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The Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum’s new director, Bill Moggridge, is very much of-the-people, for-the-people.
For starters, he designed the first laptop computer, which made its debut in 1982 and is now used by millions around the globe. Today, an estimated 11 percent of the world’s population are Internet surfers. But rather than rest on that one-hit wonder, Moggridge sees his career in three phases — a designer who worked with clients in 10 countries; a co-founder of IDEO, where he finessed interdisciplinary design teams, and as a teacher and writer trumpeting the value of design in everyday life. That last incarnation, and one that he embraced 10 years ago, made him a natural leader for the Smithsonian’s design-happy museum on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
Thursday night’s National Design Awards at Cipriani’s 42nd Street will be a bit of a coming-out party for Moggridge, who relocated to New York six months ago from the San Francisco Bay Area. Reflective of his Everyman approach to design, one of his first off-hours pursuits was to circumnavigate Manhattan on a bicycle. “I love the richness of the city from a diversity standpoint. And I have always been interested in design from people’s perspective,” he said Wednesday.
To that end, this summer as a curtain-raiser to First Lady Michelle Obama’s White House reception for NDA recipients, the Cooper-Hewitt hosted its first Teen Design Fair in Washington. “Interestingly, fashion was the thing we should have had more of,” said Moggridge, whose “product design” status didn’t draw anywhere near as much interest. “I found myself spending a lot of time showing students my wife’s fashion designs on my iPhone.” (His wife, Karin, has a signature clothing line and also works as a textiles designer.)
This year’s NDA winners for fashion — Rodarte’s Kate and Laura Mulleavy, as well as runners-up Behnaz Sarafpour and Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez — were among the designers Moggridge pointed to as ones to watch. Nonobject co-founder Branko Lukic (who cut his teeth as lead industrial designer at Frogdesign and IDEO) was another. MIT Press will soon publish his book, “Nonobject,” which addresses what happens when designers think beyond the object to creative positive, unexpected design experiences. The designer will speak at the Cooper-Hewitt as part of “Bill’s Talks,” a lecture series to bow next year. Moggridge also singled out the IDEO crew, whose mission under president Tim Brown is to champion interdisciplinary design teamwork.
In terms of countries that are leading the charge in design, South Korean students and designers have been winning awards at a disproportionate rate compared with other locales — a fact that was unimaginable 10 years ago, Moggridge said. South Korean designers and companies such as Samsung and LG have been particularly adept at incorporating design through digital, technical and interactive components, he said.
This being National Design Week, the Cooper-Hewitt is working overtime to get New Yorkers and visitors excited about design. Cynthia Rowley and Tim Gunn helped headline Tuesday’s Teen Design Fair.
Committed as he is to seeing to it that every kid in America is exposed to design before the age of 12 and has the option to study it in high school, Moggridge is equally devoted to building three other bases — professionals, the general public and corporate and other leaders Next fall’s installment of “Design for the Other 90%” tackles urban expansion.