“Let the material be itself and do what it does best,” explains designer and Herman Miller Creative Director, Susan Lyons. Material honesty is about being true to the natural attributes of a material and taking full advantage of its capabilities.
The Eames molded plywood lounge chair (LCW), as Lyons mentions, is an example of this philosophy at work. The lounge, crafted from molded plywood and left uncovered, allows the wood’s natural beauty to shine. Combined with a sculpted form designed to the contours of the human body, the LCW has a utilitarian elegance that rightly earned it the distinction of Best Design of the 20th century by Time magazine.
Honesty is one of five material design principles Lyons and Herman Miller live by: honesty, utility, economy, pleasure, and possibility.
Five principles guide Lyon’s work as our Materials Creative Director: honesty, utility, economy, pleasure, and possibility. Each is essential when creating innovative products and environments.
Susan Lyons got her start printing “artsy” t-shirts for a college fundraising project which caught the attention of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, who later ordered 200 of them.
As her career grew, Lyons’ passion for textiles turned towards sustainability. “Spending my days in the [textile] factory made me realize how much I enjoyed the process of making. I had this idea that we could make things more intelligently, more green,” she said. Working with other environmental advocates, Lyons developed an award-winning collection of cradle-to-cradle compostable textiles.
At Herman Miller, Lyons has her hands in nearly every project. From color palettes to textiles and materials, she works with our other designers to make sure every design is just right.
“As Charles Eames said, Herman Miller should make ‘the best for the most for the least,’” says Susan Lyons, design consultant for Herman Miller’s Materials Program—now one-year old. “So let’s call this the year of Grades 1 and 2.”
“We have been working hard to design and develop innovative materials that are both purposeful and beautiful, as well as low cost.”
The work has paid off with great reviews. In fact, the program received a Silver award from the International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA, sponsored by Business Week) in the Design Strategy category.
Developed by the Michael McGinn Design Office, the Materials Program consists of two equally important components:
• The Materials Collection: physical sampling to be seen and touched.
• The Online Materials Program: a website to explore and understand our materials and their application.
I don’t envy designers their task of deciding which fabrics and finishes to choose for furniture. With so many choices and constraints to deal with, I hear it can be a complex and frustrating process. But it’s also typically the favorite part of their job because it’s a chance to get creative. So to make things easier, more gratifying, and more fun, Herman Miller revamped its Materials Program. They’ve made it simple, logical, and closely aligned with how designers and specifiers like to think about and use materials.
In addition to the online Materials Program, Herman Miller developed a new way for designers to interact with the choices the company offers. The Materials Collection, a sensibly-sized, permanently bound, recyclable set of books, contains complete swatch presentations for the entire textile and finish offering. The Collection is housed in four Baltic birch plywood slipcases. Nice. Reliable. Easy to use. So easy even a writer could do it. Read more