Randall Braaksma is proof you can go back again. After a writing start long ago at Herman Miller, and a patchwork of jobs since (ad agency copywriter, editor in China, freelancer), he is back. The common thread through it all: words. The constant goal: make them engaging to read.
March 22, 2012
Serendipitous timing and a keen eye for structure and functionality allowed Ward Bennett a career that affected nearly every discipline of design. Leaving formal education behind at a mere 13- years old, Bennett started in fashion, where he sold sketches of his bridal designs. Chance encounters opened many doors: A conversation with a Bloomingdales executive, for example, resulted in Bennett designing tableware and flatware for the Japanese company Sasaki. And a small apartment renovation connected Bennett with one of his most iconic interior design projects, the headquarters of Chase Manhattan Bank.
March 20, 2012
A rare synergy occurred in 1953 in the small town of Columbus, Indiana. Three leaders of the international Modernist movement—architect Eero Saarinen, interior designer Alexander Girard and landscape architect Dan Kiley—joined to create the Miller House and Garden. Commissioned by J. Irwin Miller, and completed in 1957, the Miller House is one of the country’s most highly regarded examples of mid-century Modernist homes.
Girard, who joined Herman Miller in 1950 as director of upholstery and the newly created textile division, furnished the Miller House with pieces from the Herman Miller Collection together with his custom textiles and carpets. The residence is also a sublime example of Alexander Girard’s mastery of the artful collage—combining furniture, fabrics, accessories, and art to create unified and joyful environments.
March 5, 2012
Every day people endure rush hour traffic, mediocre coffee, and the interruptions that come with office life. Equipped with a laptops and cell phones, many workers could work from elsewhere. So, why to do they go to the office?
“All work is social,” says Larry Prusak, author and director of IBM’s research lab. While mobile technology untethers workers from their desks, nothing trumps face time when it comes to developing and deepening relationships with others.
René Shimada Siegel writing in Inc magazine recently observed, “We’re all in the people business. We’ll only be successful if we really get to know our customers and colleagues.” To do this, Siegel advocates meeting in person, offering 5 reasons to forgo Skype, emails, and texts.
People chose the office for a reason. For those of us who design and furnish offices, the challenge is to make them places where people want to be.
February 20, 2012
Stamped metal prototypes of the designs that eventually became the Eames molded plastic chair.
The Eames molded plastic chair began as an entry in the Museum of Modern Art’s International Low-Cost Furniture Competition. Originally conceived in stamped metal, the entry marked a stop along the journey Charles and Ray Eames undertook to achieve a chair in a single form.
After taking second place in the competition, Charles and Ray remained committed to the form of their design, but continued to investigate other materials. They landed on plastic, which required fiberglass for reinforcement, since without it the plastic of the late 1940s wasn’t strong enough for the single-piece design. While not ideal, the Eames accepted the visible surface fibers as an honest constraint of the material.
They continued their journey. By the early 1970s, plastics had evolved to allow the solid, uniform, matte finish Charles and Ray originally envisioned. When a sustainable polypropylene became available, that was embraced too. As a result, only the Eames molded plastic chairs sold by Herman Miller are approved by the Eames Office and Eames family heirs as an authentic design.
An early advertisement celebrating the versatile styles, colors, and bases of the Eames molded plastic chair.
January 24, 2012
More than ever, working together defines how we get things done. And more than ever, getting things done often takes just two people. Recent research we’ve conducted at companies around the world found that nearly half the time collaborative events involved two to three people.
But no matter the number of people collaborating, companies are committed to making it happen. One approach they’re taking is to give their employees flexible workspaces. In a recent survey, 50 percent of corporate real estate executives said this flexibility enables collaboration.
All this focus on collaboration shouldn’t obscure the fact that people also need privacy and freedom from interruption. Research also suggests that some people, and especially introverts, are more creative when they can work on their own. Maybe the best way to get the creativity we’re all after is to design places that give people more choices for when, where, and with whom they work.
Design, What's Up
January 23, 2012
The American Institute of Architects each year recognizes one American building that is at least a quarter of a century old. “The idea,” says Robert Campbell of the Boston Globe, “is to recognize architecture that has proved its merit over time.”
This year, the AIA chose the residence in Santa Monica that Frank Gehry designed for his family. As much statement as structure, the house features materials familiar in an urban landscape: raw plywood, chain-link fencing, asphalt, corrugated metal—not the stuff of a quiet residential neighborhood.
But, Gehry has seldom been concerned with the expected. We have our own stories to tell about working with him on a factory-office facility we built in Rocklin, California. It has proved its longevity, too. Now owned by the William Jessup University, it’s become an award-winning student apartment building that preserves, as the award citation reads, “the original conversion of the Herman Miller furniture factory, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.”
Design, What's Up
January 17, 2012
One Laptop Per Child is a nonprofit that aims to “provide each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop.” The focus is on children in developing countries, and so far almost two-and-a-half million of them have one.
Yves Béhar and his team at fuseproject designed the laptop, and now they’ve done a tablet version. Just like the laptop, the tablet is simple and functional, with tactile rubber grips, flexible cover, and solar charging battery.
Pro bono design work isn’t new to Béhar and fuseproject. Another of their efforts is “See Better to Learn Better,” a free eyeglasses program in partnership with the Mexican government and Augen Optics.
Good works and good work are both part of Béhar’s vision. On the latter score, 2011 brought recognition for the UP wristband, which uses tiny motion sensors to monitor the wearer’s sleep, diet, and exercise. It made Alice Rawsthorn’s design honors list for 2011. But then, we’re partial to Béhar’s work, especially the award-winning SAYL chair he did with us.
January 9, 2012
Barry Sonnenfeld, director and Digital Man blogger, sits astride a wheeled saddle to scurry around film sets. Forget the clichéd canvas director’s chair, he cherishes his makeshift saddle-on-wheels, a creation of the Men in Black 2 crew that’s since been modified with “drawers for scripts, water, and prescription medication” for his sciatica.
Where he’s all about moving on the set, Billy Wilder, a director from an earlier generation who did films such as Sunset Boulevard and Some Like It Hot, opted for catnaps on set. In 1955, while filming The Spirit of St. Louis, he started taking naps on a narrow plank held up by sawhorses. Wilder later told his friends Charles and Ray Eames he needed something similar—but a bit more comfortable—for his office.
They came up with a slender, armless chaise with a built-in wakeup call. It required Wilder to lie on his back with his arms folded over his chest. Once he dozed off, his arms relaxed, dropped to his side, and gently awakened him. We began making the chaise in 1968, and it’s been in the line ever since.
We’ve added other pieces in the ensuing years. And Sonnenfeld puts three of them through their paces in his search for the right furniture for working in the editing room: the Embody and Aeron chairs and the Envelop desk. Get his read on them, and then check them out for yourself.
Photo: Barry Sonnenfeld is an Emmy-winning television director and the director of Get Shorty and the upcoming Men in Black 3.
Design, Education, What's Up
January 2, 2012
“We are at a watershed moment in education design,” says Susan Whitmer in a conversation with Nicholas Jackson of The Atlantic. “The convergence of knowledge and circumstances provide us with the opportunity to revolutionize the built environment for all of education.”
How will the built environment, the physical places on campus, be revolutionized? One way, according to Whitmer, an education consultant and researcher at Herman Miller, is they’ll become movable. In a paper she co-authored on fostering innovation, she notes that education needs “highly malleable spaces that users can interact with almost like a living thing.”
Change is sure to come. According to Whitmer, it can’t happen too soon: “Our world is changing at a rapid pace, yet education is mired in hundreds of years of tradition.” Boola, Boola!
December 26, 2011
Dear Ms. DiOrio,
Thank you for your letter of praise for what the office cubicle means to you. I presume you thought your “open letter to people or entities who are unlikely to respond” would be lost in cyberspace. (Another highfalutin word I’m sure you feel is unnecessary.) However, I have been asked to respond on Mr. Miller’s behalf.
While we do appreciate your sentiments, I must, on behalf of everyone at our company, correct some of your more egregious errors (the factual ones, not the errors in thinking). Mr. Miller did begin the company that allowed you and Dilbert to flourish (we receive no proceeds from Mr. Adams), however the inventor of the cubicle was Mr. Robert Propst. And, as with most inventors (think Dr. Frankenstein, for example), he became dismayed at what his creation became (“egg-carton geometry” was one phrase he used to describe the way people applied it). Read more