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Authoring design. From Herman Miller 'WHY'.

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    Authoring design. From Herman Miller 'WHY'.

    Examining George Nelson’s writing reveals the key to creating timeless design. Hint: it’s all about people.

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    News - 20.07.2016

    It’s easy to predict the future, but nearly impossible to get it right. Yet time and again, designer George Nelson did just that. In 1945, George Nelson and Henry Wright authored Tomorrow’s House—a kind of guidebook for progressive homebuilders. While it chronicles each element of the house—with chapters illustrating new concepts in living, dining, kitchens, bath—what stands out today is Nelson’s almost counterintuitive approach. Rather than dwelling on form or aesthetics, for example, in the “Sleeping” chapter Nelson writes, “Let us take time out and look at the bedroom, not as a room with some standard furniture in it, but as the area in which a great variety of activities takes place. People read in their bedrooms, they dress there, occasionally eat there, frequently smoke, and sometimes write; they may listen to the radio, and they certainly make love.” The message becomes clear: a house of tomorrow should focus on the reality its inhabitants faced.

    While the idea of designing for human experience may seem obvious now, considering the time, place, and social context in which Nelson was working, it seems especially prescient. Karen Stein, executive director at the George Nelson Foundation, sums it up succinctly: “He was a person who liked ideas but also a person who liked things and things that worked. So if a room wasn’t designed to accommodate the life that went on inside of it, that would not be suitable to his frame of mind.”

    “He had various careers—a journalist, an architect, an industrial designer, a creative director, a teacher—and many of them went on concurrently,” Stein says of Nelson’s multi-faceted persona. “He was writing about things that were happening, changes in the modern way of life, and all of that then went into his examination for furniture.” This panoramic vision, coupled with a keen ability for sniffing out problems and a creative approach to offering solutions, is likely why so many of Nelson’s designs have endured the test of time. Are today’s houses any less problematic than those of the 1940’s? Have the issues surrounding storage, dining, or sleeping evolved so significantly? If anything, they’ve become more needlessly complicated or thoughtlessly redundant, and offer a newfound clarity to Nelson’s human-centered solutions. In the decades that have passed since Nelson put pen to paper, his words offer a similar sense of clarity—ultimately revealing a point of view on design that will never go out of style. Why? As he tells us in 1953's Living Spaces, “The thing that makes design so interesting is that the factors in its creation are so inconsistently and wonderfully human.”

    Extract from 'Authoring Design', Herman Miller 'WHY'. Written by Komal Sharma.

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