Designer History: Herman Miller

In Zeeland, Michigan, way back in the year 1905, a company called the Star Furniture Company set out to create a line of high quality furniture; specifically, office furniture that featured an old-fashioned historic style. When visionary Dirk Jan De Pree joined the company as a clerk just four years later, no one had a clue that he would quickly rise through the ranks to become the company’s president in a short ten year span.

Deciding that the company needed a new title to match his own new title as president, De Pree renamed it The Michigan Star Furniture Company. It only took four more years for De Pree to get his father-in-law, Herman Miller, on board to purchase fifty-one percent of the company’s stock. They renamed the company once again, to the Herman Miller Furniture Company, and continued to make exclusively wooden office furniture for another seven years, until the Great Depression hit.

Forced to explore new options, they hired modernist designer Gilbert Rohde to help create a new line of office furniture for their brand. Although they were reluctant to accept his designs at first, they eventually came to like the new direction of the company. When Rohde died in 1944, he was replaced by architect George Nelson, who guided Herman Miller into some of their most iconic pieces, like the marshmallow sofa, the ball clock, the sling sofa, and, of course, the modern day cubicle.

Although Nelson’s influence helped sculpt the future of the company at large, his power at the company waned in the 70s when a series of designers including Don Chadwick, Bill Stumpf, Tom Newhouse and Ray Wilkes came onto the scene to design their own inspirational office furniture pieces. The line was so admired that artist Stephen Frykholm produced a series of posters dedicated to the works of the company. Some are still featured, today, at the Museum of Modern Art.

The Feng Shui of Office Design

The strength of anything lies in the design. This is true for basically everything on Earth, including the design of your office space. The more that you know about how the design of a room impacts the people that work inside of it, the happier that your employees will be. By utilizing the philosophies behind the Chinese art of Feng Shui, you’ll soon find that it’s possible to shift the energy of the room into a positive light.

Literally translating to “wind-water” in Chinese, Feng Shui is an art form that examines the natural flow of energy in the architecture of a room, including how it binds together with the Earth, the universe, and even your employees. Since they’ll be the ones spending the most time in the room, it’s important for the room’s design to complement them and make them feel relaxed. If the room is overly hostile or makes them feel uncomfortable in some way, you’ll notice right away through the quality of their work.

The basics of Feng Shui dictate that every room has a flow of negative and positive energy, and that the arrangement of your office can help guide creative energy toward your employees and dispel distractions. Most of these guidelines have metaphorical origins, such as the belief that you should not work with your back facing a door, as a door represents the “coming of new business.” The philosophy also encourages positioning your workstation in the North or West area of the office to increase creativity.

That’s not all there is to it, of course. Feng Shui also takes utility into mind, and the philosophy encourages clean filtered air and good quality lighting in order to keep your employees healthy. It also suggests that the presence of lively art and other creative outlets invigorate your employees and help them get a fresh start on their work.

Office Designs That’ll Kill Your Productivity

Differences in industry can be an important factor to consider when ordering furniture and deciding which office design will work for you and your employees. It can be easy for business owners and managers to look at office designs as some extraneous and nebulous aspect of work that has a negligible impact on workers, but it’s much harder to argue with the results.

More so than discovering an office plan that encourages creativity, it’s important to avoid an office setup that hinders progress. The traditional “cube farm” setup has been a known morale and productivity killer, so even though this may seem like the most economical decision, it could be costing you money in the long run, when employee productivity is taken into account.

Although creative industries like film and publishing have managed to find success with an open office environment, studies show that it may not be necessarily advantageous for every single job. For instance, writers often find that they cannot concentrate when the room is noisy with words that have nothing to do with the sentence they’re writing. Project managers may be distracted during phone calls by impromptu meetings happening near their desks, and the overall chatter of busy people may subconsciously distract everyone from their work.

Finding a balance and discovering what works for the employees of your industry is the key to understanding what makes the best team environment. Why not try a semi-open office environment that utilizes low walls and room separators to give just enough privacy to those who need it? It could also help to talk to employees that require silence to get their work done and group them all in an environment separate from all the hustle and bustle. In the end, it’s not so much about the overall design of the office space, as much as it’s about the employees and what type of environment will be best for their work.

Building a Team with Your Office Space

Famously creative businesses like Pixar, Google, Apple and Disney have become well known for promoting a team-building environment. They accomplish this not just by reorganizing their infrastructure to make it more team friendly, but also through the layout of their office in general.

Steve Jobs once famously revolutionized the Pixar offices just by understanding that people in different departments often developed radically different problem solving techniques, especially when they were separated from each other. This discouraged them from sharing ideas and solutions that could have potentially benefitted the whole company. In response to this, Jobs decided to house all of Pixar’s team, from the animators, to the storyboard artists, to the writers, in one giant cavernous room. This exposed them to more casual interaction with each other throughout the day, and also gave them a friendlier outlook towards their colleagues. By encouraging inter-office fraternization, ideas were shared from perspectives that each department wouldn’t have anticipated otherwise.

Google instigated a similar strategy, building new and exciting ways for different departments to interact with each other. They developed an innovative inter-connected series of hallways, break rooms and ladders that lead to different areas of the building. Aside from inspiring creativity from the team, this eventually got the team to rub elbows with each other more frequently. Studies show that some of the best forms of collaboration occur from brief periods of interaction bound by a common objective. By having an infrastructure that ensures that employees will “bump into one another” from time-to-time, you can ensure that everyone will eventually come to know each other’s roles in time. By allowing friendships to occur naturally in a carefully formulated setting like this, you’re ensuring that your employees form lasting bonds that will positively impact their teamwork skills.

3 Ways to Design a Creative Office

Your duty as a business owner includes ensuring that you’ve taken every possible step toward maximum productivity. Part of this concept is the overall design of your office. It’s possible for a workplace environment to feel overly sterile and uninviting if no attention has been paid to the layout of the furniture or the room itself. Once you’ve struck a good balance that promotes innovation and creativity, your employees are more likely to feel more comfortable, decreasing their overall stress and boosting their productivity.

First off, consider the configuration of the workspace. Do you find that your employees have to squeeze by each other to get to their desks? Cramping of an employee’s personal space could potentially bring down their productivity level, or even negatively impact their morale. Experiment with different configurations, and consider allowing the employees to come up with a solution as well. Some business advisors don’t advise “letting the prisoners run the asylum,” but it’s important to remember that employees respect employers that give them the freedom to choose their most functional work environment.

Also, zoning different areas of the workplace could help your employees subconsciously spend more time doing “true work” and taking “true breaks.” Bring a couch into the office and set up a break area for employees that need to take a break from staring at glowing screens all day. That way, when they get back to their working station, they’ll feel refreshed and ready to get back to their work.

Whatever you do, it’s important that you experiment with different methodologies, and also take your employee’s suggestions to heart. If your employees haven’t made any suggestions about how to improve the workplace layout, remember that it may be out of fear that they’ll be seen as a whiner. Organize and revitalize the workplace for them so that they don’t need to feel uncomfortable when they should be the most productive.

Top 10 Worst Office Offenses


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A well-oiled office is a combination of many things, including the people, the tools used and the culture. These days, when many of us spend more time at work than we do at home, maintaining a productive and positive office environment is more important than ever. However, as is the case with every office, there are always a few bad apples and few things that can be improved upon. See if your office is an offender, with our top 10 worst office offenses!

1. Noise: If you work in a busy office, it’s a given that there’s going to be some background noise. From telephones ringing off the hooks to bubbling coffee machines, noises are unavoidable. What is avoidable is talking loudly when other people are working, or playing music without headphones on.

2. Hygiene: Keep perfumes and heavy colognes to a minimum. Not only do some people find these smells overwhelming, many people are allergic to fragrances.

3. Offensive Decorations: Adding individuality to a workspace is an important part in creating a comfortable environment. However, be considerate of other people’s sensibility and avoid putting up offensive or off-color decorations and signage.

4. Not Enough Space: What’s worse than having a small work station? Not having enough storage space. An organized workspace is critical to an efficient office setting. If you don’t have enough space for your files and other important necessities, ask your manager to equip you with a proper storage solution.

5. Broken Furniture: Broken chairs, stuck drawers and rickety desks: these things all add up to an unpleasant work environment. Like having enough space, it’s vital that your furniture and equipment is up to par with the demands of your job description.

6. Noisy Neighbors: There’s nothing wrong with getting to know your coworkers; what is wrong is crossing personal boundaries and space. If you find that your desk offers limited privacy, ask your manager for a privacy screen over your computer monitor or for your desk to be rearranged. Avoid making personal phone calls at the desk and keep your workspace for professional use only.

7. The Clean Freak: No one likes to get sick, but there’s something to be said about number 7 on our list, the “clean freak.” These are the coworkers that spray every inch and corner down with Lysol and bleach. If you’re guilty of this offense, know that while your intentions are good, subjecting your coworkers to these fumes poses a potential health hazard.

8. Waste: Printing duplicate documents, not recycling ink cartridges or blasting the A/C all contribute to your office’s carbon footprint. Make your office more efficient by reducing waste, purchasing reusable supplies and recycling when it’s an option.

9. The Internet Is Down: Nothing strikes more fear into the hearts of office workers everywhere than when the internet is down. And can you blame them? From how we communicate, to how we work, everything is based on the internet.

10. Smelly Foods: One man’s caviar is another man’s garbage. If you’re in an enclosed environment, keep strong-smelling foods stored tightly or eat them outside when possible. Not everyone will find your leftovers as delicious as you do, so it’s important to be respectful to their senses.

5 Ways to Fend Off Winter in Your Cubicle


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For most of the country, winter is still very much among us. From snow storms on the east coast to record breaking chills down south, it’s safe to say it’s been a cold couple of months. While your building may be temperature controlled, we’ve come up with 5 additional ways to help you fend off the chills and keep you cozy in your cubicle.

1. Cubicle Coat Hooks: Heavy winter coats and scarves can take up a lot of space. While leaving them wrapped around the chair seems like the most logical solution, it can inhibit proper chair support. A better option is to install removable hooks right on your cubicle. Sturdy and lightweight cubicle coat hooks not only help you keep organized, but put your coat within easy reach.

2. Space Heaters: Bringing in your own personal space heater affords you the luxury of a warm environment without making your coworkers too “toasty.” Small space heaters are affordable and can be placed under your desk to warm your feet or right next to you on the table.

3. Blanket: Keeping a small fleece or cotton blanket on your chair or stored in your desk is a discreet way to stay comfortable during the winter. Look for blankets that are lightweight and can easily be stored or zipped up when you leave for the day.

4. Rugs: Placing a small rug in your cubicle can add personality and a touch of color for your space. Most importantly, a small rug can add warmth to your cubicle floors and keep heat trapped in your area.

5. Exercise: The last best way to fend off the cold at your office is to do some exercise. As we discussed in earlier blogs, it’s easy to do exercises with your office furniture. Better yet, you can raise your heart rate by taking a stroll around the building with your fellow coworkers.

How Satisfied Are You With Your Workspace?


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When you walk into your office, what do you see? Your desk, your chair, your lamp, your keyboard … You may have all the necessities it takes for a solid workspace, but how satisfied are you with it? Below we’ve compiled a quick list of questions to help you determine the answer.

1. Does your back hurt? Do your hands hurt from typing? Do your eyes feel strained?  If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these, it’s time to rearrange your workspace. An ergonomic workstation is important not only for your output, but for your health as well. Speak with your manager to see if they’re willing to invest in higher quality chairs, desks and computer equipment for you or your team’s usage.

2. How easy is it for you to find what you need?  A cluttered dusk is never a good sign of an efficient workspace. If you find that your desk is stacked with files or supplies, look into some kind of organizational system like mobile drawers or bins that can help you resolve this issue.

3. Do you have enough privacy?  Even in an open or collaborative office, having enough individual space or privacy is vital for concentration. Observe the noise level around you and how often you are interrupted while working; if this is causing you to lose focus, it’s time for you to think about moving to a different location.

4. How distracted are you on a daily basis?  Office distractions don’t necessarily refer to things you don’t have control over, such as your coworkers talking or the telephone ringing. When we talk about distractions, we’re asking what in your space is causing you to think about anything other than your work. Do you have a squeaky chair? Are you spending too much time browsing the internet? Do you have enough lighting? Is the temperature of the office bothering you? These are all things you have control over and have the ability to fix.

5. What’s stopping you from being more productive?  Piggy backing off of number “4,” it’s important that you ask yourself (and ask yourself often), what you can do to have a more productive workspace. From furniture to office etiquette, taking an active involvement in your productivity will not only increase your efficiency, but will make your work environment a more enjoyable space.

Cubicles: The Story of an Office Icon


Image Courtesy of Herman Miller

Cubicles: The Story of an Office Icon

In 1967, designer Robert Propst for Herman Miller had a new vision for the office space. Calling it the Action Office II, the partially enclosed environment offered greater privacy and productivity for the modern office worker. These days, we call this revolutionary furniture piece … The Cubicle.

In the early 1960s, with 120 patents on designs and systems under his belt, Propst became fascinated with improving the modern workplace.

“Today’s office is a wasteland. It saps vitality, blocks talent, frustrates accomplishment. It is the daily scene of unfulfilled intentions and failed effort.” Robert Propst, 1960

Inspired by European designs and concepts of office privacy screens, Propst wanted to create a productive yet comfortable environment that would nurture creativity through personalization.

When the Action Office II was released, the cubicle’s mobile walls allowed businesses to modify their space based on the needs of its employees. Additionally, as a business grew in size, the cubicle walls could be modified to accommodate the additional workers.

In Propst’s new system, plenty of work space and shelves were given to employees. The system had the ability to change the height of the attached desks, allowing employees to work while standing up (echoing the current trend of standing desks).

By the 1970s the cubicle had become a mainstay of the office landscape. In 1978, the Action Office II was rechristened to just Action Office. Today, the Action Office system is still carried by the Herman Miller brand. Still durable and still flexible, today’s Action Office system combines the best of Propst’s original ideas and designs, with the demands and trends of today’s workplace.

 

Trend Watch: Biophilic Design


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Trend Watch: Biophilic Design

Over the last few years, more and more companies are turning towards an innovative concept for their office spaces – Biophilic Design.

To understand Biophilic Design, we must first understand Biophilia. Biophilia refers to the theory that by nature, humans have an instinctual bond with other living things like plants and animals. Biophilic Design seeks to bridge that relationship in environments like offices.

3 Main Benefits of a Biophilic Office:

- Studies have shown that Biophilic work environments yield higher productivity rates and long-term profit increases.

- Employees in a Biophilic work environment report a greater sense of health and overall well-being. Plants naturally purify air, as well as collect dust and other allergens. Green environments have also shown to regulate the temperature in closed rooms.

- By building around nature, offices decrease their environmental impact and carbon footprint.

Many regard Biophilic Design as a luxury. The truth of the matter is that incorporating Biophilic Design into your office requires very few upfront costs. 

Key Features of Biophilic Design You Can Incorporate Into Your Workplace:

- Add plants, shrubs and trees around the office or in individual cubicles.

- Plant trees and other reminders of nature outside the building.

- Install windows, as well as skylights, with views overlooking the natural landscape.

- Opt for natural lighting or a combination of natural and conventional lighting during the day.

- Rearrange the office so employees are closer to the windows.

- Have a presence of water, such as a fountain or aquarium in reception areas or where convenient.

Integrating nature into your workplace doesn’t have to be a huge ordeal. With a few changes, such as adding plants or rearranging cubicles, any office can be a Biophilic paradise.