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.
Only a few years old, MASS was founded on the belief of first-rate healthcare facilities for the third world. Utilizing a process of research and development focused on communities, MASS engages, empowers, and educates local workers in the construction of their projects. Breaking the cycle of poverty, they improve more than just health. The 140-room Butaro hospital in the Rwandan countryside is testament to this approach.
A partnership based on shared philosophy, Herman Miller supports MASS’s work in Rwanda and Haiti, and is a sponsor of the MASS Design Group fellowship program. Together we hope to build a better world around you.
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 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 a Japanese-American in a time when the world was at war, Isamu Noguchi embraced both sides of his heritage culturally and artistically; because of this, it is fitting that Isamu means courage.
During World War II, Noguchi voluntarily entered a relocation camp for Japanese-Americans in Arizona as a protest against the camps—and then was unable to get permission to leave. After seven months, he was granted liberation. “I was finally free,” he said gratefully. “I resolved henceforth to be an artist only.”
Much had happened during his internment, including with Noguchi’s art. He discovered that someone had “borrowed” his design idea for a three-legged table. To Noguchi’s protests, the borrower replied, “Anybody can make a three-legged table.” Noguchi designed one as only he could, balancing a freeform glass top on a curved, solid wood base. The ethereal result has been in production since 1948.
Most widely known for his sculptures made from any and every material, Noguchi’s artistic experimentations were diverse: from baby monitors to stage sets, children’s playgrounds to fountains. “I like to think of my work as having some kind of relevance, no matter how abstract or how small or how big,” said Noguchi. “It has a voice which other people can hear.”
Solving problems through design is a core goal at Herman Miller. Because materials are an integral part of our designs, they can solve problems, too. In this segment, third in a series on Herman Miller materials design, Susan Lyons discusses the possibilities of materials and how they play a key role in problem-solving design.
“We spend a lot of time out and about, looking for materials that we may have no idea what we’re going to do with them,” says Lyons. Our job is then to ask, “How can we possibly begin to use this? What could we do with it? What could it turn into?”
The answers to these questions sometimes come naturally. “Nature is the most efficient designer,” she has said, and the best innovations already exist in nature. GreenShield, a sustainable nanotechnology textile finish, mimics the lotus leaf’s “micro-roughness,” repelling dirt and oil naturally. By experimenting with GreenShield and our own materials, we developed Quilty—a high performance textile that stays clean because of its design, not chemicals.
Recently, PBS Arts, in an episode of its Off Book, took a look at product design and what it means to three practitioners. For Yves Béhar of fuseproject, the San Francisco-based design and branding company and designer of our SAYL chair, “what design does, at its best, is to accelerate the adoption of new ideas.” Harvey Moscot, a fourth generation owner of a classic eyewear brand, and Peter Schmitt, an MIT researcher looking to revolutionize the product experience through 3D printing, offer two other perspectives.
It’s certainly the case that the role of design is much in the spotlight lately. It can make the difference, some say. It can change the world, claim others. For us, design is something we get—according to FastCompany. It’s how we solve problems. It’s not just an approach to products, though, it has also become, as George Nelson said in 1948, “a central part of our business.”
The lords are leaping and the maids are milking, but who’s been making all these stockings?
For the fifth year, holiday stockings hung along the corridors of the Herman Miller Design Yard and multiplied into the hundreds. And they’re not cookie-cutter stockings either—each are one-of-a-kind and handmade out of our textile leftovers. In fact, every once in a while, passersby try buying one for themselves to hang over their fireplace.
However, these stockings were not for sale, but rather made for a greater cause. In the season of giving, Herman Miller employees volunteered their lunch hours for sewing and decorating a total of 477 stockings. All those carefully crafted stockings were distributed to these handpicked charities: Holland Rescue Mission, Urban Family Ministries, Love INC, and St. Jude’s Ranch for Children. These organizations work directly with the families who took the stockings filled with goodies home for the holidays.
There’s an attitude at Herman Miller that’s been around for a long time: treating materials as something integral to the design process. Think of Charles and Ray Eames and their work with molding plywood for the origin. In this second in a series on materials at Herman Miller, Susan Lyons gives a recent example: the Embody chair.
Whatever the example, the point is the same: to achieve what Lyons calls “beautiful practicality.” “When we talk about material utility,” she says, “what we really mean is that we use materials to solve problems.” It’s a symbiotic relationship, with sometimes the material driving the form and other times the form driving the material.
What to get that design-minded person on your holiday gift list? Give them 15 pounds of pure Girard delight. Just in time for the season, designer Todd Oldham brings us the definitive monograph on the life and work of Alexander Girard. This book is massive; it really does weigh in at about 15 pounds, making it the ultimate coffee-table book. (The irony of the name of the book’s co-author, Keira Coffee, is appreciated.)
The authors cover the life and work of Girard in words and pictures, about 2,300 of the latter, most in color and many never published before. We especially enjoyed the explication of Girard’s bold and colorful textile designs for Herman Miller during his tenure as our textile division director from 1952 to 1975. (Thanks to our folks in Archives for making these treasures available for photographing.) For a sneak peak, watch the video of Simon Doonan of Barneys New York speak with Todd about the book.