The designer, thinker, and IDEO founder takes on an entirely new role as director of the Cooper-Hewitt.

Bill Moggridge

Bill Moggridge

If you’re reading this on a laptop, take a second to admire Bill Moggridge’s work. His design for the GRiD Compass—a 1979 personal computer that enclosed a keyboard and screen in a clamshell-like, fold-open case for the first time—set the mold for the contemporary machine in front of you.

U.K.-born Moggridge, 66, founded his first design firm in 1969, and over the next two decades the practice created innovative forms for many high-tech products. In 1991, he partnered with David Kelley Design and Matrix Product Design to found IDEO, now a leading global design and management consultancy with more than 500 employees and offices in cities from San Francisco to Shanghai. Since 2000, Moggridge has written and lectured extensively, seeing himself as more of a design apologist than a practitioner, a shift that led him to throw his hat into the ring for the directorship of the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in the summer of 2009.

“We were looking for a thinker, and someone very known to the design community nationally and internationally,” says the Cooper-Hewitt’s acting director, Caroline Baumann. Last winter, the museum selected Moggridge for the job, which he assumes this month. I recently spoke with him about the post.

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William Hanley: Much has been made of your considerable design and business experience, but lack of museum experience. Is your appointment meant to “shake up” the Cooper-Hewitt as some have claimed?

Bill Moggridge: I think we’re building from strength really. Shaking up is going to happen indirectly, but I think it’s more of just “expanding.” I’ve always been interested in developing the power of interdisciplinary teams, which is something that can help the curators and existing staff be a little bit more collectively than they can be as individuals.

WH: How would that interdisciplinary approach change the structure of the institution?

BM: I’m not sure that I have ideas about how it will play out yet. At IDEO, people are used to the idea of a designer working with a businessman, an anthropologist, a graphic communicator, whatever. During the creative process, they actually don’t worry about where an idea came from, and they find that they have more power from the shared mind than they have from their individual minds. And once they’ve got a concept, they can go back and do their individual bits.

WH: What appealed to you about the Cooper-Hewitt directorship?

BM: The Cooper-Hewitt is the only national [non-specialized] design organization. If you look at other countries, they have design councils, design business associations, and design research institutes, as well as design museums. The opportunity to make the Cooper-Hewitt much more of a national organization—something that could serve as an umbrella connecting the AIGA and the AIA and so on—is very exciting.

WH: The museum will close for its largest-ever renovation project from spring 2011 through 2013. How do you plan to guide it through that period?

BM: People in the design community are aware of the museum, but a lot of other people outside of New York don’t know about it. When we have this black period, it’s a very good opportunity for expanding our public reach on a national scale—with both traveling exhibitions and our Web presence.