John Hockenberry Explains the Damage You’re Inflicting Upon Your Kids


As our favorite design conference master of ceremonies, John Hockenberry has a lovely way of weaving intelligent commentary with piercing jabs aimed straight at designers’ eccentricities. In the essay “Lessons From Jack Hockenberry,” we find out why he knows us so well. Hockenberry is the son of an industrial designer:

Around the dinner table I absorbed the challenges facing a designer at IBM in the 1960s. From kid-decoded conversations between Mom and Dad it was clear that the company, indeed the world, was infested with people who were ignorant of design. As my father’s loyal son, I grew up hating these people my parents called engineers. These characters were somehow distinct from the jolly fellows who drove locomotives in my storybooks. They were soulless people devoid of creativity who were on a mission to make all things look like metal boxes. As I attempted to learn more details of what designers did and what design was all about, I discovered another group of evil non­designers. I stumbled on them while looking at a glossy magazine ad for a 1965 Pontiac Bonneville 421. The word design would occasionally pop up in car ads, and I asked Dad if an industrial designer was responsible for the chrome lines and futuristic dashboard appointments on the Pontiac. He looked at the ad with unconcealed disgust and declared that no real product designer would care to have anything to do with such wasteful trivialities. “That’s what stylists do. They get people to buy new cars for no reason.”