Advancements come in all shapes and sizes. Some are big ideas, like the suspension material of the Aeron Chair that replaced the foam and fabric typical to so many office chairs. Others are smaller advancements, resulting in an improved process, or, in this case, a better way to build a chair.
A recent advancement on our SAYL Chair assembly line is saving time, money, and nearly 25,000 pounds of packaging materials a year. How? By developing reusable packaging, we’ve eliminated handling steps and material waste. Previously, the Y-Towers of the SAYL Chair were bundled, boxed, wrapped, and shipped to the facility with the assembly line. Upon arrival, the towers were unboxed, placed on a cart, and moved to the line. Now the Y-Towers simply arrive ready for assembly.
It’s part of our culture to look for advancements, whether they’re the Aeron Chair or a new way to package parts.
Bill Stumpf once said, “I know this sounds terribly self serving, but I design for myself. Who else am I going to know better than me?”
The outcome of Stumpf’s self-described “selfishness”? Empathic designs that can help everyone feel better as they work.
Stumpf and design partner Jeff Weber turned their own problems with the lack of physical harmony between themselves and their computers into a solution that benefits people who sit all day at a computer. The resulting designs—the Embody Chair and the Envelop Desk—work together to support the wrists, back, and eyes as the sitter moves through a range of postures. This concept, which we call concordance, helps people stay healthy and aligned as they work.
Asked how to measure a designer’s impact on society, Bruce Burdick, a designer himself, replied: “A designer’s influence on public opinion comes down to how the public utilizes their designs. They influence people’s perceptions of what a car, a desk, your clothing, or your house can be.” To this he added, “It’s the highest order of design to squeeze function and pleasure together so tightly that a person cannot separate them.”
Burdick established his reputation by pioneering the use of computers in exhibition design. Two of his exhibits, one on nutrition and the other on economics, are on permanent display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
For Herman Miller, Burdick challenged the very notion of what people thought office furniture could be. By designing a flexible system based on a central rail, Burdick allowed various elements—display, storage, work surfaces, and ergonomic tools—to be arranged and rearranged, creating infinite configurations and responding to individual ways of working. Named the Burdick Group, the system was ahead of its time and earned Burdick recognition from the Institute of Business Designers, the Industrial Designers Society of America, and Time magazine.
“If your goal is to build a better stool, where do you start?” That was the question designer Carol Catalano asked herself. It was when she looked down and noticed her own entwined fingers that she found the answer.
Once inspiration had struck, Catalano quickly landed on the design the of the Cappelli Stool. Using two identical laminated wood pieces with interlocking “fingers,” Catalano found she could create a stable seat. No fasteners required.
“From the beginning,” Catalano says, “the form of the stool was a simple curve that we kept refining until it was comfortable and beautiful.”
Catalano’s ingenuity paid off, earning her silver prize at the International Furniture Design Competition in Asahikawa, Japan. Hers was one of only eight awards given, and was the only American design selected from more than 700 entries worldwide.
Designer Yves Bèhar isn’t kidding when he says, “Every molecule in the SAYL chair had to work harder.” To achieve Bèhar’s vision of an eco-dematerialized design, every piece of SAYL was examined, sculpted, and hollowed out to use the least amount of material without compromising strength. Was it successful? Well, SAYL survived having a 300-pound sack dropped on it—multiple times.
The Herman Miller Test Lab, where SAYL was put through its paces, is infamous among our designers. Some have even dubbed it “the place where designs go to die.” Weights, pulleys, and pistons test every design to the brink of failure—and beyond—to ensure they meet the requirements of our standard 12-year warranty.
Engineers weren’t sure SAYL would make it. It did, thanks to some hard work making every piece work harder.
“Good design is a blend of art and science,” explains designer Jeff Weber. “Using that combination to positively impact how people live and work is really exciting.”
As a kid, Weber was fascinated by the way things worked. “I was always tinkering—either building things or tearing them apart,” he says. Following a suggestion from his grandfather, Weber became interested in industrial design. “I never really thought about doing anything else,” he recalls.
As co-creator of the Embody Chair, alongside Bill Stumpf, Weber worked closely with optometrists, neurologists, and other medical specialists to learn how to “support the body in a healthful way and enable motion.” The resulting design is pleasing to the eye and has been shown to lower the sitter’s heart rate and reduce stress—good for both mind and body.
For Weber, the hard work pays off when he sees someone sitting in a chair and appreciating it. “That’s the most satisfying part.”
The last thing designer Marcel Wanders wants to be is boring. “There’s enough of that in life,” he says. “I’m interested in designing things that excite people and make them feel alive.” With a chair made out of knots and a chandelier called Happy Hour in his portfolio, Wanders is certainly on the right track.
For the Troy Chair, designed for Magis, Wanders created an intricate pattern inspired by the lush motifs of damask fabrics. The pattern, molded into the back of the chair’s plywood seat, imparts the modern profile with a romantic sensibility. The result is elegant, and, explains Wanders, a “lovely balance between new and old.”
Wanders’ prolific body of work, ranging from fashion accessories to lavish hotels, is represented in museums around the world, including the Museums of Modern Art in both New York and San Francisco and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
In a big world, sometimes it’s the little things that stand out. A Mini Cooper zipping through traffic or a little iPad that fits in your pocket, some designs owe much to their diminutive size. The Eames Wire Base Low Table—LTR for short—is one such piece.
On it’s own or arranged in a row, dark tops beside light tops, veneer next to laminate—there’s no right or wrong way to use the LTR. Charles Eames demonstrated the fact in this photo shoot on the patio of the Eames House. So, if you’re in need of a place to serve hors d’oeuvres or a low stool or a part-time plant stand, don’t be afraid to grab this little table and get creative—Charles would be delighted if you did.
Looking to make a statement? Check out the Select Eames Wire Base Low Table, available for a limited time in three bold colors—cobalt blue, red-orange, yellow-gold.
Trained as an architect, but proficient in all manner of activities, Alexander Girard was introduced to Herman Miller through Charles Eames and George Nelson. In 1952, Girard established the Herman Miller Textile Division and served as its Director of Design until 1973. From his outpost in Santa Fe, New Mexico, he designed over 300 textiles, multiple collections of wallpaper, decorative prints and wall hangings, an expansive group of furniture, and both decorative and useful objects.
Introduced in 1952, Girard’s first textile collection for Herman Miller included a range of bold colors and versatile textures. To this foundation he went on to add woven patterns and printed designs. Unhampered by the style and taste of his day, Girard explored different approaches to color, pattern, texture, mood, and production method. The resulting body of work is not only staggering in volume and creativity, but due to its beauty and usefulness, remains completely relevant today.
Our first re-edition of Alexander Girard Textiles focuses on textures. Though often heralded for his patterns, Girard produced a body of woven textures for Herman Miller that are timeless and versatile. Each textile is faithfull in weave and color to its original, with one enhancement: each now uses the most advanced environmental constructions and materials available.
A good surfer makes the idea of riding a wave seem effortless; but as those of us who have tried (and fallen) quickly learn, it’s not easy. “There’s the water; there’s the ocean; and there are split-second decisions—it’s different every single time,” observes avid surfer, Yves Béhar. “It’s not all that different from designing.”
Béhar is known for design, and he makes it look effortless. Whether it’s the frameless back of the SAYL Chair or the biomorphic curves of the Ardea Light, Béhar and his fuseproject team bring years of practice and experience to every product they design.
For Yves Béhar it’s simple: “Let’s try it. Let’s see if it crashes down on top of me. Let’s see if I can actually get through it.” Is he talking about design or surf? In his mind, there’s no difference.
Yves Behar, and his passion for surfing, kicks off Why Design, a new video series featuring designers from Herman Miller’s creative network. There are eight videos in total, with a new one debuting every Monday. Stay Tuned; next week is designer Don Chadwick.