“I enjoy myself, and I do it through design,” Bill Stumpf once stated. “I love beauty, and I love the availability of beautiful and useful things around me.” Too often, however, he saw design that “denies the human spirit”—architecture that acknowledged money and not people, or offices that were “hermetically sealed.” His battle against such design indignities began in the 1960s at the University of Wisconsin.
“Everything goes back to those days,” he said, referring to his postgraduate years studying and teaching at the university’s Environmental Design Center. “Everything was about freeing up the body, designing away constraints.” It was there that Stumpf, working with specialists in orthopedic and vascular medicine, conducted extensive research into how people sit—and how we should sit.
Stumpf’s association with Herman Miller began in 1970 when he joined the staff of the Herman Miller Research Corporation. He immediately began to apply his research to the development of new office chair designs. After establishing his own firm in 1972, Stumpf went on to create the Ergon Chair, the world's first research-based ergonomic office chair, and later, in collaboration with Don Chadwick, the groundbreaking Equa and iconic Aeron Chairs. Even after revolutionizing office seating with Aeron, he continued to push for new solutions to the health problems associated with long-term sitting, collaborating with Jeff Weber on the Embody Chair and Envelop Desk.
A key figure in Herman Miller’s transformation into a research-based, problem-solving innovator, Stumpf, who died in 2006, received numerous awards for this work. Most notably, he was the recipient of the 2006 National Design Award in Product Design, presented posthumously by the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
Of his decades-long association with Herman Miller, Stumpf reminisced, “I work best when I’m pushed to the edge, when I’m at the point where my pride is subdued, where I’m innocent again. Herman Miller knows how to push me that way, because the company still believes—years after D.J. De Pree first told me—that good design isn’t just good business, it’s a moral obligation."