Farewell, Bill Moggridge: Pioneering Designer and Cooper-Hewitt Director Dies at 69

Bill Moggridge offers remarks at the National Design Awards White House celebration in 2011.

Bill Moggridge, director of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, died Saturday, following a battle with cancer. He was 69 years old. Designer of the first laptop computer (the Grid Compass) and co-founder of IDEO, Moggridge took the helm at the Cooper-Hewitt in 2010 as part of what he described, in a 2011 interview with us for a profile in ARTnews, as the third phase of his career. “I have thought of myself as a storyteller, and in my new role as director of the Cooper-Hewitt, I hope to become a spokesperson for design, to help explain the value and processes that design can offer.”

He arrived as the museum’s $54 million renovation project was getting underway and immediately got busy envisioning the future of the institution and the multiple audiences he sought to reach as well as strategies for keeping the Cooper-Hewitt visible after it closed to the public for a multi-year facelift. “The great thing about the redesign that we’re in the middle of is that when we reopen [in 2014] we’re going to have an extra sixty percent of space for exhibitions,” he told us. “That will create a feast of opportunities to display the permanent collection.” He was also eager to introduce a more hands-on aspect: “a combination of learning by doing and learning by seeing.”

In a statement issued yesterday by the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough called Moggridge “a great friend, leader, and design mind….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.”

Moggridge will be remembered as a pioneer of interaction design and “human factors” who championed the broad application of design processes as well as the end-products—iconic chairs, innovative textiles, life-enhancing gizmos—they can create. “Most design is just part of people’s everyday life,” he told us. “And a lot of people don’t want to be challenged—they just want to be able to do stuff. So the designs that are the most successful are often the ones that are transparent, the ones people don’t notice.”