At the Crossroads of Design and Business

The DuPrees of furniture fame were ahead of the curve pushing the role of design in business, but it may be time for a new integrated model.

While of great interest today, the discussion of design in business is hardly a new phenomenon. In a 1965 speech at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Hugh DuPree, one of a troika of DuPrees who presided over the company for half a century, described how his family went about connecting business with design. In the process, they transformed Herman Miller from a tiny failing residential furniture manufacturer to a paragon of American design:

“Design is an integral part of the business. The designer’s decisions are as important as those of the sales or production departments. It is his responsibility to recognize needs and solve them in his own way. There is no pressure on the designer to modify design to meet the market. Sales and Manufacturing have a responsibility to feed back to Design information that helps the designers to define the problem.

“But the designer decides how to use this information…. We decide what we will make. If the designer and management like a solution to a particular problem, it is put into production. There is no attempt to conform to the so-called norms of public taste, nor is there any special faith in the methods used to evaluate the buying public. Our designers must not be hamstrung by management’s fear of getting out of step. All that is asked of the designer is a valid solution.”

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