Molly Heintz is a Silas H. Rhodes scholar in SVA's Design Criticism MFA program. She is also the managing editor of The Architect's Newspaper and a member of the communications committee of desigNYC. On May 4, she'll deliver a talk entitled "Going Public: Creation and Dissemination of the Designer's Identity" as part of Present Tense: the 2011 DCrit Conference at SVA.
Core77: It looks like you've had quite a bit of professional experience before pursuing your MFA in DCrit. How did you arrive at SVA?
Molly Heintz: I'd worked in different communications-related fields, from publishing to public relations, and was looking for a way to channel my professional experience into more creative projects. One weekend a couple of years ago I was on the train from New York to DC, and I had brought a stack of magazines with me. I came across an announcement about the new DCrit program at SVA, and at that moment it really struck me that design was the common thread in all my work to date. I thought the DCrit program might be able to help me synthesize my experience into something exciting.
How does your background in architecture—specifically in communications—inform your approach to design criticism?
Working with architecture firms, I really got to see what a dynamic and complex process design can be. I learned that it's essential for a designer to communicate his or her vision persuasively and what goes into make that connection. I also saw that part of the designer's role is to help clients articulate their own goals. I appreciate the fact that there are multiple players on any project and sometimes compromises or sacrifices happen along the way, but in my experience successful design is built on successful communication. I think my approach to criticism is also in part informed by my past work in archaeology—you realize it's impossible to understand or evaluate an object or a building in isolation. It's all about context.
Raymond Loewy with Betty Reese from the Boston Herald February 17, 1946-
Similarly, it sounds like your talk addresses the designer as a brand (correct me if I'm wrong). Does this have any implications for contemporary design criticism?
My talk is about how industrial designers construct and distribute their public identity, so yes, it's essentially analyzing the designer as a brand. I start with Raymond Loewy and his press agent Betty Reese and bring it up to the present day. I'm looking at what goes into building a public identity—from creation myths, to personal appearance, to the work of agents like publicists, clients and the media—and how that designer image can then take on a life of its own. This identity is not only something that can impact our perception of the designer's work, but it's also a product designed for consumption itself, and therefore, I argue, worthy of critical examination. I focus on industrial designers in my talk, but I think this idea can be applied to other design fields. I've just started developing a concept for a documentary series that will also cover architects, fashion designers, and maybe even graphic designers.
Molly Heintz has worked in communications and publishing since moving to New York in 2001. She led communications departments at the architecture firms Gensler and Rockwell Group, and co-edited the book Spectacle by David Rockwell and Bruce Mau (Phaidon 2006). She graduated with degrees in classics and art history from Duke University and holds a master's in the history of art and architecture from Harvard University.
See Molly and her peers—not to mention the likes of Paola Antonelli, Bjarke Ingels and more—at Present Tense: The 2011 D-Crit Conference in two days, on Wednesday, May 4th.