Of good design and moral obligations

Ever since I read Leadership is an Art, maybe 20 years ago, I’ve had a lot of time for the management thoughts and writings of Max De Pree. That in turn led to a deeper interest in Herman Miller.
Max’s writings exemplified modern servant leadership to me, almost like a reinterpretation of New Testament teachings in a modern enterprise context. I had to learn more about the company. Which I did. They’re an admirable company with admirable people and admirable values. [If you’re even vaguely interested, take a look at this article as an introduction.]
And it is therefore with considerable regret that I note that Bill Stumpf died last month. I found his writings useful as well. Some of you may have read The Ice Palace That Melted Away, well worth it. Incidentally, it wasn’t until today that I realised that the subtitles change between the hardcover and paperback editions of Stumpf’s book. The hardback says “Restoring civility and other lost virtues to everyday life” and the paperback says “How good design enhances our lives”.

I’ve never really known or met Stumpf; what I know of him is through his designs and his writings. In a recent addendum to his obituary in the Times, the author adds:

Stumpf was a visionary who brought a passionate intensity to his work. The horror he felt when faced with something ugly or that did not function properly was described in his book, The Ice Palaces that Melted Away.

Or just look at the quotes and anecdotes related to Stumpf in his wikipedia entry:

Everything was about freeing up the body, designing away constraints

“I work best when I’m pushed to the edge,” he said, “when I’m at the point where my pride is subdued, where I’m an innocent again. Herman Miller knows how to push me that way, mainly because the company still believes — years after D.J. DePree first told me — that good design isn’t just good business, it’s a moral obligation. Now that’s pressure.”

Good design isn’t just good business, it’s a moral obligation. So good I had to say it twice. Thanks to the Duprees, to Bill Stumpf and to the Herman Miller company. And my condolences to the Stumpf family.

2 thoughts on “Of good design and moral obligations”

  1. Great words JP! Good design is indeed a moral obligation. The servant leadership approach is interesting as well, and something I believe in.

    It was great hearing you speak at the European Blogging Summit in London! I never forget the simile of toilets and blogs. haha. I enjoyed your speech a lot and felt like both we, the speakers, and the delegates had a good day. Interesting to see the blogging world and the business world meet.

    Take care!

  2. Makes me think of Blaise Pascal’s quote “Travailler à bien penser est le principe de la morale”… now how would you translate that? “Working at thinking right is the principle of morals”? hm, no too good :-/

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