IDEO Selects: Works from the Permanent Collection

Release Date: 
Tuesday, December 5, 2006
Press Release: 

Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Presents “IDEO Selects: Works from the Permanent Collection”

In spring 2007, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum will present “IDEO Selects: Works from the Permanent Collection,” an exhibition organized by a team from the internationally acclaimed innovation and design firm IDEO. As the fourth guest curator in the exhibition series, IDEO mined the permanent collection and will organize works around the theme of “design thinking”—a timeless, inherently human approach to problem solving focused on improving what already exists and creating what does not exist. “IDEO Selects: Works from the Permanent Collection,” will be on view June 22, 2007, through Jan. 20, 2008, in the Nancy and Edwin Marks Gallery.

Following visits to Cooper-Hewitt’s collecting departments during the course of a year, the IDEO team selected more than 30 works representative of “design thinking.” The exhibition objects range from the 16th-century to the present, and despite their diversity of intent, media and context, reveal a shared story about the ways in which the designer is called upon to solve everyday problems.

The works featured in the exhibition include a selection of flashlights from the 1940s through the 1990s, whose diverse materials, forms and colors show the various ways designers approached and met the need for portable, hand-held lighting; the colorful “Divisumma 18” calculator (1973), designed by Mario Bellini, recognized for its sensually appealing tactile keyboard; an early 20th-century walking stick with a pull-out map of Boston—a precursor to modern day hand-held navigation systems; the Corning Glass Works glass-bodied “Silver Streak” iron (early 1940s), developed for the domestic market during wartime rationing of metals; a mid-19th-century textile panel printed with images showing how to make hand shadow animal figures, giving it the added dimension of instructional design; a child’s chair (ca. 1944), by Charles and Ray Eames, one of the first molded plywood furniture designs to be mass produced; and a woodcut (1506-1507) with a mysterious 'knot' pattern, presumably for use on embroidery, pottery or etched glass, from a series of six designed by Albrecht Dürer.

“IDEO’s holistic, human-centered approach makes them the obvious candidates to delve into Cooper-Hewitt’s vast collection and articulate what we mean by design and design thinking, illustrated by examples of design from various continents and centuries,” said museum Director Paul Warwick Thompson. “By organizing the works under the rubric of ‘design thinking,’ the exhibition explains what we mean by design and how designers actually think and work.”

As part of the exhibition, IDEO has compiled a series of texts, questions and graphics that ask visitors to examine objects according to three distinct components of design thinking—inspiration, intuition and empathy—in order to gain an understanding of the designer, their work and the context in which it was created. The following works were chosen as prime examples of each of the design thinking “lenses”:
• Ladislav Sutnar’s “Build the Town” toy block and car prototype (1941) represents inspiration in design thinking. The prototype put an urban slant on the children’s toy trend of erector sets and was designed just two years after Sutnar’s immigration to the United States. His previous building block set from 1927, “Factory Town,” was designed in his native Czechoslovakia.
• The lipstick red “Valentine” portable typewriter (1969), designed by Ettore Sottsass, Jr., serves as a chief example of intuition in design thinking and represents the designer’s ability to transform the emotive quality of an object and its context by modifying form factors such as color and material.
• The “Vernaid Bandage” (early 20th-century), a multifunctional textile bandage with printed illustrations and simple directions for binding and dressing a variety of injuries and wounds, represents empathy in design thinking. The portable, durable and wearable bandage was introduced as a way to quickly communicate critical information in an emergency.

“By prompting visitors to view the exhibition through these “lenses,” we are encouraging them to practice a very visceral form of design thinking in which they shift and expand their perspectives to see the objects not just as autonomous things, but as signifiers of larger social, cultural, political and personal contexts, interwoven with surprising parallels,” said Tim Brown, president and chief executive officer of IDEO.

“IDEO Selects” is the sixth in a series of small one-gallery exhibitions in the Nancy and Edwin Marks Gallery. Guest interpreters, including artists, journalists, authors and designers, are invited to develop themed exhibitions and create installations interpreted in their own voice. IDEO is the first organization to be invited to participate in the exhibition series. Previous guest curators have included novelist, design critic and public radio host Kurt Andersen; Dutch designer Hella Jongerius; and Nigerian-British artist Yinka Shonibare.

“IDEO Selects: Works from the Permanent Collection” is made possible by The Procter & Gamble Company.

Additional funding is provided by the Getty Foundation and public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State agency.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a 20-page illustrated brochure.

About the Museum
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution is the only museum in the nation devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. The museum presents compelling perspectives on the impact of design on daily life through active educational programs, exhibitions and publications. Founded in 1897 by Amy, Eleanor, and Sarah Hewitt—granddaughters of industrialist Peter Cooper—as part of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the museum has been a branch of the Smithsonian since 1967.

Cooper-Hewitt is located at 2 East 91st Street at Fifth Avenue in New York City. Hours are Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Fridays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sundays, noon to 6 p.m. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Public transit routes include the Lexington Avenue 4, 5 and 6 subways (86th or 96th Street stations) and the Fifth and Madison Avenue buses. General admission, $12; senior citizens and students ages 12 and older, $9. Cooper-Hewitt members and children younger than age 12 are admitted free. For further information, please call (212) 849-8300 or visit http://www.cooperhewitt.org. The museum is fully accessible.

About IDEO
IDEO is an innovation and design consultancy with offices in Palo Alto, Calif.; San Francisco; Chicago; Boston; London; Munich, Germany; Shanghai, China; and New York (summer 2007). Formed in 1991, by David Kelley, Bill Moggridge and Mike Nutall, the firm employs approximately 500 people in the disciplines of design, engineering, social science and business strategy. The firm has contributed to the design and development of many standard-setting innovations, including the first production mouse for Apple Computer and the world’s first notebook-style computer for GRiD Computer. Kelley and Moggridge both have works in the permanent collection of Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. David Kelley and IDEO received the 2001 National Design Award for Product Design.
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