Just love people
John Phillips possesses the rare combination of versatility, talent, and humility. He’s managed to carve a path through the worlds of automotives, consumer goods, and contract furniture, creating beautiful products and great relationships along the way. Here are some things he shared with us when we visited his home:
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A conversation with John Phillips

When I was young, I remember racing for Schwinn and looking at my BMX bike. I knew nothing about design, but there was a kick in the back bar coming down the rear tire, and I thought, “Why is it bending down? It appears to be weak.” This was just me, even at ten or eleven years old, thinking, “There’s something wrong here.”

I kind of cut my teeth in the automotive sector and worked on exteriors initially. In college, I ended up getting an internship offer from General Motors. It had nothing to do with talent—I think they just saw enthusiasm. I got to work in the design studio in Michigan in the Corvette studio for the summer. That’s what really kicked off my career in industrial design. 

I became really interested in the inside of the car, and I desired to create the entire car as opposed to just the shell or the outside. That’s really what started my desire for a holistic approach to design, feeling that a product is not just about the aesthetics. After a few years, I felt like I’d run the gamut in the automotive industry, so I really desired to try consumer goods.

I designed shoes and sunglasses for a company in Chicago for about three years and then got a call for an opportunity to design office chairs. I had learned about seating while working for Porsche and Audi, so it sounded intriguing. 

I’d say a sense of really loving people and understanding people and valuing people is what’s created the initial part of the DNA or the ethos for OFS. I think with that understanding of the human-centric aspects of design, that’s helped us to naturally gravitate to a very successful product line and a natural way of working for refining the details and really finishing the last ten percent of what we’re doing.

There’s lots of great new digital tools, but in my opinion, there’s nothing better than a pencil and a paper for finding emotional connections between lines and shapes.
- John Phillips, VP of Design at OFS

In car design, some companies are clearly going all digital and I can stand back and look at five cars—doesn’t matter the mix—and I can tell you which one was on a computer and which one was actually a hand model, where you’re really sculpting the car. I think we are always going to need that “old world” artisanship to get a gorgeous shape and form.

When someone tries to throw everything and the kitchen sink into an office chair, I think it tends to fade very quickly. 

Restraint in design is very important, purity of materials is very important, and intuitive features are very important. Anybody should be able to walk up and almost immediately understand its function because it’s so clear.
- John Phillips, VP of Design at OFS

I can’t say we have all the answers yet. Design is an ongoing story because human interaction continues to change and grow.

The wood history and the experience of OFS, to me, is very near and dear to my heart because I’ve always loved wood itself, but to be able to literally grow forests and take these forests in a renewable fashion, and utilize those in the products, and celebrate wood for what it is.

Sitting on a board in the ocean provides an endless source of humility, inspiration, and focus. It’s taught me better how to flow with nature instead of pushing against it.
- John Phillips, VP of Design at OFS

I think that’s the idea behind solutions that make lives more beautiful, comfortable, and efficient.

Something I would tell my granddaughter? You’re going to get me emotional. I’d like to tell her to stop and smell the roses. The little things in life are very important. Treat people with respect, always. Find time to enjoy nature, get out in it. Technology is not your life—it’s way, way far down on the scale of importance. Just love people and love yourself, however you turn out.