Irving Harper (1916-2015) was a prominent American industrial designer, known for his
influential contributions to mid-20th-century design. Born in New York City, Harper initially
trained as an architect but transitioned to industrial design, gaining widespread recognition
for his collaboration with George Nelson at the Herman Miller furniture company. Some of his
iconic works include the Marshmallow Sofa and the Ball Clock, showcasing his
innovative and versatile approach to furniture design. Although primarily recognized for his industrial design work, Harper also made significant contributions to graphic design,
creating memorable logos for various companies, including the Mobil Corporation and the
Herman Miller logo.
His designs are characterized by a harmonious blend of functionality and artistic expression, leaving an enduring legacy in both the furniture and graphic design worlds. Harper brought coherence and dimension to everything he created – furniture, clocks, and printed designs such as ads. He incorporated both his 3-D and 2-D elements to his designs, in manners such as three-dimensional spatial gestures in a two-dimensional magazine spread, or turning a two-dimensional object such as a clock into an abstract graphic figure. Harper would also integrate typographic treatments to fabrics he works with, to give them more dimension. Even though Harper was an architect and furniture designer, it was the aforementioned advertisements for Herman Miller that made him the most famous and critically acclaimed.
One notable statement by Harper that reflects his approach to design is: “The urge to design, to create, to make something beautiful and practical—that’s as much a part of me as my blood.” This sentiment encapsulates Harper’s deep passion for the creative process and his commitment to crafting designs that are both aesthetically pleasing and functional.