In this era of hand waving, mind maps, and design thinking, it is nice to remember a man of design doing. Eliot Noyes was a pioneer. He was an intellect who wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty, a global advocate of design who was also a seasoned practitioner, and a visionary thinker who could also delve into the nooks and crannies of his craft. If your thinking I'm exaggerating, a brief timeline of Eliot's career looks like this: upon earning a Masters in Architecture from the Harvard GSD he works for Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, then he became the first director of Industrial Design at MoMA where he curated shows that helped popularize the names of emerging talents like Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen, during WWII he worked with Norman Bell Geddes on military gliders, then built the first corporate design departments at little places like IBM and Mobile Oil.
I recently had the pleasure of having dinner with Eliot's son, Eli Noyes, and it prompted me to brush up on my Noyes history. The pieces that Charles and Ray Eames developed for Noyes' 1941 "Organic Design" show at MoMA went into production by Herman Miller after WWII. It was Noyes who hired Paul Rand to design the IBM logo. He commissioned Isamu Noguchi and Alexander Calder to create art installations in IBM buildings, and hired Eames help with the layouts of offices. While Mr. Noyes was lecturing to CEOs on the topic of good design is good business, he was still a designer, creating iconic products like the Selectric typewriter for IBM in 1961. This one design dominated 75% of the typewriter market in the 60's... and if you watch Mad Men, you know they had a lot of typewriters in offices back then...
We owe much to this man, more than a brief blog post can do justice to. Check out a copy of Gordon Bruce's excellent monograph aptly named: "Eliot Noyes: A Pioneer of Design and Architecture in the Age of American Modernism" and bask in the display of potential fulfilled. To change the world you need not only to believe you can do it, but also the ability. Solving today's complex problems will require another Eliot Noyes or three.
Be sure to check out Robert Blinn's review of the book for core77 here.