Cooper-Hewitt Picks Director, First Designer in Job
Bill Moggridge, a founder of the design firm IDEO who is widely credited with designing the look of the first commercial laptop, has been named director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York.
Mr. Moggridge, who is to start in March, will be the first design practitioner to run the Cooper-Hewitt, bringing decades of experience as a businessman and industrial designer but none as a museum administrator. He replaces Paul W. Thompson, who left in July after eight years to become the rector, or president, of the Royal College of Art in London. (Caroline Baumann, the museum’s deputy director, has been acting director.)
Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian’s under secretary for history, art and culture, described the appointment as part of an effort to raise the visibility of the Cooper-Hewitt. “We look to Bill as someone who has a national and international reputation in the design world,” said Mr. Kurin, who was chairman of the search committee. The museum has long been regarded as somewhat stodgy by many in that world and hemmed in by the bureaucratic constraints of the Smithsonian.
Mr. Moggridge, 66, spent the first 20 years of his career, starting in the late 1960s, designing many high-tech products like the GRiD Compass from the early 1980s — the first commercial laptop — and has focused more recently on coordinating interdisciplinary design teams at IDEO. He said that he was ready for a new, more far-reaching challenge. “I really thought my main goal in life was to design stuff,” he said in an interview on Wednesday. “To have a national opportunity on a much greater scale is very exciting.”
Others in the design world seem hopeful about his prospects. Murray Moss, founder of the SoHo design store that bears his name, applauded the choice of “someone who’s been successfully and intensely engaged with design.”
“A neutral bureaucrat would not be the way to go,” he said. “A vision comes from someone who has a passion and has not taken a step back from the subject.”
Chee Pearlman, a design consultant and a former editor of I.D. magazine who has worked on several projects with Mr. Moggridge, said, “People will respond to him because he’s got a fresh take.” Interest in the museum is “quite minimal relative to the importance of design right now,” she said, and Mr. Moggridge should help give it “a much larger presence in and interaction with the design community and the public.”
His lack of museum experience will be a benefit, Ms. Pearlman said, “because he won’t know where the fence is.”
Donald Albrecht, curator of architecture and design at the Museum of the City of New York, called the appointment “an eye-popping move that could really redefine the institution and design museums in general.”
On the other hand, he added, it’s potentially risky. “It would be like hiring Charles Eames — a practitioner and a thinker,” Mr. Albrecht said. Mr. Moggridge is “idea based, and whether that’s going to work out for the Cooper-Hewitt remains to be seen,” he added. “The two cultures may not mesh.”
Mr. Moggridge will take over the Cooper-Hewitt, based in the former Andrew Carnegie mansion at 91st Street and Fifth Avenue, during the largest renovation in its history. The $64 million project — financed partly by money from the museum’s endowment — will create at least 60 percent more exhibition gallery space, a new library and additional classroom space for the museum’s master’s program in decorative arts and design. It will also require the museum to close for construction from spring 2011 to 2013, downtime that Mr. Moggridge said would give him time to become familiar with the Cooper-Hewitt and work on expanding its influence with more traveling exhibitions and an enhanced Internet presence.
Ms. Baumann, the acting director, said the Cooper-Hewitt, had raised 86 percent of its capital goal for the renovation, which still leaves it short a significant amount. Although Mr. Moggridge has limited fund-raising experience, his connections and prominence in the corporate and West Coast design worlds may prove valuable resources for the museum.
Mr. Moggridge, who studied industrial design at the Central St. Martins College of Art and Design in London, founded a design firm in that city in 1969 and added 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 with offices in Palo Alto, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, New York, London, Munich and Shanghai. It is responsible for designs that include an early Apple computer mouse and an insulin pen. It also created a broad strategy for the Acela high-speed train.
Last year Mr. Moggridge received the lifetime achievement award at the Cooper-Hewitt’s National Design Awards at the White House. He has been an adviser to the British government on design education in the 1970s, a trustee of the Design Museum in London in the 1990s, and a consulting associate professor in the design program at Stanford University since 2005. Along with his wife, Karin Moggridge, a textile designer, he will be moving from Palo Alto to New York for the job.
Mr. Moggridge said he was not coming in with “preconceived notions” about how to change the Cooper-Hewitt. “One of the things I like to ask is, ‘How might we ...?’ questions,” he said. “They imply a collegiality.”