The evolution of Don Chadwick

The American designer shares his inspirations and advice for young designers

Known for his vast contributions to ergonomic design, LA-based Don Chadwick has won endless design awards for his revolutionary home and office seating designs. In addition to his Chadwick seating for Knoll and his Chadwick modular seating and Equa 1 chair for Herman Miller, his recent work includes the recently released redesign of the iconic Aeron chair, first created by himself and Bill Stumpf in 1994. id asked the design legend about his past and the future of design.

Don Chadwick
Don Chadwick

Has your design philosophy changed over the years?

My design philosophy has remained constant. I have tried to be honest with a thought process that begins and ends with a solution that manifests clarity of form and function.

How has living and working in LA influenced you?

Here in southern California we have access to the knowledge of materials and manufacturing processes that have evolved from the scientific and aerospace industries.

What drew you to design as a profession?

The [good] fortune of growing up in a family involved in manufacturing and [with] a passion for the arts; learning how things are made helped me understand how to design solutions that improve the quality of interaction with the end user.

Don Chadwick

What designers influenced you?

Charles and Ray Eames’ experiments with materials and their eye for resolution of form were paramount in helping me to take risks with new and untested ideas. When I started my own design studio, I shared space with two artists, a painter and sculptor. Being around the artist community helped me to be more free with my ideas and experiments.

What are the three most defining moments in your career?

I had very good hand skills as a child while building models of airplanes and trains and having toys that required assembly. While in college, I travelled to Europe and saw modern designs in Scandinavia and central Europe. A third defining moment was writing a letter to Herman Miller in 1969 and interviewing with their head of design in 1970.

Don Chadwick

What are your three most defining product designs?

The Chadwick Modular Seating was introduced in 1974 and reintroduced in 2015. The second design was the Equa chair introduced in 1984; and finally, Aeron, first shown at Orgatec in October 1994.

What should the role of the designer should be in the 21st Century?

The designer in the 21st Century has a responsibility to develop concepts that are solving a need for improvement, while recognising the issues of sustainability and [the need for] prudent use of our natural resources.

Who are your favourite contemporary architects?

My favourite architects are Herzog & de Meuron, Sanaa Architects and Steven Holl Architects.

What advice do you have for young industrial designers?

Foster a strong sense of curiosity about our planet, its cultures and a belief in improving the future. It is important to study the work of well-known architects and designers who have contributed to the betterment of society. And get your hands dirty; build things that will develop your skills.