I went to the Bellevue Art Museum on the last day of the George Nelson exhibit a few weeks ago. George Nelson was an industrial designer and one of the founders of American Modernism, a style I’m really fond of. It was exciting to see a floor in the museum dedicated to his work and filled with his creations.
I first learned about Nelson when I saw his Nelson bench in a Herman Miller catalog. I still want one of those–and as soon as I get a place with a hallway or front entry big enough for a bench, I will. His designs are simple, beautiful, and iconic.
Nelson argued that designers should make the world a better place. He believed that nature was already perfect and designers should follow the rules of nature to create pleasing designs. Staying true to his word, he designed many of the quintessential mid-century modern styles we know today, from starburst clocks to three-cornered “coconut” chairs.
Nelson introduced people to the concept of the family room and storage wall, forever changing how we lived in our homes.
But he did makes some decisions that he later regretted. While working with the Herman Miller furniture company, he came up with the idea for the office cubicle. It was hugely successful, but as Nelson later lamented, the cubical system “is definitely not a system which produces an environment gratifying for people in general. But it is admirable for planners looking for ways of cramming in a maximum number of bodies.” He was right. Herman Miller’s Action Office II line has sold over $5 billion worth of products. I’ll think of that next time I sit in my cubical.
Critics have pointed out that George Nelson tool credit for some of the designs that came out of his studio even though other designers created them. The marshmallow sofa is such an example.
Overall, the exhibit was fun. I learned a lot about the man, his designs, and the changes happening in post-war America.