Charles Eames once observed, “One of something may be beautiful. But can you stand to see 100 in a row?” That was the challenge facing designer Dan Grabowski when Herman Miller approached him to create a table fit for meeting rooms and classrooms alike. Grabowski’s response was Everywhere Tables—an expansive range of tables based on a kit of parts, with a simple, beautiful sculpted table leg at its heart.
The table leg is an important part of Everywhere Tables; how did you approach its design?
I thought of the legs as a sculpture, shaping them until they had the right sense of mass and scale—which was difficult because the legs need to accommodate such a wide range of table shapes and sizes. It was always a balance between the outer form and the technical requirements of the inside of the leg.
I often see table legs that scream for attention, which can create visual chaos in a large room. I wanted to avoid that, so I designed the Everywhere legs to work with a simple rhythm of light and shadow in mind. When you see a room full of Everywhere Tables it feels nice and clean; the spacing between legs is very precisely defined.
Was there a process you followed when developing Everywhere?
I always begin a design by sketching out ideas, sometimes very roughly. In the case of Everywhere Tables, I quickly moved into 3D modeling. To get a sense of the mass and scale of the leg, I built physical models with foam legs attached to tops made of thick foam core. This allowed everyone to get a sense of scale. As the design progressed, I continued designing in 3D and worked closely with Herman Miller on the engineering.
Were there any technical challenges to overcome?
Sure, there are two points where the leg transitions from an extrusion into a cast part: once at the tabletop and again at the foot. These are both critical connection points that bear a lot of weight and torque. The engineers at Herman Miller developed a slick little connector that met the challenge and let the Everywhere leg maintain its slim, clean aesthetic.
How did you know when the design was finished?
[Laughing] Are designs ever really finished? I look at them as works in progress, particularly furniture. The more you live with a design, the more you learn. I just had the opportunity to revisit Everywhere Tables to design some new table shapes.
Everywhere Tables are now available at the HermanMiller Store alongside a full range of work tools for offices and homes alike. If you’re a small business visiting the store, contact us about setting up a business account, which will give you special access and perks.
For University of Washington student Erik Alskog, “It’s the students who make campus green.” Busy thinking up new ways to make their school earth friendly, Alskog and his fellow classmates are redefining what it means to be green. They challenge us to imagine bike-powered monorails connecting campus with the surrounding areas where students live; new forms of wind farming that mimic swaying blades grass; and products designed to last a hundred years.
Alskog was one of three winners in our third annual Student Video Contest. We posed the question, “What makes your campus green?,” students everywhere responded, and viewers selected the winners.
Alskog is not alone in thinking of the future; students today see themselves as green innovators working to make their campuses more environmental.
To see some of the other great videos we received, click here.
Recently in theWall Street Journal, Brian Kane revealed that every design begins the same way: with paper and a pencil. “That is my favorite part of the process—having a good concept come alive on my drawing board!”
To sketching, Kane adds observation. In the case of Swoop, Kane drew on his experience teaching students at the California College of the Arts. He noticed students didn’t sit, as much as they drape themselves across furniture, and they constantly rearranged their furniture for working, meeting, or socializing.
Under Kane’s pencil, a line of modular lounge seating took form. Composed of tables, chairs, and lounges, each piece designed to be arranged, and rearranged. Curved arms encourage relaxation, while discouraging students from setting their soda cans on the upholstery. And deliberately few seams reduce the places for crumbs to collect.
For Kane, “It’s all about comfort and innovation.” Two qualities evident in his designs for Swoop.
Have an urge to get behind the camera? James Cameron, director of Avatar, may have been speaking to you when he said, “Pick up a camera and shoot something. No matter how small, or cheesy, or whether your friends and your sister star in it. Put your name on it and now you’re a director.” Herman Miller invites you do just that: pick up a camera, gather some friends, and make a video that answers the question “what makes your campus green?”
Commuting to school by bike, campus-wide recycling initiatives, perhaps a zero-waste sporting event. Large or small, it doesn’t matter; show us what your school is doing for the Earth.
Student designers at Drexel University recently rose to the challenge of making their mark at the school’s Library Learning Terrace. Part of an extra class project, more than 50 graphic design students created experimental compositions using words associated with Drexel’s learning outcomes. Sophomore Seth Fowler choose to “show growth through exploration and learning,” two words appearing in the trunk of his tree-like design; “the branches are the fruit of learning, represented by the word ‘knowledge.”
Five student designs were selected and will be printed on Herman Miller Resolve dividing screens located in the Learning Terrace, a hub for students to gather, study and collaborate with one another.
“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!
Students like classrooms designed to support learning—in fact, they like them nearly 20 percent better than traditional classrooms.
These classrooms have movable furniture and technology. These result in more interaction and collaboration during class, and overall, better accommodate progressive teaching styles. Students in these learning spaces knew each other better, were more comfortable together, and were more comfortable asking questions.
As one faculty member who participated in our research program put it, “Most students loved the room and felt it enhanced the learning experience. They liked the fact that they were interacting with small groups a lot before sharing their findings and felt that time moved faster than in other classes. At the end of the semester, we had a small community/family in our classroom, something the setup of the room helped in fostering.”
Since 2007, we have collaborated with over 25 universities and colleges as part of the Learning Spaces Research Program. A program aimed at designing and study learning spaces that support diverse learning and teaching methods.
Herman Miller designs a lot of furniture on campus. Seeing what students carry around helps us do it better. So, recently we asked them to send us pictures of the contents of their backpacks.
Backpacks have built-in limitations, which makes you stop and think about what you need to carry around. And, for each of us, the definition of “need” is as individual as our fingerprints. Oh, there were certainly the expected items: pens, books, cell phones, laptops. But there were also some surprises: deodorant, changes of clothes, and toothpaste. Hmmm.
Anyway, filling a backpack certainly involves making decisions. Which reminded us of ideas that designer Ayse Birsel advocates—you can design the life you love and doing so involves good decision-making. For Birsel, good design means good decisions. For us, seeing the decisions students make when it comes to filling their backpacks is fodder for making good design decisions.
Learning happens everywhere on campus. But what about the corporate campus? Can the design of learning spaces at the university teach the corporation something? Tracy Fouchea of Herman Miller thinks so. She makes the point in a recent article in Chief Learning Officer. One key, she says, is designing in the ability to change a space at will to meet all the different ways learning can happen.
“If you think about corporate learning spaces, some of them may be used only for formal learning or when they’re not being used for formal learning, it’s first come, first served or scheduled opportunities to use the space,” Fouchea said. “If you can make it so that it’s adaptable and multi-use, it can take on many other leads within an organization.”
More proof of the similarities between the design of learning spaces on corporate and educational campuses can be seen in places like the Innovation Park. It’s designed to jump-start early-stage companies. The facility itself is collaborative and flexible so it can respond to the diverse needs of short-term clients. Not unlike the situation for spaces on corporate campuses.
Two print ads for the United Negro College Fund by Harry Webber.
You know the long-running public service ad for the UNCF. A mind is, indeed, a terrible thing to waste. To make sure that doesn’t happen, colleges and universities are trying to figure out just what’s going on in those young minds. The survival of higher ed, or at least its future health, depends on it.
The group known as Millennials is already having an impact on where and how learning happens on campus. That, in turn, is causing schools to reexamine the ways physical space can foster this trend toward learning anytime and anywhere. The key is to use space to engage this population, with amenities to enhance learning and classroom and lab designs that are as adaptable and flexible as the students are.
But what of the next group that follows the Millennials? They’ll likely direct their own learning. The trend toward eschewing traditional careers will only accelerate. More of future students will turn their passion into a profession. The Internet will continue to affect learning as ways of imparting knowledge become increasingly free, global, individual, and socially organized.
Even as learning gets more virtual, however, there will still be the need for physical places where people get together to learn. Chances are these spaces will need to be social and collaborative settings that assume the movement of people and furniture to allow for variety. They’ll need to include changing focal points, typically enabled by technology on demand. And visual stimulation, such as color, texture, and reference to nature, will be required to enhance cognitive skills.
The good thing about the changes coming to a campus near your child is that schools have new incentive to evolve the educational experience. Everyone will benefit from that, and certainly all those young minds ready to change their world.