Good Design: Stories from Herman Miller

The other night I decided to try and race to the Austin Museum of Art after work to catch a presentation by the guy who wrote this:

John Berry began his talk by telling about his life in the design world and how his first assignment out of school was to design the area for the first astronauts to return to after the initial space shuttle launch. NASA was prepared to deal with PTSD type situations and needed Berry to take his knowledge on color psychology to create a peaceful abode for them to return to Earth to. Yes, SPACE! After that he went on to save millions of dollars for John Deere through altering the chemical lighting in their factories and forged ahead to Herman Miller. He then worked for Herman Miller for 16 years during the rise of the Eames enterprise and became close family friends with them during their time collaborating at HM. While there are fervent Eames fans out there, I simply think MCM furniture as a whole is lovely and went just for that reason alone. I was so thrilled at how much I learned about this now iconic couple though.

The Eames are noted as being the couple that figured out how to effectively mold plywood. Their first project? Molded, ergonomic plywood splints for the Navy during WWII to replace the detrimental metal ones. Embracing the overall process of their designs, the couple went on to design some of the most iconic furniture of all time including this chair which was named the most significant design of the 20th century. A lil chair!

The pieces he discussed throughout the duration of the lecture included the Eames gate seating in the Austin airport, the “Mad Men” lounge chair that has its own fan club and took 30 years to fully complete and, of course, the white fiberglass bucket chairs that are now knocked off in college lecture halls across the country.  Texas Tech Mass Comm and OSU were full of them anyways.

The remainder of the discussion was the general explanation of design verses art and how they are in fact different and should be seen as such. Design is intended to improve the functionality of something, anything. I’m not an artist certainly, but I do like when things make my life easier. Take the airport seating above for example. The backs of the chairs are open near the lower back to avoid things falling out of pockets and getting trapped. The cushioning is thin, simple, and durable to avoid the ripping or decay of foam cushioning. They’re connected in rows to maximize space and yet sleek enough that you don’t think of them as being intentionally utilitarian. Smart.

I of course took the Q&A time to ask him how much wonderful furniture he had in his house. He said that he’s had a vast array over the years of original Eames pieces and prototypes and that some of his office furniture was even reclaimed to be put in a museum. Talk about a chair you don’t want to spill your morning Lucky Charms on. The Herman Miller exhibit is at AMOA until September and is definitely worth seeing. I got there quite late so only had a brief couple of minutes to see it but will for sure be going back.

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2 thoughts on “Good Design: Stories from Herman Miller

  1. Awesome! I planned to go, but couldn’t make it in the end. Thanks for passing along some of what I missed, it helps the dissapointment of missing the talk. I’m a sucker for a good back story, this definitely has me pumped go check it out!

  2. Awesome! Thank you for the kind words. It’s definitely worth it. The video shown with the exhibit was also shown during the lecture and it’s Charles essentially giving his definition of design. Have fun!

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