Adam Call, national sales manager for the Herman Miller Collection, is a visitor to Tucson Modernism Week with a talk on the company’s head designer, George Nelson. Here, Adam talks modernism, Mad Men and metal.
Early bird or night owl? “I’m more of a night owl. I get most of my work done after dark. I love working late. I hate getting up early, but most of the time when I travel I have to get up really early. I don’t compartmentalize work and life. I work all the time.
“I started working at Herman Miller in high school as an installer. Then I worked at their outlet store in Michigan. I went off to college and then took a job with the company.”
Favorite accessory? “Probably my bag. I have a Tumi duffel bag that’s my best friend. It’s black nylon and black leather. Wherever I go in the world, this comes with me.”
Favorite faux pas? “I have so many. One of my favorite things to do is to be self-deprecating [with customers], which can sometimes work and sometimes not. I have pretty youthful features and I often break the ice by [saying] I’m one of the interns.
“Especially with the collection I work with, this is such a high design job. But you shouldn’t take yourself seriously. And it disarms people a little.
“There’s so much posturing in corporate America where you’re trying to position your product as the very best. Just show your colors, we’re all human beings.”
Who is your dream customer? “Someone who is really tuned into their needs, who is willing to take risks, who is open and adaptive, and who understands that the common solution you see and experience might not be the best.
“When Herman Miller started, modernism wasn’t a thing. It was just trying to get people to think differently about what these requirements were. Today we’re talking about it as a style. We’ve definitely got a cult following of people who really believe in that lifestyle, and that helps our business. Mad Men has definitely helped the Herman Miller Collection. But George Nelson absolutely rejected the idea of change for the sake of style.”
If I wasn’t a Herman Miller collections specialist I would… “I think I’d probably be in communications, for an agency, something akin to writing. But if I had it to do all over again I would be a fabricator or welder. I love working with metal and fixing cars, finding things someone threw away and making them useful again. So some sort of a mechanic.”
If I could change one thing I would… “Change perceptions about what mid-century design is about. I think it’s really misunderstood right now. It was about understanding commonality between human beings and designing as simply as possible. I really like to pull back the layers and help people understand what great designers do and help people understand it’s really about the products and utility.”
* Adam Call will present a free lecture, George Nelson: Icon of American Furniture, on October 5th, 10am-11am, at Evangelical Lutheran Church, 115 N. Tucson Blvd. George Nelson served as design director for Herman Miller from 1945 to the mid 1960’s.