There are only a few more weeks of the second annual Be Original Americas Student Design Fellowship! Catch up on our weekly recaps to learn what this year’s Fellows – Tom and Irene – have been experiencing here.
In Week 5, Tom and Irene traveled to Herman Miller’s headquarters in Zeeland, MI for a three day long deep-dive that included tours of the design yard, test lab, archives and more. Then, the Fellows headed to Chicago, IL to spend a day with Skyline Design at their plant and another day with Maya Romanoff, touring the facilities and working on a creative project.
You got to tour the Herman Miller archives. What did you learn by looking back at design history?
Irene: It was overwhelming to walk into the Herman Miller archives and see the filing cabinets, boxes, and shelves filled with printed ads, textiles, chairs, and so much more. Amy, the Herman Miller archivist, also took us through the story of Herman Miller’s establishment and development into a company renowned for its iconic furniture and systems designs. Starting as a family business, D.J. DePree built relationships with designers and took advantage of a time when the needs of people and institutions were changing. The archive is the best resource for Herman Miller to look back at its history, as cultural heritage is the core of the company.
I can’t forget to talk about our hands-on experience at the assembly facilities in the Greenhouse at Herman Miller. As any student interested in ergonomic design, we are trained to design for the well-being of the end user. However, I realized that the design process was missing a step, and that is also to design for operators. Personally, being petite never really helps in any type of shop environment, and assembling on the production line for a short while was physically straining. How could the environment be adjusted to reduce the distance operators had to reach for components, while also considering the range of anthropometrics among both females and males? Could organizational changes be made in training to support the needs of not only right-handed operators but also those who are left handed? My time at the assembly facility was a source of observational learning that I hope to incorporate into my design process.
Tom: Experiencing the Herman Miller archives was inspirational, seeing everything from original sales booklets, print adverts and photography, to the physical archive—they even have an Eames house tucked away! My visit here helped me to place Herman Miller in a greater context, and to see how the collected history of a company, which can be used to help inform, resurrect and continue the culture of a company, can also be used to make sure that the individual stories of the products can continue to be told in the future. Strangely I hadn’t really considered before how the archive could also help inform the design department through the collection of pieces and an educated knowledge of reference and research to help designs stay true to their original designs, which shows another reason why it is so valuable.
What was it like to tour Skyline Design’s plant?
Irene: Skyline Design’s methods of creating glass have evolved through time, with technologies that allowed the company to take its designs to the next step. Everything is done in-house at its headquarters in Chicago, which is a benefit to the lifecycle of its designs. Developing its own proprietary machines to invent new ways from cutting to etching glass, Skyline Design has continually pushed the boundaries of what glass can do for people and the surrounding environment. An idea that was highlighted by Deborah, the creative director of Skyline Design, was to ensure that everything they did was intentional and not an afterthought. This idea was clearly evident during my visit to Skyline Design.
Tom: Skyline was an amazing place to visit. It was incredible to tour their facilities and to see the intricate work which they are able to produce. Their story of how they have constantly been developing and broadening their capabilities to stay at the apex of the industry and how this has allowed them to develop a huge range of capabilities gave me a great insight of a company growing into a design powerhouse. Experiencing the breadth of their facilities and the fact that they are always looking to develop new processes really demonstrated how they are always trying to innovate so that they can offer more visual capacity to clients.
Tell us about your creative project at Maya Romanoff. What did you learn?
Irene: We got to get our hands dirty at Maya Romanoff and make our own panel of Maya’s signature Mesa wallpaper. Maya Romanoff’s beautiful wallpaper involves so much trial and error during development, and craft during creation. The company truly finds novel ways of incorporating different materials and techniques to create a design that redefines the traditional definition of wallpaper. Because each panel of wallpaper is different, craftsmen number the panels to ensure a natural flow within each piece. In terms of quality control, all the wallpaper is inspected by eye before shipping. Seeing the process from start to finish during our creative project again reminded me of the importance of human touch to create original design.
Tom: Maya Romanoff was another fascinating experience. Each length of wallpaper had at least two people working on it at all times and the final pieces were all inspected by hand and then arranged for the best “flow.” It was interesting to see that one can be somewhat playful and take inspiration from everywhere and anywhere, and then take that back to the studio and just try things until you get the effect you were looking for. In the hands-on segment of the experience, it was pretty easy to see that the vast experience of the craft that the workers have there is definitely important—I’ll just say that our attempt at a piece of wallpaper wouldn’t have been winning Maya Romanoff any more awards!
Stay tuned for more from Tom and Irene, the 2017 Be Original Americas Student Design Fellows, as they recap their experiences each week here on the blog and on our social channels: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.