I.D. Forty: Design’s Biggest Influences

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Terence Riley, Peter Reed, and Paola Antonelli are the custodians of design’s most venerable (and some might say burdensome) legacy. Since it was founded in 1932 under Philip Johnson, MoMA’s design department has taken charge of granting immortality to a select group of objects and the people who make them. Educating the public about why design matters is also part of the mandate. While respecting the museum’s formalist tradition, this trio has expanded the meaning of MoMA’s catchphrase "good design" to include emotion, wit, and the imprint of popular culture. Acquisitions that bolster this revised definition include Reiko Sudo’s ethereal Feather Flurries Fabric, Matali Crasset’s cheeky Artican waste-paper basket, and Fuji’s disposable cardboard camera.

"We are all very different," says Antonelli. "But it makes for a good balance." Reed digs into historical scholarship, earning the academy’s praise for shows like his ambitious 1998 Alvar Aalto retrospective. Riley, who is not only the department’s chief curator, but also a practicing architect, has managed to raise excitement about buildings within the cloistered dimensions of his galleries; his 1999 "Un-Private House" exhibition offered many visitors a first appreciation of Rem Koolhaas, Diller + Scofidio, and Shigeru Ban. The Italian-born Antonelli champions emerging designers and tackles new technologies. Her 2001 "Workspheres" explored the digital-era workplace through existing and commissioned designs, and her upcoming "Safe: Design Takes on Risk" will surely resonate in these orange-alert times.

When MoMA completed its new home in November, the design collection was re-installed, not in some radical blob, but in a modernist cathedral by Yoshio Taniguchi. Riley was instrumental in selecting the Japanese architect. The expanded building with its austere, transparent surfaces is as commodious a home for design objects as it is for art. One of the most conspicuous works passersby can see from West 54th Street, looking up at the building, is a cherry red Cisitalia 202 GT sports car designed by Pininfarina in 1946. The aluminum two-seater sits in a third-floor gallery that is roughly 30 percent larger than the space the department previously occupied. Inside, the new gallery is advertised by Arthur Young’s 1945 Bell-47D1 helicopter suspended over the atrium, a beloved artifact from the former space that has been newly restored and hung at eye level.

With the ambition and funds to acquire the best examples on earth, the curators have picked up more than 100 objects since 2000 and assembled displays of everything from Tiffany to Tupperware and Corbusier to Corian. "We have a very specific wish-list. At the moment there are maybe 15 objects we are looking for," says Reed. The 1949 Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle, which they added to the department’s holdings last year, had been on Riley’s list for a long time, for example. This relentless pursuit of excellence and the rigorous discernment that drives it is why every designer dreams of being in MoMA’s collection. Why every design lover understands the department’s significance. And why no one challenges its bragging rights of being second to none.

As founder and CEO of both Apple and Pixar, two companies that have invented, reinvented, and surprised us too many times to count, Steve Jobs is the Medici of his day: a 21st-century patron of the new and the best. Pixar has won five Oscars, and Apple’s corporate mantel isn’t big enough to display its awards. From the Macintosh 128K to the iPod, 14 products have made their way into the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Many designers deserve credit for that accomplishment: Frog Design, Robert Brunner, and the current design chief, Jonathan Ive. What those different teams had in common was a CEO unwilling to compromise on good design. In fact, Jobs is maniacal down to the last detail: He personally approved every one of the 32-by-32-pixel icons Susan Kare created for the original Mac.

It’s easy to be captivated by the sheer beauty of the Cube or the gently breathing light of the iBook. As objects, they are exquisite. Yet for Jobs, great design is a means to an end: bringing technology to people. He understands that you need smart designers—industrial designers, but also interface designers, software designers, mechanical engineers—to make that happen.

"I think Apple changed the world in terms of design," says MoMA curator Paola Antonelli. With the introduction of the original Mac, she points out, people suddenly felt comfortable having a computer in the house. "It wasn’t a machine stolen from the office," she says. "It was more like a pet."

With the iMac, Jobs brought color to an industry of beige. With the iPod, he transformed the way people experience music (and might end up transforming the music industry itself).

"Insanely great" was how Jobs described the first Mac. Perhaps greater than the boxy little machine was Jobs’s other creation: a company that, by example, has shown the world the power of design.

Jessie Scanlon is a Brooklyn-based writer who contributes to Wired and The New York Times.

For a while there it looked as if we had entered the Post-Koolhaas era. In a few short years, MoMA, the Whitney, and LACMA had all flirted with and then spurned the Dutchman. A collaboration with Herzog & de Meuron for a hotel on New York’s Astor Place collapsed—publicly. Meanwhile, he had become the architectural pet of Milanese fashion diva Miuccia Prada, leaving erstwhile acolytes to wonder if he had sold out his avant-garde principles for a new role as oracle of the Glamour-Industrial Complex. Across the architectural landscape, schadenfreude meters were ticking into the red.

Rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated. A student center for the Illinois Institute of Technology and a new Dutch embassy in Berlin, both completed in 2003, signaled a return to the discipline. And then, last May, he unveiled the Seattle Central Library, a faceted asymmetrical pile wrapped in a diamond veil of glass and steel. "Thrilling from top to bottom," said Paul Goldberger in The New Yorker. Herbert Muschamp, never one to tread lightly, told New York Times readers it was "pure bling-bling" and "the most exciting new building it has been my honor to review."

The building seemed to fulfill the promise of the Koolhaas revolution; the architect, once merely a form-maker, was here charged with the task of reinventing for the 21st century one of civilization’s most enduring institutions. The result: an architecture of pure program, a stack of five offset platforms, each devoted to a specific library function. Books are stored on a four-story ramp—"The Spiral"—open to the public. The reading room sits on the top level, a glorious, light-filled space with views across the city.

It is altogether fitting, given his penchant for spraw
ling publications, that Koolhaas resurrected his career with a library. Content, his latest literary endeavor—a 544-page monograph/magazine by turns Delphic, comic, opaque, and pornographic—was also released on the public last May. Its theme: "Go East." Koolhaas is doing just that. His O-shaped China Central Television tower for Beijing is scheduled to open in 2008.

Mark Lamster is an editor at Princeton Architectural Press and is working on a book about baseball.

Like Sharpies, Post-its, or a Pantone color wheel, Adobe software has become a feature of design professionals’ desktops. Photoshop runs on 90 percent of our computers; PDF rules the Web; new Elements programs from the company’s Video Collection are doing for videography what Illustrator and Photoshop did for desktop publishing and digital imaging. We admit it; we love Adobe. We couldn’t live without it. With more than 40 products, most of which are remarkably reliable, the San Jose, California–based software giant is just what the world needs: a Microsoft that actually works.

"Adobe prides itself on listening to customer needs while tracking micro-trends in the industry," says Tricia Gellman Holmes, a group marketing manager for the company’s Creative Pro Business Unit. "Our products help designers focus on creative challenges, as opposed to the challenge of just making an idea into reality."

Even with 3,700 employees and offices in Japan, Latin America, and Europe, billion-dollar Adobe is still able to think small. Kevin Connor, who directs product management for the company’s Professional Digital Imaging, says that while hundreds of people are involved with the development of each program or upgrade, Adobe has found a balance between creativity, responsiveness, and corporate structure. "It’s not unheard of for an engineer to squeeze in an extra feature, even if it wasn’t in the original plans," Connor confides. "Everyone here has a passion for building the best possible product."

We believe him. It’s comforting to remember that Adobe was founded in 1982—the same year E.T. and Conan the Barbarian were released—because it reminds us that long before most of us were even dreaming about computers or design, Adobe was creating excellent software for both. That kind of thinking, and such a record of success, is solid evidence for the company’s longevity.

Colin Berry is based in Northern California and writes about art, design, and sustainability issues.

Philippe Starck likes being everywhere and nowhere. As his products get more widely dispersed and his appearances more fleeting—as he jets around, collecting home addresses, clinching deals, and teasing the press—he proves that design can make money in all languages.

For the past couple of years, the Frenchman has been acquiring clients in new continents and doing big collections of small consumables for mass markets. Microsoft launched Starck’s computer mouse this year; Fossil, his new watches; and Driade, XO, and Kartell have all introduced new furniture collections.

Recently, Starck denounced boutique hotels, the overdressed lodgings he invented with Ian Schrager, and became his own global property developer. Creative director of the British real estate firm Yoo, he and partner John Hitchcox are selling "design-focused property development" as "icons of modern living," according to the company. In short: luxury condos.

The formula appears to be this. Starck designs/conceives a piece of the project then appears, at press events or on websites, sounding iconic: "I have created something called democratic design." At Parris Landing, a Boston naval building converted to lofts, Starck art-directed the common spaces. On Wall Street, he converted J.P. Morgan’s former headquarters into condos. Starck-branded residences are also slated to emerge in Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Tel Aviv, and Sydney.

So why should we respect this guy? Because he has designed more lively places and things, in more sizes and materials, for more purposes, in more nations, than any 55-year-old in history. What’s incalculable are the opportunities he’s opened for others to go where no designer has gone before.

Barbara Flanagan is a contributing editor at I.D. and writes for Metropolis and The New York Times.