At some companies, you’re more likely to see a unicorn prancing through the office than the CEO casually chatting with an employee. This wizard-behind-the curtain executive mentality is losing traction, as many organizations continue to see the value in open office plans.
The concept of an open office—where executives live and work among the masses—may seem cutting edge, but according to Herman Miller Workplace Strategist Margaret Serrato, the idea is nothing new.
“If you look at images from offices from the 1880s, all the way up through probably 1940, you’ll see that everybody worked out at big tables,” Serrato says. “Some owners would have their own office, but,” Serrato added, “more often they’d simply have a roll-top desk to lock up the payroll at night.”
Why the continued interest in open-office plans? Research shows that locating executives near employees increases daily communication and speeds up the decision making process. The need for formal, time-consuming meetings decreases, and brilliant ideas hatch during cookie breaks, coffee pot chats, and lunchtime conversations. While most offices fall somewhere in the middle on the private-to-open spectrum, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the more open the office, the more collaborative and innovative employees and executives become.
For many technology, social media, and Internet companies, open office plans are integral to strategy. You won’t find their C-suite executives enshrined in inaccessible corner offices, blinds closed and doors locked. Executives are in the trenches, working at multi-person benches alongside everyone else, or even going completely mobile, working from a different location around the office each day. The resulting workplaces breed collaboration, invention, creativity, and fun.
It’s a 50-cent word, but “dematerialization” just might save us millions, to say nothing of our planet. The basic idea is getting down to only what is essential, or, as Charles Eames said in the 1940s, “the best for the most for the least.”
Doing more with less certainly predates Mr. Eames, but dematerialization has had a resurgence lately, largely as a response to conspicuous consumption (McMansion anyone?), a throwaway culture (it’s cheaper to buy a new one than fix the old one), and planned obsolescence (as Annie Leonard says in The Story of Stuff, only 1% of things are still in use 6 months after purchase).
It’s no wonder those concerned about sustainability see promise in dematerialization, an idea whose logic train goes from using less material to eliminating material altogether while still delivering the same level of functionality. An example of this promise they often point to is music delivery. From LPs to cassettes to CDs to digital downloads, the progression eliminated lots of plastic waste and the resources and energy needed to make it. (The sustainability costs of using the Internet to download the music will be left to another discussion.) Read more
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.
Herman Miller's new Quilty textile mimics the water and oil repellant properties of a lotus leaf.
Biologist, innovation consultant, and author, Janine Benyus has dedicated her life to the idea that learning from natural models is the best way to achieve sustainable design. Through her Biomimicry Guild, she has inspired companies to look to nature as model, measure, and mentor in the design process.
She has a lot in common with Charles Eames, who said that design “depends largely on constraints.” For Benyus, it’s a matter of the way everything on earth, with the regrettable exception of most humans, learns to live within nature’s limits. Read more
From stone-tipped axes to powerful 3D computer modeling programs, technology has always allowed design to push the boundaries of possibility.
The Atlantic recently included the Herman Miller SAYL chair, designed by Yves Béhar, on their list of designs using new technology to challenge the conventional understanding of how good design looks, feels, and functions. We are in good company. Visit the Atlantic to see the complete list.
What good is a chair with holes? In the case of the Mirra, it’s the holes—567 of them to be exact—that provide the chair’s backrest its characteristic flex.
Envisioning a chair that acts as a second skin, Studio 7.5 designed Mira’s TriFlex back to move with the sitter. They worked with us to design and engineer holes of varying shapes and sizes. It results in the one-piece molded polymer back that has been fine-tuned to create three zones of flexibility. Each zone offers a different level of pliability for proper ergonomic support.
So, while holes in your desk chair are often cause for concern, in the case of Mirra, a back full of holes is a good thing.
“Toys and games are preludes to serious ideas,” Charles Eames once observed. Realizing that creativity is often sparked when least expected, Eames encouraged the staff of the Eames Office to find time to play a game or pose for a silly photo. But if inspiration can strike anywhere, then why do so few people find that place to be the office?
Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine, believes it’s because people don’t have time for creativity at work. Chaining yourself to your computer in search of an answer, Lehrer argues, is only going to leave you frustrated. “You may look productive, but you’re actually wasting time.” Instead, he advices “go for a walk. You should play some ping-pong. You should find a way to relax.” Read more
An Aeron chair rolls off our production line every 17 seconds; a number that so impressed FastCompany that they recently recognized Herman Miller as a model of modern American manufacturing.
The secret? Continual improvement. Using a process we call the Herman Miller Performance System, or HMPS, we compound small, incremental improvements into big change. Rearranging a bin of parts to be six inches closer may only save a half second, but when combined with hundreds of other refinements, the results add up. In fact, they add up to more than 260 seconds—or 4 minutes and 20 seconds—of time saved to make an Aeron chair.
Applying the same problem-solving knowhow to the production of our products as we do their design, Herman Miller remains at the cutting-edge. And while the competition is busy exporting manufacturing jobs, we can proudly say our products are made in the United States.
“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.
As the new film about them makes clear, Charles and Ray had so much confidence in the way they went about solving a problem—whether designing a chair, an exhibit, or a film—they didn’t entertain thoughts of failing. Other factors, besides their design brilliance, helped. Two of the most important were maintaining artistic control and having the ear of the CEOs at their client companies.
There is much proof of their successes, including the string of designs they did for Herman Miller, beginning with the groundbreaking plywood chair. But one clinker stands out: their 1976 show for the bicentennial of the American Revolution, “The World of Franklin and Jefferson.” Hilton Kramer writing in the New York Times panned it as overly ideological. Others saw it as overwhelming: too much information, too many artifacts.
But as Donald Albrecht, architecture and design curator, points out in “Eames: The Architect and the Painter,” the exhibit can be seen less as a failure and more as a reflection of the restless minds of the Eameses. Layering the material, as we do today in digital experiences, would have made it compelling and digestible. Perhaps this exhibit was simply another example of Charles and Ray being ahead of their time.