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.
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.”
George Nelson said, “The aim of the design process is always to produce an object that does something,” and what the umbrella does is protect.
People have been shielding themselves from sun and rain for centuries underneath the umbrella’s curved contour⎯an ingenious design with multiple applications, including Nelson’s fiberglass parasols at the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow.
As exhibition design director, Nelson’s structure covered exhibits, including Edward Steichen’s “Family of Man” photography collection. Charles and Ray Eames also took part, displaying their film “Glimpses of the USA” on multiple screens showing basic aspects of American life. Additionally, Herman Miller Modern Classics⎯before they were classics⎯showcased as leading innovations in American home furnishings.
Fifty years later, the umbrella’s shape made its way inside, providing shade for computer screens. Designer, Ayse Birsel, compares her Resolve canopy to “a parasol on a beach.” And her umbrella does more than block overhead glare, “It defines your territory and augments your sense of space.”
Resolve creates open, inviting, space-efficient workstations where people feel comfortable and connected. When underneath the umbrella-like Resolve canopy, there’s “a very tangible sense of one’s own space without the use of walls,” as Birsel put it.
Why Michigan? Many reasons, and certainly it was West Michigan’s furniture industry, the opportunity to study at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, exhibits hosted by the Detroit Institute of Art in the heart of the Motor City, and the numerous patrons who supported a new vision for the world.
To learn more, visit Michigan Modern, a project working to raise awareness of the state’s design legacy and share examples of the state’s ongoing leadership in modern design.
Inspiration is all around and some of us, like designer George Nelson, are bestowed with the talent to turn it into something real.
The 2011 limited-edition Select tray table features a veneer inlay patterned on one such inspiration. Nelson’s 1962 Flock of Butterflies clock transformed bent, polished aluminum into a simple design that evokes butterflies in flight.
Here is George Nelson explaining, in his own words, how a night of fun inspired another icon of mid-century design, the ball clock.
“Wall of Clocks,” designed by George Nelson, hangs in the McNay Art Museum. Photo: OMAR PEREZ / EXPRESS-NEWS
“George Nelson: Architect, Writer, Designer, Teacher”, a traveling exhibit on the life and work of George Nelson, Herman Miller director of design from 1946 to 1972, is now at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas.
Ever the provocateur, Nelson challenged the way we live and tirelessly commuicated his vision. Under his guidance Herman Miller embraced and defined modern design, creating furniture and accessories that resonated with changing lifestyles of the late 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s—many of which are still produced by us today.
The exhibit is a great opportunity to not only see some of Nelson’s iconic design work, but also to learn more about the influential, multi-talented man who helped us see our future.
If you have visited the exhibit in San Antonio or elsewhere, please share you thoughts with us.
Nelson took his role of provocateur very seriously and spent his long career asking, challenging, and commenting on design, architectural, business and society at large. He could be cantankerous and opinionated, but he was also brilliant. Much of his writing, and design work feels as contemporary today as it did the day it was created.
Herman Miller owes much to Nelson, whose birthday is May 29. Under his guidance the company pioneered modern design, discovered Charles and Ray Eames, and conceived the first office system. But most of all, Herman Miller owes George Nelson for instilling the company with his design philosophy, the belief that good design is honest, an integral part of business, and that a market exists for it –a philosophy that lives on today.
One would hope that George would feel a sense of satisfaction in products like Aeron, Setu, SAYL, and Compass; proud that the seeds he sowed are still growing today.
We’ve been observing, too. Our connections there began with George Nelson, Herman Miller’s famous design director. Here he is taking music lessons, flanked by his teachers. The photo is probably from his two-month tour of Japan, late 1957 to early 1958. A guest of the Japanese government, Nelson lectured in several cities and met with designers, manufacturers, and students.
Nelson first traveled to Tokyo in 1951, and became enamored of the city. He was fascinated by the care he observed in the design of all things. Even the most ordinary items received an attention that he found fascinating, as did the noted Japanese graphic designer Hikeyuki Oka. Nelson added a foreword to Oka’s book How to Wrap Five Eggs, a mid-60s classic of Japanese design.
Writing in the foreword, Nelson said that “what we have lost for sure is what this book is all about: a once-common sense of fitness in the relationships between hand, material, use and shape, and above all, a sense of delight in the look and feel of very ordinary, humble things.”
A sense of delight continues to energize us, as does a real connection to Japan. Fast forward 60 years after Nelson’s first trip there, and you’ll find our latest touchpoint: the Herman Miller store in Tokyo. Opened in January of this year, the store makes great design available to consumers, from chairs and desks to games and toys.
Photo 1 Copyright Jacqueline Nelson
Photo 2 Weatherhill Publishing
Help Us Act As with everyone in Japan and the world, we are preoccupied with helping the country rebuild after the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit the Sendai area. The disaster has prompted us, and our employees, to make donations to the relief efforts. Find out more about what we’re doing and how you can help make a difference. Thank you.
Pictured above: Pauline Verbeek-Cowart, associate professor at KCAI
“Design is a response to social change.” –George Nelson
Certainly, a lot of social change has taken place since George Nelson, Herman Miller’s revolutionary lead designer in the 40s and 50s, said those words. The way offices function and the way people work has changed dramatically.
So, what might contemporary artists and designers have to say about design and social change? I quizzed a student and a professor at the Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) about their response to George Nelson’s statement and about the relationship between art and design in general. Here’s what they had to say:
Theo Bunch, a senior at KCAI, said that, while design can be a response to social change, it’s also a response to life. “Design is part of life. We’re always changing,” he said. “Design, like art, represents human expression and creative thought. It’s planned, intelligent, creative thinking. Design is applied art, like physics is applied math.
According to Pauline Verbeek-Cowart, associate professor and chair of the Fiber Department, “Artists and designers have always responded to the world around them, this action is often a reaction to the status quo, to the current culture. What happens in the world of art and design is a response to societal norms, and social change can be the outcome.
So, there you have it, a contemporary reflection on a past visionary. Let the discussion continue…
On November 4, the Art Directors Club inducted designer, architect, and author George Nelson posthumously into its Hall of Fame. Every two years the Club honors individuals who have made “significant contributions to art direction and visual communications, and whose lifetime achievements represent the highest standards of creative excellence.” The others inducted this year include Fabien Baron, creative director; Matthew Carter, typographer; and Brigitte Lacombe, photographer.
Nelson is a big part of Herman Miller’s history. He was director of design here from 1946–1971 and he designed many iconic pieces, including the coconut chair, the marshmallow sofa, and the platform bench. And we think his design philosophy—“total design is nothing more or less than a process of relating everything to everything”—is more relevant than ever.
If you’re in New York, you can see works by the new inductees free of charge at the ADC Gallery until November 23, 2010.