It is with great sadness that we share the news that one of the great contemporary minds of design, Bill Drenttel, has passed away. Bill contributed to design discourse, thought leadership, and progressive action in myriad ways, and was a beacon to so many of us in the design community.
Perhaps best known as the publisher and co-founder of Design Observer (along with his wife Jessica Helfand and Michael Bierut), he spearheaded and championed many other organizations and initiatives. The Winterhouse Institute created outstanding works of design and advocacy, and was early in celebrating and creating meaningful work and dialog around design for social change; his teaching at the Yale School of Management fortified the growing link between design and business; and his design directorship at Teach for All evidenced his commitment to education reform around the world.
As a former trustee of the Cooper-Hewitt, president emeritus of the AIGA, and chair of Aspen Design Conferences, Bill gave time and wisdom consistently and generously, creating ripples of impact across multiple contexts.
Bill was a tireless, fearless proponent of the power of design. Through his journey from advertising to publishing to advocating to teaching, his belief in design as a positive, social force was infectious. He was uncompromising and diligent. He brought people together who had shared interests, and carved out spaces for conversations if none existed. He paid attention in a way that was remarkable--when you worked with Bill it was always show time--and he inspired people around him to do their very best. That may sound like a cliché, but it was one of his design superpowers. His bar was high. And he played for keeps.
Bill was also a friend, and a great friend to Core77. I will cherish every moment I've shared with him, and will think of his wife and two children as acknowledgments and warm thoughts surround them at this difficult time.
Bill was one of the great intellects of design, practitioners of design, and advocates of design. The design world was a better place with Bill Drenttel in it. And he will be missed. But his teachings and his enthusiasms will live on in everyone he's touched, and he will be remembered deeply, fondly, and often.
The design world lost one of its greats yesterday. Bill Moggridge, Director of the Cooper-Hewitt, inventor of the first laptop, co-founder of IDEO, and dear friend to designers, students, advocates and thinkers the world over, was 69 when he passed away.
Bill was a great enthusiast of Core77, and we are grateful for his support and constant encouragement. His kindness and wit, his cheerleading, his warmth, and above all his unyielding passion for the power of design have been a constant inspiration to us all, and he will continue to be a beacon of creativity for generations to come.
We extend our deepest sympathies to Bill's family. We are the better for knowing Bill, and his impact will be lasting.
The Cooper-Hewitt has a wonderful film (embedded below) up at their Remembering Bill site. Visit for more.
This post is part of our year-long series, Apocalypse 2012, where our favorite futurists, resiliency and disaster experts examine the role of design to help you prepare for...the end?
We live in dichotomous times, navigating between conflicting imperatives, contradictory values, and eleventh-hour urgency. For designers, these dichotomiesfar from providing generative yin/yang grist or complementary dualist push and pullrepresent paradoxes that lash at our profession, our practice, and our promise. Lately I've been losing some sleep over them, so best to get this down on paper as part of Core77's Apocalypse 2012 Series. Exactly 1000 words, below.
We're at the apex of our power, but the nadir of our potency. Let's start with the biggest heartbreaker of them all: We are at a moment in history when, as designers, we are at our most powerful. There is almost nothing we cannot make, enjoying the triumphs of research and development in materials science, manufacturing technology, and information systems. We can get any answer we seek through social networks, peer communities, or hired guns. We have sub-specialties at unimaginably thin slices of expertisefrom ubiquitous computing to synthetic biologyand a plumbing system in the Internet that is simultaneously unprecedented in human history and entirely taken for granted.
At the same time, unbelievably, we have never been in worse shape: We are witnessing the collapse of every natural system on earth. Take your pickon the ground we've got clear-cutting, desertification and agricultural run-off. Underneath we've got fracking and groundwater contamination. In the air, greenhouse gasses; in the oceans, ice sheet melting, acidification and Pacific trash vortices; in space we have the ghastly and ultimately impossible problem of space debris (we won't be able to leave even when we're ready to, and nobody will be able to get in to help us if they wanted to). We carry body-burdens of toxic chemicals leached and outgassed from our homes, our cars, our food packaging. The consequences of industrialization metastasize out to slave factory labor, massive river diversions, obesity, malnutrition, gender inequality, rampant poverty, minefields. We tax our economies with war machinery instead of fueling healthcare and education provision. We feel helpless on the one end and hopeless on the other.
How can we be so strong and yet so weak? How can it be that we, as a species, are at the absolute height of our power at exactly the same moment that we are on the precipice of self-annihilation?
Is this funny? Or ironic? Or tragic? Or simply unthinkable. Whatever your reaction, for the design community, it is decidedly two things: rare and privileged. Design has been complicit in moving us to this precipice, of course, and certainly it alone will not be sufficient for pulling us back, but we need to acknowledge the fact that this time, and our place in it, are truly remarkable: We are equipped with our most powerful tools, right when the world needs us most. This is an astounding proposition for design.
The design of artifacts versus the design of systems. If all of these natural collapses have demonstrated one thing, it's that we are no longer living in a world of objects and things, but rather in a world of flows and negotiations. Undoubtedly this was always the case, but the feedback we're getting from the natural world has made it unassailable. In the old design model, we had 'problems' and we had 'solutions.' A designer's job was to take a problema brief, a market need, a new technology looking for an embodimentand to solve it: Here's the problem; here's a solution. Next problem please.
We are now recognizing that this worldview is unbearably naïve and not a little arrogant; that problems are not static, they're dynamic. They are moving, organic and fundamentally systemic. You might say that they aren't even "problems" at all; they are "problem spaces"a term progressive designers have been using for years. But I'd argue that you don't "solve" problem spaces, you negotiate them. And that this negotiation requires new kinds of processes, fluencies and participants. This is the new design practice that is emerging all around us: it's inter-, trans- and multi-disciplinary; it is tactical; it concerns itself with things like resiliency and sharing ecologies, and pays as much attention to meaning as to money. And it explores entirely new kinds of currency and valuecurrencies like participation, and reputation, and access, and happiness.
Is it possible that we feel powerless to 'solve' problems because we're (simply) using the wrong word to address them?
Back in 2004, I wrote an article called 1000 Words of Advice for Design Students. Flattered that several departments were using the document in their curricula, I followed it up with 1000 Words of Advice for Design Teachers, in 2006 (not used very much in curricula, that one!). For the past year I've been putting together the bones of a new MFA program in Products of Design at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, welcoming its first students in the fall of 2012. (Applications for the inaugural class open this month.) So now it's a year in and a year away, and I thought it might be a nice idea to revisit the 1000-word format, document some of the thoughts and strategies and arguments for the new program, and lay the groundwork for the certain learning ahead. It turns out that 1000 words is woefully insufficient for discussing the most important aspects of the program, but it's a taste, and if you'd like to learn more, please do head over to productsofdesign.sva.edu where you'll find mission statements, Q&As, and more curriculum information than you'll be able to save to Instapaper. In the meantime, here we go, again: Exactly 1000 words below.
You Are What You Eat
The first decision made for the MFA Products of Design department had nothing to do with philosophy or pedagogy or accreditation; it had to do with food. We've devoted a significant amount of the architecture and planning to what we eat—with generous prep space, two full-size fridges and sinks, rice cookers, steamers, slow-cookers and other industrial-grade implements that will help students do better, think better and feel better by supporting their food energy needs. Butcher-block classroom tables gang up into short and long dining tables; drawing demo mirrors double as cooking demo counters. One of the preeminent greenmarkets is five minutes away from the school, open Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays of every week. Several of our faculty are passionate about, and plan to do coursework around, food and food systems. Students will be encouraged to form dinner co-ops (you cook a meal to feed 6 people once a week; the other days you eat someone else's).
I've gotten two major criticisms on this one: The first is "But the studio will smell!" Yes, it will. It will smell like food. (Most smell like plastic.) The second is "Students are out of control! I mean, who will clean the coffee maker?" Oh hell, I will.
Build a Place, Not a Space
It's been a big challenge finding the sweet spot of what to provide students in terms of individual workspace, collaborative space, leisure, model making, presentation and celebration space. But space has been the wrong word all along of course; the goal is to create place, not space. And that's where architect Andrea Steele and her team have landed, taking a holistic approach to how the philosophy and the pragmatics of the program get instantiated in its built environment.
We've used several principles here: Build as little as possible, keeping elements versatile, resilient, and nimble; Give everything more than one purpose, leveraging vertical elements for both display and domain; Recognize that the biggest waste of space in a school is the classroom. Ours are sundrenched, tech-equipped, and furnished as students' project rooms. And once every day, from 5 to 8pm, they turn into classrooms. Provide welcome for bicycles, accommodate personal phone calls. You get the idea.
We are thrilled that the applications are flowing in for the Products of Design Summer Program at the Domaine de Boisbuchet in France, this upcoming July 10 - 16, but we'll be ending the application window soon so wanted to remind you to get yours in. We are looking for (maximum) 20 exceptionally creative, fun, and curious participants who will immerse themselves in a hands-on week of design thinking, design making, and design doing. (There will be quite a bit of "design telling" as well, not including ghost stories by the campfire.) Below is s bit of copy from the website, but please get those applications in quickly. We are open to students, teachers, and creatives of all kinds.
And if you're interested in the upcoming MFA in Products of Design launching in fall 2012, the workshop in France will bag you 1 graduate credit.
This special workshop is an immersive, multi-disciplinary experience exploring the rapidly changing field of product design. Held in Boisbuchet, France, the program will stress a hands-on, making-driven approach to create new points of entry into the enterprise of design. In addition to intensive study, students will have the opportunity to swim in the estate's lake, canoe and kayak, take walks through the surrounding woods and relax at the nearby river. Participants feast on farm-to-table nightly dinners with attendees from the two other Boisbuchet workshops taking place that week (approximately 90 people including staff), meeting designers from all over the world, and making life-long friendships.
Each day, several facets of the design process will be explored: rapid sketching, brainstorming, materials investigation, prototyping, model building, iteration, narrative creation, sustainability and environmental stewardship. We will complement the studio work with lively debates around the current mandates of design, the challenges of production and consumption, and design's ability to create value and positive social change. The evenings will offer fun, lectures and discussions.
Products of Design
Summer Program in France, 2011
"SVA @ Boisbuchet"
July 10 - July 16, 2011
Summer semester: 1 graduate studio credit