Jun 13, 2018 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Summer may not officially be here yet, but the Arizona desert certainly didn’t get the memo! In an attempt to escape the heatwave I’ve taken to watching Christmas movies, living vicariously through the characters skiing in a Winter wonderland. But all the snowy inspiration in the world can’t tackle the reality of a 110 degree day, so I’ve decided to embrace the sunny season that’s at my doorstep. And that got me thinking – if I had to capture the essence of Summer in one image, no one did it better than Stephen Frykholm with his 1970s Herman Miller posters. I’ve always felt graphic design is a vital form of artistic expression – its whole purpose is to succinctly communicate an idea using color, words, and images. When done well, an advertisement goes beyond the product it’s peddling, becoming a part of the cultural psyche. This is the category Stephen Frykholm’s work belongs in – so let’s learn a bit more about the man, the method, and the Miller…
Born in Seattle in 1942, Stephen grew up in a time of great American optimism. These were the post-war years where consumerism was king and hope was contagious! As a young man he joined the Peace Corps, working in Nigeria at an all-girls school. Stephen was tasked with teaching the students life skills that could become career options and by a twist of fate, he took up screen printing. Those years abroad further inspired him and upon his return to America, he channeled that inspiration into a Master’s of Fine Arts from the Cranbrook Academy of Art.
Four years after his African adventures, he was on the Herman Miller payroll as their very first in-house graphic designer. His initial assignment: posters for the annual company picnic. These are the designs I equate with all things Summer. Not bad for the first project out of the gate, huh? In fact, most of these posters are now living at the Museum of Modern Art!
Stephen, now the Vice President of Creative Design, has been the guiding force behind Herman Miller’s aesthetic for over forty years. In a world where the average job tenure is four years, this fact alone is laudable. But for me, the results of his living legacy show that when a company treats their employees as valuable contributors you get quality. Speak the name Herman Miller to any fan of design & you’ll see a smile and perhaps hear a story about the furniture piece they’re drooling over this week. Brand loyalty – something that is also rare in this era of instant gratification and trends.
This is why I love vintage – there’s something beautiful about mid-century practices. There is an appreciation for taking the time to research, understand, and explore. Herman Miller’s own corporate guidelines ask their staff to remain “human, spirited, and purposeful.” What a lovely sentiment and when it’s put into practice we get to enjoy great Frykholm posters. It’s a win-win!
As I’m typing this I’m struck by the fact that these ideals, which on the surface may seem antiquated to our modern day sensibilities, are more important than ever. In my corporate life I see it everywhere: driven by metrics handed down from above, we have lost the mentoring in management. It’s up to all of us to be a steward of professional encouragement. Reading interviews with Stephen it’s easy to see how his approach is inspiring the next generation. In one he mentions a key to success is that “the design has to have presence.” Building a presence takes time and consideration. Dear reader, if there is something you are passionate about I encourage you to devote time to building a strong foundation for your dreams – you just may create your own version of an iconic Summer poster!