The celebrations of the 100th anniversary of Herman Miller, a multinational company that has always stood out for its innovative and timeless design, started from Milan – the capital of design.
On the occasion of Milano Design Week 2023, the HM showroom in the Brera Design District hosted an exhibition of graphic design – original works from the company’s rich archive – which confirm the cultural influence that this brand has had in the field of design. The exhibit will travel to Chicago for MillerKnoll Design Days in June.
Starting in the early modern era with the hiring of Gilbert Rohde in 1930 as Herman Miller’s first design director, founder D.J. De Pree made a pivotal step in transitioning the company from traditional to modern design. Rohde’s architectural training and Bauhaus education brought a new rigor to Herman Miller’s traditional furniture, while his wife Peggy Rohde designed marketing materials that depicted and highlighted the new direction.
Joining Herman Miller in 1945, outsize personality George Nelson cemented both storytelling and design partnerships – with the Eames Office, Alexander Girard, and others – as essential parts of the Herman Miller brand. Under Nelson’s design direction, graphic pioneers like Irving Harper (responsible for the “free” M in Herman Miller’s logo to this day) and Tomiko Miho flourished.
Coinciding with the Pop Art movement of the ’60s and the artistic liberation of the ’70s, a shared spirit of idealism and playfulness carried through from the Swiss-influenced, Helvetica-heavy tenure of designer John Massey to his protégé, Steve Frykholm, whose exuberant Summer Picnic series came to typify the company’s graphic identity throughout the ’70s.
In the ’80s and ‘90s, Barbara Loveland and Linda Powell steered the company through a postmodern period of design leadership. And as Herman Miller increased its international footprint, its graphics reached every corner of the globe, from travelling exhibitions to a system of illustration depicting a new theory on harmonious workplace environments called Living Office.
Finally, one cannot discuss graphics at Herman Miller without Alexander Girard, founding director of the company’s textile division. Throughout his career, Girard used graphics to create motifs with meaning, and his pattern language would reach its apex in the early ’70s with a series of Environmental Enrichment Panels – a selection of which will be on display in the Milan showroom exhibition.
During MDW2023, Herman Miller is making available for sale limited-edition prints of the John Massey-designed Eames Soft Pad Group poster. Originally produced in 1970.
To commemorate the brand’s centenary, Phaidon is also releasing a special edition of its bestselling monograph Herman Miller: A Way of Living. With a new clothbound cover and updated timeline, this unmatched collection of brand stories, historical artifacts, documents and photographs provides an expanded view of Herman Miller’s history.