Drum Roll, Please

It’s been over a year since the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt announced the departure of Paul Thompson and formed a search committee to find a replacement. No official announcements have been made and the staff members I’ve spoken to have either been clueless or mum. So, while doing the rounds in Europe this week, the subject came up again. Names bandied about included: the MoMA’s Paola Antonelli (“She is ready for the Cooper-Hewitt, but the current staff isn’t ready for her,” I heard); the Cincinnati Art Museum’s director, Aaron Betsky (“He’d never be able to deal with the bureaucracy of working in triplicate forms”); or Craig Miller, who did a great job building up the design collection at the Denver Art Museum (“He seems happy as curator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art”). Then, suddenly, a wise friend whispered: Bill Moggridge.

What makes Moggridge interesting is that he isn’t a professional curator or museum director but someone whose career path has taken him from being a designer to a design manager to a writer. As co-founder of IDEO, arguably one of the most important design consultancies around today, and as a proponent of user-centered design, he’s the kind of designer who asks, “What would people like? How can I make it useful and enjoyable?” Of course, he’s also closely associated with the overused and somewhat problematic “design thinking”—the buzzword of the new wave of management consultants. (Just what did George Nelson or Charles Eames do before “design thinking?” Design is thinking–but I’ll save that for another rant).

Moggridge looks at design from a multifaceted point of view. He believes that everyone is a designer, and he is an advocate of project-based “learning by doing” education—a plus for Cooper-Hewitt, which is strong on educational programming. He also loves “cross-dressers”—his term for people who have degrees in different areas than what they work in. “You have to be great at one thinking but interested in working with people in different areas,” he said at a panel recently. (And receiving this year’s Cooper-Hewitt lifetime achievement award, presented by Michelle Obama at a White House luncheon this summer, no doubt puts him in good standing with the museum’s board of trustees.) The last time I saw him was in August at a design event in Copenhagen, where he was able to speak in a decent-enough Danish that made the audience laugh with him, not at him. Impressive, I thought. So unless someone else can propose a better candidate for new director, my vote goes for Bill Moggridge.

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