Announcement Date: January 1, 1985




Business Challenge

In early 1985, Herman Miller introduced Ethospace, a radical departure from prior cubicle systems. 
Stand-alone furniture for a typical private office requires about 10 line items on an order.
Typical cubicle systems require 30+ separate line items for that same office.
With Ethospace, the order ballooned to 100 or more separate pieces.
Herman Miller required a computer-based design and specification system to accurately capture, specify, order and ultimately install Ethospace systems.
The problem was that virtually no dealership was equipped or trained to fulfill this need.
Enter Phase II.





Using off-the-shelf software, I streamlined the data entry and specification process, reducing errors from 20% to 0.1%.
Not only was the process virtually error-free, it was simple enough for untrained CAD operators to learn and apply.
The secret was in the design of multi-layered CAD “symbols.”
  • Each symbol used a visual design grammar rather than text.
  • Installers could instantly glance at drawings without having to study text
  • Designers could easily review the drawings to determine if the layout was as desired
  • A link back to a database ensured the symbol was accurately counted
  • The visual grammar took into account pen-style plotters (leading edge equipment of the day), reducing plot times by 70%




This was my first experience with user-centered innovation. I began by interviewing individuals throughout the value-stream:
  • Herman Miller staff,
  • dealership owners and finance officers,
  • FURNLAY_03FURNLAY_04account managers,
  • designers and ultimately
  • installers.
The breakthrough came in an interview with a well-respected installer: He hated computers and he distrusted the specifications from the designers. He demonstrated how he took the CAD drawings and highlighted them with markers before re-counting all of the pieces by hand!
I knew the CAD system could do all of that for him, it was just that the out-of-box symbol set hadn’t been built for that purpose.
The drawing labeled “STAGING AREA 2” is an example of what the system offered out of the box. STAGING AREA 1 is a revised view of an adjacent set of workstations rendered with the object-oriented symbols.
Having the system in CAD afforded several additional advantages:
  • The installation companies could request specific counts of furniture pieces (such as the two staging areas illustrated here) to assist with moving of product into and out of the building
  • Internally, we devised CAD macros and tools to automatically audit our drawings to further elminate error.


My Contribution

With the exception of billing and accounting, I was responsible for everything:
  • Creating the business
  • Creating the system
  • Creating the training program
  • Directing the work of 10+ employees
  • Capturing new business