are both visually impaired, and one of their two sons is hearing impaired, but the family has started a home-based nonprofit to help others who are similarly challenged.
The family asked that their new home be furnished with modern classics because the simplicity of the furniture is easier for the couple to navigate. And who does modern classics better than Herman Miller?
So, the show’s producers contacted Jackson and “asked for the world”—and they darned near got it. With help from Brian Scharp, Retail Marketing team, and Genesis Seating, a Herman Miller supplier, Herman Miller was the main furniture provider for this house, donating some of its most recognizable classics, such as Eames lounge and Aluminum Group seating, Nelson swag leg chairs, a Goetz sofa, and various ancillary tables and chairs.
On move-in day Herman Miller’s big, red truck pulled up in front of the new, Tudor-style home in a Cleveland neighborhood. Members of the Retail Marketing team, Genesis seating, and APG Office Furnishings, Inc., the Herman Miller dealer in Cleveland, joined the 2,000 or so local volunteers who had been working nonstop to finish the house for its new occupants.
“Our retail team and the vender really pulled together to make this work,” says Jackson. “We all loved the fact that we were helping a family who deserved it. We rented a van and carpooled down a day early and not just to watch, either. Our team was fully engaged in making sure the furniture reached the home in good condition.”
November 29, 2010
On a casual drive from the Baltic Sea to Thuringia, the “green heart of Germany,” the most striking feature of the landscape are the wind turbines. They are everywhere, on the hills, in the fields, in the sea— herds of them.
Turns out, Germany actually paid attention to the wake-up call delivered by the energy crisis in the 1970s and 80s. The country has been funding R&D and deploying mostly wind and solar forms of renewable energy ever since. Its Green Party became a political force in Germany after a series of chemical spills in the Rhine in the late 1980s.
Over the past two decades, Germany has become a global leader in renewable energy. In 2003, Germany had 40 percent of the world’s installed capacity for wind energy and was second only to Japan in installed photovoltaic (solar panels) energy.
As countries like Germany and companies like Herman Miller discovered long ago, meaningfully switching to renewable energy is a complex and challenging issue that requires a deep commitment, a long-term outlook, and a multi-faceted approach.
Photos courtesy of Anne Kunze.
September 8, 2010
Arturo Guerrero’s life is the stuff of fairy tales–with a touch of luck and a lot of hard work. He was born in 1960 in the fabled city of Madrid and earned a degree in architecture. Then, he somehow took a left-hand turn and decided to become a painter.
Not content to remain comfortably ensconced amid familiar surroundings, he moved in 1993 with his wife, Ana Larrea, and two daughters, Blanca and Lola, to New York City, where he has been working ever since.
Guerrero rides his bike to his Brooklyn studio every morning, paints all day, and returns in the evening to “cook wonderful dinners for my family and occasionally my friends.” Guerrero says that his work “reflects how he, as a Spaniard, views life in New York.”
His work is often muted, sometimes colorful, always attractive, and frequently abstract. Despite traversing a less-traveled and risky road, he seems well on his way to living happily ever after.
Here are seven questions for Arturo Guerrero:
1. What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a series of paintings of which the main subject is the wind. As it passes through the trees or it runs over the surface of the water. Right now I’m also painting urban landscapes at twilight hours.
August 9, 2010
Some top-flight universities, including the University of Notre Dame, have long recognized the latent market potential in the labor of their researchers. They now are proactively creating an environment where that potential can blossom.
Innovation Park at Notre Dame is one place where that alchemy happens. Innovation Park is a businesslike three-story building across the street from university’s campus and within sight of its golden dome. It contains labs, offices, and all the support services to transform a bright idea into a viable business. The building is intended to be bright and open, mobile and versatile.
The Greenhouse, for example, is the first-floor space where people meet, ideas collide, and the most tender businesses take root. “Virtually everything is on wheels,” says Dave Brenner, CEO of Innovation Park.
Taking flexibility to the max, the Greenhouse not only is outfitted with Herman Miller’s most mobile furniture, it also is equipped with a “programmable infrastructure,” which gives the user ultimate control over lights, outlets, data and power, and even the window shades, from a personal computer or a two-button wand. The result is a space with enormous flexibility and the capability to reduce energy costs.
July 19, 2010
For a slip of a woman, Carol Catalano’s life is writ large. She founded Catalano Design in 1987 and since has produced award-winning work for a variety of clients in a range of industries, from professional knives to car and home electronics to the Capelli stool for Herman Miller, which won silver in both The International Furniture Design Competition Asahikawa in 1999 in Japan and the IDEA award in 2002. While she loves learning about the industries she designs for, “now the first thing I think about in any project is how I can simplify and enrich people’s lives.”
Her own life may not be simple, but it is certainly rich and active. She windsurfs and skate-skis (who knew?), and practices lyengar yoga. She loves cooking and good food and is about to send her 18-year-old twins off to college in the fall.
Here are 7 questions for Carol Catalano:
1. What are you working on right now?
I just finished a line of knives for people with arthritis. The knives are manufactured in Massachusetts by Dexter Russell. Before starting the design process we conducted extensive research with arthritis sufferers, which helped us really understand their needs. Currently I am working on a display for Zildjian, the cymbal manufacturer, a metronome for D’Addario and a chair for Geiger International.
I’ve also been collaborating with my husband, who is an architect, on a LEED for Homes addition to our house on Cape Cod. This has involved lots of research on sustainable technologies, processes, and materials. The project will include passive solar, photovoltaic panels for electricity, a solar hot water collector, a rainwater collection system for irrigation, and eventually a vertical axis wind turbine that will mount on our roof.
2. Which of your products are you most proud of?
I am very proud of the Capelli stool for Herman Miller. It came about during a time when I was working on a long, tedious, engineering focused project. By contrast the Capelli stool provided an outlet where I could focus on something creative and much more free of constraints.
3. What inspires you? Where do you go for inspiration?
For me, inspiration comes when I can be completely in the moment, and I’m able to let everything else go. For instance, I am an avid windsurfer, which can require complete concentration, and frequently this is when ideas for projects that I am working on will come to me. Observing the way nature solves problems is another source of inspiration that I draw on. I love exploring new processes and materials, and experimenting with ideas that grow from that exposure. I’m always looking for ways to cross-pollinate ideas from one industry to another.
4. What work do you most admire by another designer or artist?
I am fascinated with the work of sculptor Anish Kapoor. His experimentation with surface tension and positive and negative space forces me to think differently about our three-dimensional world. I especially enjoyed his installation “Memory” at the Guggenheim in NYC.
5. What would be your dream projects?
My dream project would involve designing a product or system that supports and improves one’s health and well being, makes true advances in sustainability, is beautiful to look at and be around, and is something people would want in their lives.
6. What place in the world would you most like to visit?
Rapa Nui (one of the Easter Islands). Basically, I am interested in traveling anywhere that I can experience indigenous culture and food.
7. What one thing do you want to accomplish before you die?
To have a farm by the ocean where I could grow vegetables and raise chickens, cows and pigs. The farm would have a brick oven for making bread and pizza and a cheese cave where I could make and age my own cheese. Most importantly, it would be a place where people would gather to talk, design, share, and connect with others all while eating delicious local food.
Technology, What's Up
July 5, 2010
Those Gen X, Y, and Z whippersnappers may be all about mobility and working-wherever-you-are, but we boomers can be adaptable, too, as Robin noted in a previous Discover blog post.
I recently traded my Aeron chair for a campground bench and my home office for a 14-foot trailer and am about to test the limits of all this mobile technology ballyhoo. I’ve only gotten as far as northern Michigan, but so far I’ve learned:
1. I can’t work outside. All that natural light that office workers covet overpowers even the brightest computer monitor and strains my aging eyes. So I’m forced into my cubicle-sized and non-ergonomic office that also is my living space.
2. Wi-Fi is ubiquitous wherever there are people. However, no people; no Wi-Fi. There is, apparently, technology that brings Wi-Fi to your computer via satellite signals, so theoretically I could get it even where cell phones fail. My friend says the device works “like magic,” but I’m testing the limits of my budget before I bite on the added monthly charge.
3. So far, cell phone coverage isn’t bad. Even in the middle of the forest, I can often pick up two bars, which is enough for a semi-dependable conversation—or a call to 911.
4. I can recharge my computer with an inverter attached to my truck battery, but the adapter gets really, really hot.
I haven’t crossed national boundaries yet, or tried, like my Gen-Y daughter, to send photos from Peru, nor have I sampled the smart phone gadgetry beloved by my kids, but so far technology has been reasonably mobile. The biggest adjustment has been losing instant and continuous Internet access, but I’d say the view is worth it.
June 30, 2010
It’s well known that Charles and Ray Eames played with plywood for years, experimenting with the strengths and weaknesses of the medium. They worked on plywood airplane parts, stretchers, and leg splints for wounded soldier in World War II before creating their iconic chair designs.
For those who earn their bread through the sweat of creative idea-making, Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, says to take a page from a child’s playbook.
“When they are in an environment where they feel secure, children can be more creative,” says Brown in a 2008 talk at the Art Center Design Conference. “They don’t fear the judgment of their peers. They don’t apologize for crazy ideas or second-guess themselves.” He adds, “They’re the ones who feel most free to play.” Similarly, a workplace in which people are asked to be creative should feel safe and comfortable. It should be designed to help people feel relaxed.
Second, children haven’t learned to categorize so quickly, so they can create new connections and use everyday items in novel ways. The proverbial cardboard box on Christmas morning, for example, is limited only by imagination while the toy in the box can only do one thing. It was that child’s viewpoint that could see the ball on the roll-on deodorant and apply it to a computer mouse.
Third, young kids do “construction play” with blocks and tape and crayons. David Kelley, founder of IDEO, calls it “thinking with your hands.”
Fourth, kids play house and tea party and cops and robbers; they become super heroes or villains or imaginary creatures. Role play is a powerful way to imagine an experience. How is it possible to design airport seating or a cart for emergency-room nurses without viscerally knowing what is involved in each experience? “When a kid dresses up as a firefighter, he’s beginning to try on that identity,” says Brown. “We’re doing the same thing as designers. We’re trying on these experiences.”
“Finally,” says Brown, “at some point, you have to get serious again. Playtime is probably most useful for the initial generation of new ideas, but there’s also a time to identify and develop the best ideas like serious adults.”
Plywood model photo via: Library of Congress
May 31, 2010
Furniture is David Pesso’s passion and professional specialty. And with 18 patents and licenses for 300 designs, he’s left his thumbprint on the industry. Since 1989 he has worked from his New Studio office, now located in Boca Raton, Florida.
His work is clean and unfussy. “I focus on economies of scale, and my goal is to attain more with less,” he says. Case in point: the Celeste chair and the new Geiger Levels casegoods collection, which debuted at NeoCon in 2009. With a less-is-more aesthetic and attractively concealed outlets for every conceivable electronic gadget, Levels is meant to appeal to the mobile and tech-savvy Milennial generation.
Since he is clearly not risk-averse, when Pesso isn’t designing furniture from his home-based studio, he’s out climbing the “14ers” in Colorado or some other scary foolishness.
Here are 7 questions for David Pesso:
April 19, 2010
Joey Ruiter is having way too much fun for a grownup. From his boyhood penchant for dismantling things, Ruiter has continued to finesse the art of stripping design to its essentials. And he brings this aesthetic of the unfussy to his work as well as to his play. So, Herman Miller’s new Intent line of furniture, designed by Ruiter, is meant to look as cool in private offices as it does in open plan and to offer affordable mix-and-match choices.
At play, Ruiter has stripped the bicycle to bare-nakedness, and the Inner City Bike, “a café racer with the performance of a beach cruiser,” is the result. He also tinkers with boat design. “Why are boats so complicated? A boat just needs something to make it float and something to make it go. Maybe something to sit on, too.” Ruiter’s boats are minimalist and easy to maintain; they have the lean, hungry look of a shark. He even manages to make a pontoon boat look like furniture rather than a barge.
A native son of utilitarian West Michigan with a studio in Grand Rapids, Ruiter has managed to marry his engineering bent to an artist’s eye. So we get fun bikes and boats, and some nice furniture, too.
Here are 7 questions for Joey Ruiter: