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Laptop designer, IDEO founder Moggridge dead at 69

By: Rhoda Miel

September 10, 2012

PALO ALTO, CALIF. (Sept. 10, 4:45 p.m. ET) — Bill Moggridge, the industrial designer who designed the first laptop computer and was part of the movement to create tighter connections between the plastics and design industries, has died.

Moggridge was a co-founder of the global design group IDEO, based in Palo Alto, Calif. – a company that has worked with multiple plastics companies since it launched in 1991. He joined the Smithsonian Institution’s New York-based Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in 2010, helping it tell the story of design to a wider audience.

The 69-year-old died of cancer on Sept. 8, Cooper-Hewitt officials said.

In the late 1970s, Moggidge was hired by computer maker GRiD Systems Corp. to design the packaging for a portable computer. Moggridge created a clamshell shape, with a screen on one side and keyboard on the other – the first portable computer to look like today’s typical laptop.

“There are very few opportunities a designer has in his career to do something that is truly precedent setting,” Moggridge said in a video memorial posted by Cooper-Hewitt on its website.

Though the “lightweight” computer weighed in at about 10 pounds and cost more than $8,000 – and GRiD itself was later purchased by Tandy Corp. – it led to more work by Moggridge with computer makers to further develop computers using different materials and new ways of interacting with computers.

“When I had an actual prototype and I took it home, I was amazed that everything I’d done wasn’t interesting or important, and the thing that was really important was what was happening between me and the software behind the screen.”

When he cofounded IDEO with David Kelley and Mike Nutall, Moggridge expanded the idea of what a design firm could do by bringing in anthropologists, engineers and others who would look to how people used the final product.

IDEO General Manager Tom Kelley noted that those anthropologists studied the way children brushed their teeth, research that helped designers create a children’s toothbrush for Oral-B Laboratories with a “big, squishy” handle that was the best selling children’s toothbrush for more than a year.

Since its founding, the design group has worked with office furniture manufacturers, surgical equipment makers, sporting goods companies, home electronic giants and created a range of products sold worldwide.

About 10 years ago, Moggridge helped connect IDEO with Eastman Chemical Co. as the Kingsport, Tenn.-based resin maker was making its initial moves to reach out to the industrial design community.