Cooper-Hewitt Director Bill Moggridge Dies at Age 69

The Smithsonian mourns the loss of one of its visionary leaders

Bill Moggridge, Director, Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Bill Moggridge, Director, Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Photo courtesy of IDEO/Nicolas Zurcher

Sadly, Bill Moggridge, director of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City, died yesterday, at the age of 69 years old. According to the museum, he died after battling cancer. His visionary leadership will be sorely missed by the Smithsonian community and surely the design world at large.

“All of us at the Smithsonian mourn the loss of a great friend, leader and design mind,” said Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough. “In his two short years as director of Cooper-Hewitt, Bill transformed the museum into the Smithsonian’s design lens on the world, and we are forever grateful for his extraordinary leadership and contributions.”

In recent years, Moggridge described his career as having three phases. Early in his professional life, he was a designer. In 1982, he developed the first laptop computer, known as the GRiD Compass. Later, Moggridge was leading design teams, having co-founded IDEO, a design and innovation consulting firm with David Kelley and Mike Nuttall in 1991. In the last decade, he considered himself first and foremost a communicator, sharing his ideas about the role of design in everyday life in his books (Designing Interactions, published in 2006, and Designing Media, in 2010) and lectures.

The Cooper-Hewitt honored Moggridge in 2009 with its National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement. A year later, he joined the museum as its fourth-ever director. In his two years of direction, Moggridge encouraged lively conversation about all realms of design, engaging the field’s best and brightest—YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley, Google CreativeLab’s Robert Wong and architect Michael Graves, among others—in an interview series called Bill’s Design Talks. He was also overseeing the ongoing $54 million renovation of the Cooper-Hewitt, which is due to reopen in 2014.

“During his tenure, Bill led the museum to the highest exhibition attendance numbers on record, pioneered bringing design into the K-12 classroom and dramatically increased digital access to the collection through vehicles like the Google Art Project,” said Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for History, Art and Culture. “His innovative vision for the future of the museum will be realized upon reopening, and his foresight will impact museum visitors and design thinkers of tomorrow. He will be greatly missed.”

I had the great opportunity to interview Moggridge in early 2011 for Smithsonian magazine, after he had received the 2010 Prince Philip Designers Prize—Britain’s most prestigious design award—for his contributions to the field. Design, he said in the interview—”It’s all about solving problems.” What I remember most though was Moggridge’s adoration for the simplest of designs, and his eloquence when it came to describing them.

“I love something as uncomplicated as a paper clip, because it is such a neat way of solving a problem with very little material,” he said. “If I think about something more sensuous, I’ve always been interested in the perfect spoon. It is delectable in a multisensory way: the appearance, the balance and feeling as you pick it up off the table, then the sensation as it touches your lips and you taste the contents.”

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