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.
What are a few of the challenges unique to designing spaces for healthcare?
In healthcare, there are complicated buildings that require a very solution-based outcome—not just for the building, but for the patients and staff. How do you create a building that comforts patients, creates a meaningful work environment for staff and is extremely functional? How do you take something as mundane as an MRI room and create a space that is conducive to keeping patients calm during an otherwise unnerving procedure?
How do you work with a client to help them stay true to their vision?
The design and construction process can take years, so it starts with the design team and owner collaborating to establish the big vision and always looking back at that big idea to make sure they are achieving it. Everyone needs to have buy-in from the beginning to achieve the vision. Read more
George Nelson, designer and Design Director for Herman Miller from 1946 to 1972, has written that “every design in some sense is a social communication.” So what is design saying? Nelson spent a good deal of his life answering that question, along the way skewering those “social communications” that weren’t worth listening to. Read more
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.
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.
The meaning of Magis—”more than”—captures the Italian company’s approach to design and manufacturing. “We add to Herman Miller because we are complementare, complementary,” explains Alberto Perazza, Co-Managing Director of Magis. “Even a world apart, we do the business of design in similar ways. Both companies have many and continuing collaborations with the greatest world designers.”
Much like Herman Miller, Magis employs innovative processes that maximize performance, while minimizing volume of material, energy use, and environmental impact.
I recently had the good fortune to visit the Eames House in Pacific Palisades, California. As a young designer influenced by the Eameses, the visit left me with a new perspective. While Charles and Ray were legendary designers, they were also husband and wife, grandparents, and friends, who spent years turning the house into a comforting, familiar place. It is the Eames home more than it is the Eames House.
While the home has been preserved, nothing has been restored. It is just as Charles and Ray intended. It feels warm, inviting and has the patina of use: the paint is chipped, the dinner bell is rusty, and the leather on the lounge chair and ottoman is cracked from sitting. Their collections are on display everywhere. It couldn’t feel more different than the sleek, museum-like interiors that we see their furniture featured in today.
Throughout, there are examples of Eames design–but not the ones you and I know. A patio table built from the base of their famous ottoman sits outside, probably a little rustier than when they used it; a walnut stool became a Lazy Susan holding a TV; and a plant is perched on top of an extra, extra tall modified table base. They simply used what they had to make what they needed.
Outside, old trucks and other toys litter the yard and in the corner are remains of a wooden fort built for the grandchildren.
Visiting the home of Charles and Ray Eames and glimpsing into their life together transformed two design icons into people, who, in many ways, were just like you and me.
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.”
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.