Recognized for a career and life shaped by the tenets of design thinking—and for his belief that the designer’s ultimate role lies in negotiating the relationship between people and things.
David Kelley, the Stanford engineer, who in 1991 teamed up with Bill Moggridge and Mike Nuttall to found the global design firm IDEO, remembers many distinctive qualities about Moggridge, not least his relaxed attitude about entertaining. Whereas Kelley would rise early on the days he threw dinner parties and wear himself out with preparations, his partner was a different kind of host. “I would go to Bill’s house at six, and he would say, ‘Is it that time? I have to buy the chicken,’” Kelley recalls, adding, “Of course, his parties were much better than mine.”
He spread his talents thickly over a variety of remarkable endeavors, from overseeing industrial design for the first laptop computer, the GRiD Compass, in 1979, to directing the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum for two years, until his death, from cancer, in 2012. Participating in Silicon Valley’s technology revolution, he even fathered the discipline of interaction design, which focused on how users manipulated the new tools, or the touch points between human and machine.
Born in London in 1943, Moggridge was educated in industrial design at the Central School of Design, now Central Saint Martins. He founded Moggridge Associates in London in 1969, designing mainly household appliances. Ten years later, he opened a branch called ID Two in Palo Alto, California.
“It was brave, when you think of it, to pick up yourself and your company and your family and come to the United States because you think it’s a better place for design,” Kelley says. “He didn’t come for the weather.”
Not only did Moggridge have the “uncanny instinct,” as Kelley describes it, to move to Northern California at the dawn of the post-industrial age, he made sure there was a place for design in a landscape dominated by technologists. He brought in the expertise of other disciplines, too, including psychology, ecology and ethnography, to ensure that new products were oriented toward the needs of their users. This multidimensional strategy helped to define IDEO’s approach and became widely adopted by other design companies.
In 2006, Moggridge published Designing Interactions, a print and DVD compilation featuring 40 pioneers in digital technology. Summing up the reactions of many in the design fields, Helen Walters, then of Businessweek, called it “one hell of a book.” He followed it, in 2010, with another influential publication, Designing Media.
In January 2010, when he was 66, Moggridge was the surprise choice to head the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, after the departure of its director Paul Thompson. Though he lacked administrative experience at a cultural institution, and though Cooper-Hewitt was on the verge of closing its doors for a major renovation that was not entirely paid for, he had arrived at an opportune moment to embed 21st-century exhibition ideas and infrastructure into the museum.
Many considered it an inspired appointment. Murray Moss, the contemporary designer and entrepreneur, told the New York Times, “A vision comes from someone who has a passion and has not taken a step back from the subject.”
Moggridge’s quiet charisma made him a highly effective educator throughout his career. He was a visiting professor in interaction design at the Royal College of Art in London and a consulting associate professor in design at Stanford University. Notable among his many honors were a 2009 National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Cooper-Hewitt and a 2010 Prince Philip Designers Prize.
Bill Moggridge will be posthumously awarded the AIGA Medal at The AIGA Centennial Gala on April 25, 2014, in New York City.