Cooper-Hewitt Names Moggridge Director

First Designer to Head Design Museum

By: - Jan 07, 2010

Cooper-Hewitt Museum Names New Director Cooper-Hewitt Museum Names New Director

Internationally recognized British-born industrial designer, Bill Moggridge, the designer of the first laptop computer in 1980 and co-founder of IDEO, the renowned innovation and design firm, has been named director of the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York. Moggridge is recognized for having pioneered interaction design and integrated human factors into the design of computer software and hardware. It is an interesting and perhaps challenging appointment.

"Bill Moggridge is an entrepreneur, innovator and visionary leader in the design world," said Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough. "The Smithsonian and Cooper-Hewitt are poised on the edge of a new era and having Bill Moggridge as director of our national design museum offers exciting prospects for the future. I look forward to working with him."

Moggridge, 66, has described his career as having three distinct phases, first as a designer, second as a leader of design teams and third as a communicator. For the first two decades as a designer, he developed his business internationally in 10 countries, designing high-tech products, including the Grid Compass, the first laptop computer. With the co-founding of IDEO in 1991, he turned his focus to developing practices for interdisciplinary teams and built client relationships with multinational companies. Since 2000, he has been a spokesperson for the value of design in everyday life, writing books, producing videos, giving presentations and teaching.

Moggridge says, "In my new role as director of Cooper-Hewitt, I aim to communicate design impact and relevance in everyday life to inspire people's interest, understanding and engagement with all disciplines of design."

Last year, Moggridge was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at Cooper-Hewitt's National Design Awards at the White House. This award is given in recognition of an individual who has made a major, long-term contribution to contemporary design practice.

At Cooper-Hewitt, Moggridge will oversee the only museum in the United States devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. In this role, he will try to  establish the museum as the pre-eminent national design resource, enhance its profile as one of the world's leading authorities on the role of design in everyday life and develop and present exhibitions—both real and virtual. Why this hasn't been done previously is a major question. 

The Cooper-Hewitt has always been good not great and has a relatively small following as a major museum. Could it be that the exhibits are bit too academic or look too much like a product company trade show? Design presentations should be exciting. Were the same curators responsible for things too long and in too much the same way? Perhaps, the Smithsonian did not give the museum proper funding, wrong or misdirected leadership by curators and directors or ineffective marketing?  It is probably a combination of all of these and more including bureaucratic issues along with corporate and foundation sponsorship neglect.

Moggridge founded his design firm in London in 1969, adding a second office in Palo Alto, Calif., in 1979. In 1991, he merged his company with those of David Kelley and Mike Nuttall to form IDEO, a global design firm that has transformed design methods and culture. Today, IDEO has offices in Palo Alto, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, New York, London, Munich and Shanghai.

He is the author of Designing Interactions, published by MIT Press in October 2006, and named one of the 10 Best Innovation and Design Books of the year by BusinessWeek magazine. The book also includes a useful companion DVD and informative Web site ( His new book is due out in fall 2010, Designing Media, which examines the connections between traditional mainstream media and the emerging digital realm.

Moggridge's serves as advisor to the British government on design education (1974), was a trustee of the Design Museum in London (1992-1995), was a visiting professor in interaction design at the Royal College of Art in London (1993) and is currently a consulting associate professor in the design program at Stanford University, a position he has held since 2005. 

Moggridge studied industrial design at the Central School of Design in London, graduating in 1965. After gaining some work experience in the United States, he returned to London to study typography and communications before establishing his consulting firm in 1969.

Moggridge succeeds Paul Thompson, who was Cooper-Hewitt's director for eight years until this past July when he left to become the rector (president) of the Royal College of Art in London. Caroline Baumann, the museum's deputy director, has served as the acting director since July. Moggridge will assume his post in March 2010.

Smithsonian Secretary Clough chose Moggridge on the recommendation of a search committee chaired by Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian's Under Secretary for History, Art and Culture, with Paul Herzan, the chair of the Cooper-Hewitt board of trustees, Elizabeth Ainslie, Harvey M. Krueger, John Maeda and Lisa S. Roberts, all members of the museum's board of trustees. The committee also included Claudine K. Brown, director of the Arts and Culture Program at the Nathan Cummings Foundation; Agnes Gund, president emerita of the Museum of Modern Art; and Cristián Samper, director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. 

The Cooper-Hewitt Museum has more than 70 full-time staff members, including curators, conservators and design education specialists, and the fiscal year 2010 operating budget is $14 million. The museum is 70 percent funded by earned and contributed income. 

The museum was founded in 1897 by Amy, Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt—granddaughters of industrialist Peter Cooper—as part of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. A branch of the Smithsonian since 1967, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum is housed in the Andrew Carnegie Mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

In a long line of English-born museum directors (currently Malcolm Rogers at the Boston MFA, The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Thomas Campbell, among others) and cultural administrators, Moggridge is also English. Is it something about the accent? This is not necessarily good or bad, but even in our Global times, somewhat awkward for the National Design Museum of the United States. Were there no American-born acceptable candidates? 

Also, there is conceptually a less than easy connection between museum director and major design firm practitioner. Mr. Moggridge, as distinguished as his career has been, is not a museum guy. Yes, it is the 21st Century and interactivity and design are not only increasingly digital but rather pervasive. The question is where will the balance be? With Moggridge's tenure, will the design object be aesthetically and functionally focused upon or will the museum reflect this designer's notions of media, communication and interconnective networking primarily? Where for the beautiful object?

Over the years, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum has suffered from a rather insular group of curators who seem to be friends of friends in terms of exhibits and recognition. The institutional vision has been fuzzy. Will this design conspiracy be dissolved so that others are included in the national design conversation by Moggridge? Can he bring a strong vision to the Cooper-Hewitt? There is hope.

In addition, the appointment of a distinguished designer rather than a museum curator, administrator or scholar seems rather risky. Even a corporate design director would seem to have a better fit. If such an appointment would be done in the art museum world, the constituencies would be aghast. The institutional ramparts would be attacked. Imagine Chuck Close, Eric Fischl, Ed Ruscha or the late Sol LeWitt as museum directors. It just would not work. It will be interesting to observe if the design museum is different. We will have to wait and see how things unfold for Bill Moggridge and the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. We wish him the best of British/American luck!