What's the Big Deal With Authenticity, Anyway? Design Insiders Weigh In.

What's the Big Deal With Authenticity, Anyway? Design Insiders Weigh In.

By Heather Corcoran
As Herman Miller files a motion to protect their intellectual property—and with our Furniture Issue currently on newsstands—we look back at Dwell's ongoing commitment to authentic design.

Knockoffs are a major problem in the design industry. While it might be easy to write off the issue as a case of "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," we're firm believers in supporting original design and the designers and brands the push the industry forward.

“Misleading business practices are a scourge of the industry,” says Herman Miller CEO Brian Walker. “They negatively impact the entire category by confusing and frustrating customers and consumers, and damaging the brands and reputations of companies like Herman Miller and others that are committed to creating and selling authentic, innovative, high-quality products that last for generations.” The company filed a motion to protect against improper marketing and sales of products like the Aeron office chair, designed by Donald Chadwick and William Stumpf in 1992 and seen here.

Today, furniture manufacturer Herman Miller announced they'd filed a motion against a company called Madison Seating for unauthorized use of its trademarks and improper marketing and sales of Herman Miller products, including the iconic Aeron chair. "Herman Miller vigorously supports our strong global brand to ensure that the products our consumers purchase exceed their expectations for quality, design, and performance," CEO Brian Walker says. "We also respect—and therefore protect—the reputations of the designers who develop these products, as well as our employees who take great pride in the products they make."

Here's how a designer makes money: One day she dreams up a chair. She spends months developing the concept, selecting materials, devising the exact curve of the arm, the dip of the back. Satisfied with the piece, she works with a manufacturer to produce it. The manufacturer refines the design, invests in tooling to build it, promotes it, and gets it to market. You, the consumer, buy it. This is an original, authentic design. We discuss why knockoff furnishings may be cheap, but for the design industry, they come with a heavy price.

The move is just the latest example of major brands taking legal action to protect their trademarks. Click through to see what design insiders have said about the issue in conversation with Dwell. 

At Dwell on Design 2012, Gregg Buchbinder, CEO of EMECO, and Eames Demetrios of The Eames Foundation, both experts on authentic modern design, addressed the controversial topic of design knockoffs. "Today there are fewer people in manufacturing, creating products with their hands. We have lost touch with the physicality of making stuff," said Buchbinder. "It is difficult to have a conversation about authentic design when kids click a button to switch from aluminum to wood. They don't understand there are consequences to making such a decision. If they made it with their hands, they would know."


In recent years, the Danish furniture company Fritz Hansen has taken aggressive measures to protect their products against knockoffs and counterfeits across the globe. "It’s not a tribute to the original design; it’s spitting on it," David Obel Rosenkvist, Fritz Hansen’s vice president of sales, said about Arne Jacobsen–inspired designs sold through Restoration Hardware. "For sure it would make Jacobsen roll in his grave."

From the cost of authentic design to the true value of quality, we rounded up 10 designers to talk about the topic. While their responses ran the gamut—including an admission to buying knockoffs—a consensus emerged: knockoffs are simply and indisputably bad for the industry, for consumers, and for the future of design. "When you knowingly buy a knockoff, you’re saying: 'I don't care about the future of design'...Every dollar spent on a knockoff is a dollar taken away from fresh design," DWR CEO John Edelman told us.


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