October 1, 2010
The new director of the Cooper-Hewitt talks about thinking, drinking, and T-shaped people.
The job title is director of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. It’s very exciting to be given the opportunity to help people understand more about design, to explain the processes and contributions that designers and design thinking can make.
We have lots of projects that are swimming along nicely. We’ve embarked on expanding Cooper-Hewitt with the Re:Design program. This is our most ambitious expansion project to date, creating 60 percent more gallery space, growing our endowment, and expanding our digital capabilities. Our Design Triennial is attracting lots of visitors, and we are planning new exhibitions for next year. Then there’s the National Design Awards and the education programs. I’m just learning the ropes, tutored by all the wonderful people here, and starting to lay plans for future projects.
First step on a project
Last step on a project
How do you break a creative block?
Think some more
Why do you do what you do?
I want to explain design.
I studied industrial design in London. My first design job was in Erie, Pennsylvania, where I designed hospital equipment. I was also asked to design the corporate identity for the company, but I did such a bad job as a graphic designer that I decided to go back to London to study typography. I also believe that teaching is a continuing form of education.
Everyone I work with
Kids: every 12-year-old should have had some experience of design and the opportunity to study it in high school. Professionals: every designer, whatever their discipline, should feel supported by the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Leaders: every leader, both corporate and institutional, should know how to use design successfully for innovation and better solutions.
First act as “Design Czar”
Develop “open czar-dom.”
T-shaped people from diverse backgrounds and skills; that is, people who are deeply excellent at their own thing (the vertical in the T) but are also interested in collaboration (the horizontal in the T).
Work office: Aeron, designed by Don Chadwick and Bill Stumpf for Herman Miller. Home office: Figura, designed by Mario Bellini for Vitra.
Office sound track
Ceramic sculpture of Chiang Kai-shek and Chairman Mao standing steadfast together
Most useful tool
Best place to think
At my desk
Design Research: The Store That Brought Modern Living to American Homes, by Jane Thompson (winner of the National Design Award 2010 for Lifetime Achievement) and Alexandra Lange, from Chronicle Books
Ambassador decanter with liqueur-glass stopper, 1925, by Oswald Haerdtl, displayed in our current show Ted Muehling Selects: Lobmeyr Glass
My new MacBook Pro
Margaret Carnegie’s bedroom, where I’m lucky enough to sit during the day
Learned the hard way
To embrace failure as a faster path toward success
I’ve got it!r