He started his career as an industrial designer and architect gaining his education at Yale. He then travelled to Europe after winning the Rome Price.
Nelson became the editor for ‘Architectural Forum’ magazine in 1935. He worked as Director of Design for Herman Miller in 1947 before opening his own company George Nelson Associates, Inc in 1955. His career stretched over 50 years.
Many people think of George as the founder in the American Modernism movement. Nelson introduced several important innovations in office furniture design, notably adjustable backrests, made possible by an innovative no jointed fastener, consisting of steel ball bearing in rubber mounts. The ‘Swagged Leg Group’ included the DAF & MAA chairs. In 1946 the Platform seat was created, a simple functional bench. He’s most famous chair is the Coconut Chair, a triangular seat inspired by a piece of coconut shell.
In recent years it has become known that many of the designs, notable chairs that he has taken credit for weren’t actually design by him. For example, the marshmallow sofa as actually designed by Irving Harper.
In an interview in Metropolis in 2001, Irving Harper also commented on this practice: “…there always had to be one name associated with the work. We couldn’t just spread it around… that’s fine. I’m grateful to George for what he did for me. While he was alive, I made no demands whatsoever, but now that he’s gone, whenever the Marshmallow Sofa is referred to as a ‘George Nelson design’, it sort of gets to me. I don’t go out of my way to set things right, but if anybody asks me who designed it, I’m perfectly happy to tell them.
John Pile, a designer who worked for Nelson in the 1950s, commented about this practice; “George’s attitude was that it was okay for individual designers to be given credit in trade publications, but for the consumer world, the credit should always be to the firm, not the individual. He didn’t always follow through on that policy though.