Why furniture from this 100-year-old design firm is still a good investment
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Why furniture from this 100-year-old design firm is still a good investment

There’s hardly an office or a home that has not been touched by the Herman Miller design legacy

By Robyn Willis
Mon, May 22, 2023 10:57amGrey Clock 5 min

If there’s a lesson to be learnt from working from home, it’s that the benefits of the ergonomic chair are real. And we have a man called Bill Stumpf to thank. A key designer with iconic American furniture manufacturer Herman Miller, he joined in the early 1970s tasked with designing furniture for the modern office. 

The chairs Stumpf designed, including the Aeron – the office chair by which all others are now judged – join a long line of exemplar designs from Herman Miller, which celebrates its centenary this year.

Founded in 1923 when DJ De Pree bought the Star Furniture company and renamed it in honour of his father in law, Herman Miller started to hit its stride as a business in the 1940s when De Pree found himself in need of a new design lead. 

The Herman Miller design team, including George Nelson (centre) and Ray and Charles Eames (far right)

In 1945, he hired the up-and-coming designer George Nelson who released the platform bench in 1946. A year later Nelson helped De Pree recruit Charles and Ray Eames following the exhibition of their groundbreaking moulded plywood furniture. 

The Platform Bench, designed by George Nelson for Herman Miller

By the early 1950s, the Eames’ research into new materials like fibreglass culminated in the release of the world’s first moulded fibreglass chairs, the popular shell chair still in demand today.

After the success of his platform bench, Nelson went on to design the Marshmallow lounge, as well as his perennially popular range of lights, including the Bubble, Cigar and Saucer pendants.

George Nelson’s Marshmallow Sofa, released in 1956

Subsequent designs to hit the market included the Eames Hang it All, with its distinctive ball-shaped hooks, and, perhaps the best known of Herman Miller’s chairs, the Eames lounge chair and ottoman, which took its inspiration from a baseball catcher’s mitt. An instant classic, the chair is now in the permanent collection at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. 

Frank Di Giorgio, director at Living Edge, which is the main distributor of Herman Miller furniture in Australia, is the proud owner of an Eames lounge and ottoman, which is on display in the Sydney showroom.

“I bought it in the 70s and it’s one of the most comfortable chairs, although no one’s really allowed to sit in it now because it’s on show,” Di Giorgio says. “It’s a design that gets better with time.”

The Eames lounge and ottoman has an enduring appeal. It is teamed here with George Nelson lights from the Herman Miller range, available from Living Edge

 

As with all their designs, the lounge chair and ottoman was the result of years of research and design by Ray and Charles Eames. This approach to design is part of the company’s DNA. It is perhaps most evident in the ongoing development of their office furniture systems, initially developed by Nelson and Robert Propst, who joined in 1956. The pair worked together to create the Action Office system of freestanding units. Stumpf joined later, initially working under Propst.

Before the advent of Stumpf’s Ergon chair, released in 1976, there was little to no understanding of the idea of comfort in the quickly evolving world of the modern office.

Based on detailed research into the human body, the Ergon (short for ergonomic) became the blueprint by which all other office chairs were measured in terms of comfort as well as efficiency.

Stumpf later went on to design the hugely popular Aeron chair for Herman Miller in 1994, which has been copied or modified so often that its skeletal frame and stretched mesh body have become synonymous with office furniture and fitouts. 

Di Giorgio says the Aeron caused quite a stir when it was released.

“I remember when the Aeron came out and everyone wanted to know where the fabric was because the seat was made only of mesh,” he said. “Now every office chair has a mesh seat. It changed the perception of office chairs.” 

Given the sustained popularity of the Herman Miller range now, it’s hard to fathom that several designs, including the Hang It All, the Marshmallow sofa and Nelson platform bench were discontinued in the 1960s. However, they were among a slew of designs reissued in the 1990s as new audiences fell in love with their minimalist, mid century lines. Sadly, with the surge in popularity have come a tsunami of imposters. Di Giorgio says the replica pieces have little in common with the genuine article.

“It’s easy to create a silhouette without understanding what has gone into the product,” he says. “If people want authentic design, they need to understand the product and the trials and tribulations that go into that piece. 

“The pieces are not right if the materials are not right.” 

He says government legislation in Australia that allows copied designs to be sold as long as they are referred to as ‘replica’ still has a way to go to catch up with other areas of design.

“They don’t let people sell fake Gucci bags but they let (something similar) happen in furniture,” he says. “Even being able to call products by their name with ‘replica’ in front of it is problematic.”

However, he says as the appeal of the Herman Miller range endures, customers are becoming more educated about the design legacy. Indeed, thanks to the growing ‘work from home’ model, demand for a reliable, comfortable office chair is stronger than ever.

“Those new hybrid systems (of working) are not going away and people need to be supported at work and at home,” he says. “Ergonomics is just as important at home, and as we are allowing people to work from home, we need to make sure we support and set them up correctly at home and at work with desk chairs.”

While the upfront cost often puts pieces into the ‘investment’ category, it’s a ‘buy once, buy well’ model that Herman Miller and Living Edge extoll.

“Those chairs have a 12-year warranty because (Herman Miller) stand by their product,” Di Giorgio says. “The sustainability is taken into account as well – they recycle components at Herman Miller. 

“You’re still finding a lot of those chairs around.”

That kind of result speaks for itself. 



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Should AI Have Access to Your Medical Records? What if It Can Save Many Lives?

We asked readers: Is it worth giving up some potential privacy if the public benefit could be great? Here’s what they said.

By DEMETRIA GALLEGOS
Tue, May 28, 2024 4 min

We’re constantly told that one of the potentially biggest benefits of artificial intelligence is in the area of health. By collecting large amounts of data, AI can create all sorts of drugs for diseases that have been resistant to treatment.

But the price of that could be that we have to share more of our medical information. After all, researchers can’t collect large amounts of data if people aren’t willing to part with that data.

We wanted to see where our readers stand on the balance of privacy versus public-health gains as part of our series on ethical dilemmas created by the advent of AI.

Here are the questions we posed…

AI may be able to discover new medical treatments if it can scan large volumes of health records. Should our personal health records be made available for this purpose, if it has the potential to improve or save millions of lives? How would we guard privacy in that case?

…and some of the answers we received. undefined

Rely on nonpartisan overseers

While my own recent experience with a data breach highlights the importance of robust data security, I recognise the potential for AI to revolutionise healthcare. To ensure privacy, I would be more comfortable if an independent, nonpartisan body—overseen by medical professionals, data-security experts, and citizen representatives—managed a secure database.

Anonymity cuts both ways

Yes. Simply sanitise the health records of any identifying information, which is quite doable. Although there is an argument to be made that AI may discover something that an individual needs or wants to know.

Executive-level oversight

I think we can make AI scanning of health records available with strict privacy controls. Create an AI-CEO position at medical facilities with extreme vetting of that individual before hiring them.

Well worth it

This actually sounds like a very GOOD use of AI. There are several methods for anonymising data which would allow for studies over massive cross-sections of the population without compromising individuals’ privacy. The AI would just be doing the same things meta-studies do now, only faster and maybe better.

Human touch

My concern is that the next generations of doctors will rely more heavily, maybe exclusively, on AI and lose the ability or even the desire to respect the art of medicine which demands one-on-one interaction with a patient for discussion and examination (already a dying skill).

Postmortem

People should be able to sign over rights to their complete “anonymised” health record upon death just as they can sign over rights to their organs. Waiting for death for such access does temporarily slow down the pace of such research, but ultimately will make the research better. Data sets will be more complete, too. Before signing over such rights, however, a person would have to be fully informed on how their relatives’ privacy may also be affected.

Pay me or make it free for all

As long as this is open-source and free, they can use my records. I have a problem with people using my data to make a profit without compensation.

Privacy above all

As a free society, we value freedoms and privacy, often over greater utilitarian benefits that could come. AI does not get any greater right to infringe on that liberty than anything else does.

Opt-in only

You should be able to opt in and choose a plan that protects your privacy.

Privacy doesn’t exist anyway

If it is decided to extend human lives indefinitely, then by all means, scan all health records. As for privacy, there is no such thing. All databases, once established, will eventually, if not immediately, be accessed or hacked by both the good and bad guys.

The data’s already out there

I think it should be made available. We already sign our rights for information over to large insurance companies. Making health records in the aggregate available for helping AI spot potential ways to improve medical care makes sense to me.

Overarching benefit

Of course they should be made available. Privacy is no serious concern when the benefits are so huge for so many.

Compensation for breakthroughs

We should be given the choice to release our records and compensated if our particular genome creates a pathway to treatment and medications.

Too risky

I like the idea of improving healthcare by accessing health records. However, as great as that potential is, the risks outweigh it. Access to the information would not be controlled. Too many would see personal opportunity in it for personal gain.

Nothing personal

The personal info should never be available to anyone who is not specifically authorised by the patient to have it. Medical information can be used to deny people employment or licenses!

No guarantee, but go ahead

This should be allowed on an anonymous basis, without question. But how to provide that anonymity?

Anonymously isolating the information is probably easy, but that information probably contains enough information to identify you if someone had access to the data and was strongly motivated. So the answer lies in restricting access to the raw data to trusted individuals.

Take my records, please

As a person with multiple medical conditions taking 28 medications a day, I highly endorse the use of my records. It is an area where I have found AI particularly valuable. With no medical educational background, I find it very helpful when AI describes in layman’s terms both my conditions and medications. In one instance, while interpreting a CT scan, AI noted a growth on my kidney that looked suspiciously like cancer and had not been disclosed to me by any of the four doctors examining the chart.

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