We’ve had scant hard evidence about exactly how much design is suffering in the Great Recession, but today we’ve got news of a telltale datapoint: Furniture giant Herman Miller–makers of Eames and Aeron chairs, among hundreds of other things–just posted its Q4 results. They were rough. Sales fell by 38%, to $320 million, while profits came in at a meager $7.2 million–down 82% from least year’s $39.5 million. That put earnings at 20 cents per share–which actually beat analyst’s estimates of 18 cents.
Total figures for 2009: $1.63 billion in sales–almost 20% lower than in 2008–and $68 million in profits. Last year, profits stood at $152.3 million.
What does this augur for high design? Granted, much of Herman Miller’s business relies on contract furniture–that is, bulk sales to offices. Which makes its earnings figures more of a bellwether for business growth than anything else, and we all know that’s been terrible. But Herman Miller’s products are also a decent gauge for whether people are paying for high design, since their products sit at the higher-end of the market, where better design and production values are the key selling point. Which is bad news indeed. We can only guess how bad it is for the smaller, private companies out there (do email and let us know).