George Nelson was a talented writer, a rare gift for someone equally gifted in design, architecture, and the visual arts. With just a few select words, Nelson could guide a reader through an intricate, visual world or define a philosophy in broad sweeps. The author of 11 books and at least 179 articles, Nelson was also prolific.
As Jordan Pierce of the Yale Daily News recently noted, “Nelson stands apart for his wit, lucidity and ability to incorporate a thoughtful, human perspective.” True of Nelson’s writing, as well as his design work. “Nelson tore the numbers from clocks,” explains Peirce, “he put clutter in ‘storage walls’ and turned workplaces into ‘Action Offices.’” By doing so, Nelson earned his position as a founder of American Modernism.
For an opportunity to see Nelson’s writings, alongside his other works, be sure to visit George Nelson: Architect | Writer | Designer | Teacher, a traveling exhibition currently showing at the Yale School of Architecture gallery.
Not in the New Haven area? The new George Nelson Foundation website is another great resource. Check it out here.
Finding space to keep your things is just as much a problem today as it was in the 1940s, when George Nelson and fellow architect Henry Wright devised the Storagewall. It was designed to take the place of the traditional walls between the rooms in a home, and offered storage tailored to the function of the room.
Their concept for the multi-functional wall was presented in the 1945 Life article, “Storage Wall”—the first in a series of articles on the unique design challenges of what would soon be the postwar American home. Life built it’s own version of the Storagewall, and installed it in a New Jersey home. The article documented the many ways Storagewall could be used to provide structure, space delineation, and storage for any room—a clever solution for a culture enamored of the ephemera of the home.
It’s a solution that’s also timeless. The Storagewall concept could easily apply to current design challenges, like the increasing overlap between our work and personal lives. And the influence of Storagewall on contemporary storage designs is clear. Consider Herman Miller’s Meridian Storage, designed to offer more than just a place to keep files, paperclips, and rubber bands. The modular pieces function as seating, collaboration spaces, and power sources—a versatility reminiscent of Nelson and Wright’s pioneering design.
You can see Storagewall and other Nelson designs on display at the Yale School of Architecture Gallery until January 26, 2013, in an exhibit titled “George Nelson: Architect, Writer, Designer, Teacher.”
Paper doesn’t require any special equipment—“All you have to do is sit down, cut paper out, and score it, bend it, and glue it.” Designer Irving Harper has a way of making it sound easy; when you see his creations you realize it’s not. Harper is just humble and extraordinarily talented.
This fact becomes even more apparent when you reflect back on his long and distinguished career. A long-time member of George Nelson’s design office, Harper is widely acknowledged as the creator of some of the 20th century’s most iconic designs: the Marshmallow Sofa, the Ball Clock, and (something very close to our heart) the Herman Miller logo, among many well-known designs.
Much in same way he transforms paper into art, Irving Harper has always had a knack for turning humble materials and seemingly simple ideas into something special.
In Irving Harper’s hands, you can imagine any material to be versatile.
See more of Irving Harper’s paper sculptures at 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. Next week is designer Gianfranco Zaccai.
Long before interdisciplinary design was a buzzword, there was George Nelson—a man for whom no single title was entirely fitting. this fact is acknowledged by George Nelson: Architect | Writer | Designer | Teacher, a traveling exhibit currently on display at the Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Open until October 14, 2012, the exhibit showcases the many products, graphics, books, videos, and exhibits that bear the mark of Nelson’s multi-talented approach to design.
George Nelson was passionate about design and when he joined Herman Miller he quickly set about transforming us from a small manufacturer of residential furniture into a company driven by design. In his introduction to the 1948 Herman Miller catalog, Nelson articulated a set of principles that continue to guide us today: what we make is important; design is integral; the product must be honest; we decide what we make; a market for good design exists.
In 1984, George Nelson sat down and reflected on his time at Herman Miller. The resulting essay is insightful, honest, and full of stories told with keen recollection. We decided to share the essay with FastCompany, which began publishing it as a series beginning this week. Check it out and let us know what you think.
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
George Nelson: Architect, Writer, Designer, Teacher, is a traveling exhibit exploring many facets of Nelson’s peculiar brand of genius, from furniture designs to urban planning to essays and criticism.
As Herman Miller Design Director from 1946-1972, Nelson believed a problem should never been viewed in isolation from the context in which it exists—the most important being people. He observed this to be “an approach that is more likely to create trends than follow them.” Nelson was right, and his philosophy drew the Eameses, Isamu Noguchi, and Alexander Girard to Herman Miller.
The exhibit runs until October at the Cranbrook Museum of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and marks one of just five stops in the U.S. for the extensive collection of artifacts and Nelson furniture.
Every year, late in the month of May, we celebrate the birthdays of George Nelson and Alexander Girard. Director of design and director of textiles, respectively, these two men established design as central to all aspects of the company. In many instances their works were the face of Herman Miller to the world. We owe them much.
Back in 1948, Herman Miller was in need of a new catalog to show off its pioneering modern designs by George Nelson and Charles and Ray Eames. Rising to the challenge, Nelson proposed a sophisticated catalog printed on high quality paper and full of beautiful photography. The problem? As DJ De Pree, founder of Herman Miller, made clear, the company could never afford to produce it. Read more
Nelson platform bench at the Fogg Museum of Art, Harvard University
In a world where design is often an exclamation mark, sometimes, good design is one that complements without calling undue attention to itself. Much like the perfect t-shirt or little black dress that round out one’s wardrobe, a thoughtful interior needs a few basic pieces that do not dominate.
The platform bench, designed by George Nelson in 1945, is one such piece. A stable of museum galleries around the world, and often found at the foot of the bed, the bench has been a durable icon for its ability to play a supporting role. Composed of solid maple slats, it reflects Nelson’s insistence on honest design—making a visual statement that defines an object’s purpose.