Stumpf's association with Herman Miller began in 1970 when he joined the staff of the Herman Miller Research Corporation. After establishing his own firm in 1972, Stumpf created the Ergon chair, the first ergonomic work chair. Later, in collaboration with Don Chadwick, he produced the groundbreaking Equa and iconic Aeron chairs. He also was principal designer for the Ethospace system. "I enjoy myself, and I do it through design," Stumpf declared in an interview a few years ago.
"I love beauty, and I love the availability of beautiful things and useful things immediately around me." During his lifetime Stumpf- a key figure in Herman Miller's transformation into a research-based, problem-solving innovator- received numerous awards for this work. Most recently, he was named the winner of the 2006 National Design Award in Product Design, an award presented posthumously by the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Stumpf died in 2006.
Chadwick's love for furniture design goes back to his childhood, when his cabinetmaker grandfather taught him how to use the tools of the trade--hand tools that required skill, precision, and patience. Later, unlike the other industrial design students at UCLA in the mid-1950s, he focused on furniture. And after hearing a Charles and Ray Eames lecture there, Chadwick was convinced: Furniture offered designers, even industrial designers, the chance to use materials in new, innovative ways--and to make a "real difference" in people's lives.
"Most industrial designers don't take furniture design seriously," he says. "They're not trained to get into that kind of detail. It's too personal, too much like surgery. And besides, you have to be in love with this kind of work." He attributes at least some of this optimism to the "LA recklessness" he's experienced as a lifelong resident of Southern California. "There's less fear of failure out here, so people are more apt to take risks. It's fertile ground for innovation." For over two decades now, Chadwick has had a partner in recklessness. "Herman Miller isn't afraid to take chances on new ideas. That's why the company's been successful for so long, and that's one reason why it's challenging to work for them."