Monday, September 25, 2006

Bill Stumpf Eulogy

Bill Stumpf: He Built a Better Chair
By Kolean Pitner

Sit down. As you lean back in your comfortable and amazingly elegant Aeron chair, give thanks to Bill Stumpf. This beloved Minnesota-based industrial designer died on August 30, 2006 of complications from abdominal surgery. He was 70.

One of the first speakers for the Insights Lecture Series, Stumpf was a generous friend to the AIGA community. Throughout his life he championed the cause of civility in the design of mass produced products. In his work, he addressed basic cultural problems that are often ignored in contemporary design. By recognizing that the office is a microcosm of the larger world, Stumpf’s work linked objects and people, and incorporated a mixture of spontaneity and routine, comfort and wonder into the working environment. One of his design goals was “to make a beautiful chair comfortable.”

His Ergon (1976), Equa (1984) and Aeron (1994) office chairs, designed for Herman Miller, are three of the most important chairs designed in the past 50 years. Each of these ergonomically based designs succeeds in being simultaneously beautiful, comfortable and practical. The Walker Art Center featured Stumpf’s work in a playful 1984 exhibit called “A Serious Chair”. “He had enormous notebooks full of sketches, quotes and data gathered from anthropologists, biostatisticians, back surgeons and human-factors experts,” recalled Clark Malcolm, a friend and longtime colleague at Herman Miller. “All of it went into that big hopper of his brain and came out as designs.”

Stumpf began his association with Herman Miller, one of the world’s preeminent office furniture companies, in 1970 when he joined the staff of the Herman Miller Research Corporation. He founded his own design studio in Winona, Minnesota in 1972. The iconic Aeron office chair which Stumpf designed in collaboration with Don Chadwick, has become one of the best-selling office chairs in the world. In addition, his Ethospace furniture system was among the first to design both office furniture and interiors on a human scale with both more light and more attention to personal work styles.

In 2001, Stumpf received a Personal Recognition Award from the Industrial Designers Society of America. His 1998 book, “The Ice Palace That Melted Away” has become a classic design textbook. Most recently, he was awarded the 2006 Product Design Award from the Copper-Hewitt National Design Museum. It will be presented posthumously on October 18th.

Bill Stumpf’s love for the real world and real people was an integral part of his unabashed, big hearted midwestern approach to design. The intelligent way he incorporated fun and play into his designs has refreshed our spent eyes, calloused hearts and weary bottoms.

His funeral was a private family ceremony held in Stockholm, Wisconsin, his home in recent years. A memorial service will be scheduled at a later date to honor Mr. Stumpf’s remarkable life and contributions to design. He is survived by his wife, Sharon and two of their children, Jon and Carol Stumpf, and five grandchildren. He was predeceased by three sons, David, Karl and Erich.

For more information about Bill Stumpf's career, go to the Herman Miller website. Click here.

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