The legacy of renowned technology designer Bill Moggridge

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Moggridge revolutionized technology design. ()
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Jed Lipinski

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Bill Moggridge, who died of cancer on Saturday at the age of 67, was one of the greatest industrial designers of our time. And judging from the outpouring of loving tributes to the man, he was also one of the best liked.

The New York Times, Fast Company Magazine, and the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum have all posted moving remembrances by Moggridge’s colleagues, praising his wisdom, humor, and intuition.

“Bill brought humanity to design,” Tim Brown, the CEO and President of IDEO, a design firm Moggridge co-founded in 1991, told the New York Times. “He was curious and playful, inquisitive about people and always ready to break out into a funny song to ensure no one took themselves too seriously.”

Moggridge may be best known for designing the first commercial laptop computer, the GRiD Compass, in 1980. (The Compass is pictured below left and, below right, with astronaut John Creighton on a NASA mission in 1986.) The design is said to have provided the basic template for all contemporary laptops. Time magazine called the GRiD Compass “one of the most clever pieces of engineering in computing history.”

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Moggridge admitted as much in an interview with Smithsonian magazine. "I can't see the laptop ever being completely replaced," he said.

Moggridge’s myriad other accomplishments include writing and designing the 2006 book Designing Interactions, a contemporary design Bible featuring interviews with 40 influential designers. He is also credited with creating designs for the insulin pen and an early version of the Apple mouse. For his contributions to the advancement of design, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Design Awards, as well as the prestigious Prince Phillip Designers Prize in 2010.

Raised in London and based in Silicon Valley for much of his career, Moggridge still managed to leave his mark on New York City. In 2010, he was picked to head the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum, located in the grand Carnegie Mansion on the Upper East Side. He was the first designer chosen for the job. And despite a lack of museum and fundraising experience, Moggridge’s insight, connections and managerial savvy helped usher in the first stages of the museum’s ambitious $64 million renovation.

Phase One of the renovation was successfully completed in 2011, adding a new library, staff and administrative offices, among other additions. Phase Two, the renovation of the mansion itself, is currently underway, and scheduled for completion in 2014. But more importantly, perhaps, Moggridge helped rejuvenate the museum’s somewhat dusty reputation, balancing its historic collection of textiles and jewelry with his own cutting-edge design sense.

“I really thought my main goal in life was to design stuff,” he told the Times in 2010, shortly after assuming the post. “To have a national opportunity on a much greater scale is very exciting.”

Fast Company, which recently published a profile of Moggridge, "Mister Moggridge Has Mad Ambition," has posted a list of advice Moggridge imparted to Debbie Millman, the President of the Design Group of Sterling Brands. That list is reproduced below:

On Design:
"I don’t think that anyone has really told (people) what design is. It doesn’t occur to most people that everything is designed--that every building and everything they touch in the world is designed. Even foods are designed now. So in the process of helping people understand this, making them more aware of the fact that the world around us is something that somebody has control of, perhaps they can feel some sense of control, too. I think that’s a nice ambition."

On People:
"I’m interested in why people like things and what gives them long-term rewards, what gives them pleasure, what excites them. Ultimately, it is about the effect that design has on anybody or somebody."

On Technology:
"It’s interesting that as so many things change around us, the evolution of technologies and social relationships and so on seem to change so fast. But that principle, start with people, you can rely on it."

On Globalization:
"Globalization has shown us the effect of industrialization on the world is a planetary affair. We can’t just think about designing materials, we have to include the entire planet."

On His Work:
"If there is a simple, easy principle that binds everything I have done together, it is my interest in people and their relationship to things."