Although his happy, simple early designs for Herman Miller, where he is currently consultant to the president (and from 1947 - through the '60s was design director), were immensely profitable, Nelson never made the buckets of money you might expect from them. His ideas were so easy to produce and workable that they were rapidly copied by furniture companies - and by people in their own basement workshops - without royalty payments to Nelson. Furniture designs have long been a problem to patent.
His earliest design for Herman Miller was the slat bench (1945), as ubiquitous in sleek interiors of the period as the Hardoy chair. The black sleigh legs supported polished light-wood slats spaced so air and light passed through them. The beauty of the bench is its versatility. You can put anything on it - yourself, plants, cabinets (from jewelry size to full chests), stereos, television.
In 1949 he designed the L-shaped desk and the first steel desk to use color. He was the first to make desks combining both wood and metal. Later he did a modern classic rolltop desk (stand up or sit down versions). In 1950, he produced the hairpin leg so-called because it is U-shaped like the end of a hairpin (you can't blame him for all the ugly later versions). He used it to prop up the sofa bed, that basic mattress and two bolsters on a simple frame that has become an integral part of folk furniture. In 1954, it was the steel-framed chest - the simple metal frame with drawers that slide in, sometimes glass-topped, or with marble or formica.
In 1956 came his coconut chair and marshmallow couch. A year before, he revived modular seating. In 1959, he outdid even himself with the Omni System - the first compression storage structure - an outgrowth of his idea that all house walls should hold storage. He reasons that existing walls are already sid inches thick and most things can be stored in 10 inches. The poles are hold by a spring and pressure between floor and ceiling - shelves, lights and cabinets hang from the poles. His white round lampshades, made of the Navy's mothballing material, still are among the neater answers to the difficult problem of light. He is currenty winning awards for Nelson Workspaces, his novel office system of desk, storage and screens that all fit together.
For Herman Miller, Nelson also designed graphics and advertisments. According to Olga Gueft (in Design Quarterly 98/99) ". . . He gave the De Prees (the owners of Herman Miller) some very valuable advice: 'If you can't afford advertising, you should produce a few products that will get into all the magazines because they're odd or crazy.'"