George Nelson, born 1908 in Hartford, Connecticut, studied architecture at Yale University and was a fellow at the American Academy in Rome from 1932-34. In Europe he became acquainted with the protagonists and major architectural works of modernism.
Nelson joined the editorial staff of Architectural Forum in 1935, where he was employed until 1944. A programmatic article on residential building and furniture design he wrote attracted the attention of D.J. DePree, head of the furniture company Herman Miller, who then recruited him to become design director at Herman Miller. Remaining there until 1972, Nelson became a key figure of American design, also convincing Charles and Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi and Alexander Girard to work for Herman Miller.
Nelson's collaboration with Vitra began in 1957. From 1946 onwards Nelson also ran his own design office, creating numerous products that are now regarded as icons of mid-century modernism.
His classic works include the Coconut Chair (1956), Marshmallow Sofa (1956), Ball Clock (1947), Bubble Lamps (starting in 1952) and Action Office (1964). Nelson was not only a successful designer but also an acclaimed writer and editor, lecturer, exhibition designer and passionate photographer. In his many essays on design, he was one of the most prominent voices among his peers in reflecting on the working conditions, duties and objectives of his profession at a time when the field and its image were still in the formative years.
Nelson’s conception of design as a system, his approach that went beyond mere styling and always took into consideration the greater nexus of interrelated interests and concerns, as well as his achievements in the teaching of design, make him particularly relevant in today’s context. Nelson's archive belongs to the holdings of the Vitra Design Museum.