Thursday, August 31, 2006

Bill Stumpf, co-creator of Aeron chair, dies at 70

By Rob Kirkbride
The Grand Rapids Press

ZEELAND -- Bill Stumpf, the designer who revolutionized office seating by creating the first mass produced ergonomic chairs for Herman Miller Inc., including the iconic Aeron, died Wednesday, according to the company.

The products Mr. Stumpf designed changed the office and made it a more comfortable place to work.

Stumpf will be remembered with Herman Miller design greats such as Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson and Isamu Noguchi, said John Berry, author of "Herman Miller: Purpose of Design" and a former Herman Miller employee.

"His impact on the company and its market growth would certainly be more significant than Eames or Nelson," Berry said today. "His design process benefited from Nelson and Eames and he looked to them as mentors. He took design to new levels."

Mr. Stumpf designed some of Herman Miller's best-selling products, including the Ergon, Equa and Aeron chairs, along with the Ethospace cubicle system.

Still, his best-known design was the Aeron chair, a skeletal mesh chair that became a best-seller for the company and was so radical in its design that it is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Mr. Stumpf created it with Don Chadwick.

The chair became a symbol of the dot-com boom and bust. Creative-types lusted after the chair -- and many still do.

Like many of the great designers who worked for Herman Miller, Mr. Stumpf had a long relationship with the company. The designer who worked out of an office near Minneapolis created the Ergon chair for Herman Miller in 1976 after extensive research on how people sit.

The chair was a revolutionary departure from the office chairs of the day. It combined comfort with design panache and allowed architects and facility managers to use customized fabrics to add life to the office. The Ergon 3, an updated version of the original, is still built by Herman Miller.

Mr. Stumpf and his design partner Jeff Weber were in the process of creating another chair for Herman Miller, according to the company.

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