Iconic designer earns top award

By Erin Wood Miller ’09

For more than 40 years, STEVE FRYKHOLM ’65 has defined the voice and graphic identity of iconic American furniture manufacturer Herman Miller. As a designer, art director, and now creative director and vice president of the western Michigan-based company, Frykholm is considered an authority on great design and effective advertising.

His successful career at Herman Miller recently earned Frykholm the highest award from the professional association for design — the AIGA Medal, which honors designers for setting standards of excellence in their work.

“It’s pretty humbling, but it’s also pretty darn neat,” Frykholm said of the award, which he will receive in April at the AIGA Design Legends Gala in New York City. “When I think of my heroes and colleagues in the industry, there are a lot of exceptional designers, so to be the one bestowed this honor is awesome.”

After graduating with an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art and serving two years in the Peace Corps in Nigeria, Frykholm landed a position at Herman Miller. “It had a reputation that was bigger than life,” Frykholm said of the company, where he has spent the past 41 years. “If you’re a good designer and can find a company that believes in good design, it’s a good match.”

Frykholm said it’s tough to pin down his “personal style,” because each assignment has a unique objective. “While a lot of it might be bold, some of it is subtle,” he said of his work. “I try to be imaginative in a solution, while also remaining appropriate for the purpose of the assignment. I like to be human and employ a sense of familiarity in my work, but I think it’s as much about the approach as the expression of the idea.”

Frykholm said he finds inspiration outside the graphic design field, including photographing wildflowers and attending the ballet. “I have been on the board of the Grand Rapids Ballet for nine years, and I really dig it. I never thought I’d be interested in dance, or at least I didn’t think that until about 10 years ago, but I really admire that art form,” he said. 

Born in Seattle, Frykholm spent his formative years in Kansas City and chose to attend Bradley for two reasons. “I was interested in the basketball team, and I got pretty pumped about the art school there,” he said. “The curriculum looked just right, and the liberal arts aspect was a plus.”

Frykholm’s advice for students and budding graphic designers is to have a point of view and be tough. “In a profession where everything you do is visible, you need to be resilient to rejection,” he said. “There are a lot of opinions out there. Have a thick hide and believe in what you’re doing, and be excited about what you’re doing. Your excitement might be infectious.”

Frykholm and his wife Nancy Phillips live in Belmont, Mich.