George Nelson (1907 – 1986) American voice on design

George Nelson Swag Leg Desk and Eames Herman Miller Chair, Circa 1960
George Nelson Swag Leg Desk and Eames Herman Miller Chair, Circa 1960

George Nelson (1907 – 1986) was an American industrial designer.

Education

Between 1928 and 1931, he went to Yale University and got a degree in architecture. In 1931 he studied fine arts at the Catholic University of America in Washington. Between 1932 – 1934 he attended the American Academy in Rome.

Biography

Nelson was very talented as an artist. He was a well-known and respected critic, author, and commentator on design issues. In 1964, when there was still a strong and hopeful belief in progress, and importantly created several pavilions for the New York World’s Fair. Nelson gave an ambitious definition of “good design” when he said that it is the ability of the human spirit to go beyond its limits. This is something that Nelson himself did.

His Storagewall shelf system, which he made in 1945 and could also be used as a dividing wall, changed the way offices worked. It was so exciting and new that the furniture company, Herman Miller, wanted to work with the brilliant designer. Nelson worked with Charles Eames and Alexander Girard, two young designers, to give Herman Miller its new, very innovative look. He was in charge of the company’s designs from 1946 to 1965.

Furniture designs

He was an expert in storage and packaging, but he also made some amazing designs in other areas. The Marshmallow sofa from the 1950s, which was a precursor to Pop design, is one of his best-known pieces. Its seat is made up of 18 round cushions, just like those on most barstools.

George Nelson Marshmallow Sofa
George Nelson Marshmallow sofa

The Atomic wall clock was a smart mix of symbols and a simple modern design. The spheres that mark the hours are a metaphor for atoms, which is the best way to describe an era that put a lot of faith in technological progress. His works often make metaphorical statements. For example, the striking shell shape of the Coconut Chair wasn’t just made for comfort; it can also be seen as a reference to the more casual, less formal way of life that was becoming popular in the late 1950s. In the 1960s, Nelson kept using a multidisciplinary approach. He and Robert Propst made the Action Office furniture system, which became so popular that it was soon in every modern office in the United States.

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing. https://amzn.to/3ElmSlL

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