Gaylon White: Moggridge leaves a story to remember

By Gaylon White
Columnist

Published: August 19, 2013 9:04 am ET
Updated: August 19, 2013 10:42 am ET

Gaylon H. White

Image By: Gaylon H. White Gaylon H. White

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Topics Sustainability, Design, Industrial
Companies & Associations Industrial Designers Society of America

The poet Jim Harrison wrote, "Death steals everything except our stories."

I was reminded of this recently as I listened to audio tapes of an interview I did with Bill Moggridge in September 2007 soon after the publication of his Designing Interactions, a book-DVD set that combines traditional print and new digital media. Moggridge died last September at the age of 69.

Hear White interview Bill Moggridge at www.plasticsnews.com/moggridge-audio.

With his white beard and British accent, Moggridge looked and sounded like the design guru he was to others. His voice oozed with credibility, his words thoughtfully selected and delivered to create the greatest impact. He had the ability to make the most complex issues easy to understand. Any discussion of sustainability, Moggridge said, should start with a basic question: Where does it come from and where does it go? "A lot of big companies are very sophisticated in their understanding of issues of sustainability. What they don't have is a culture that knows how to ask the really simple question."

Materials companies, for example, could make a valuable contribution by providing designers information that gives a full picture of the issue. "If a company is able to instigate something where every product that they make has a story that tells people its sustainability impact, it would be a huge, wonderful thing."

Moggridge, of course, was always ahead of his time. He designed the first laptop computer, the GRID Compass, and pioneered interaction design as a discipline. He was one of the founders of IDEO, the world's most successful and influential industrial design firm.

On becoming director of the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum in 2010 he said, "I'm here and we're going to make design a national mandate."

The 766-page book and accompanying DVD may well be the most lasting and powerful legacy he left us. He played the role of journalist and videographer in doing the 40 interviews for the book. "I didn't separate the writing from the filming, the video editing and graphic design and the collecting of photographs," he explained. "I did all of that. It took me 4,400 hours."

That's roughly 183 days or six months (based on 24/7 working). "What I wanted to do was not spend more than 40 percent of my time on the book in order to give 60 percent of my duties to IDEO. I kept a spreadsheet and looked at my percentage and kept it right at 40 percent."

When Moggridge showed up to interview John Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design, Maeda asked where his video crew was. "It's me," he said. "And I'm also the audio person and the makeup person. So can you please lean forward so I can work on the shine on your forehead with my makeup kit?"

This kind of humor, humility, precision and shared history enabled Moggridge to get inside the heads and hearts of the interaction design and engineering heroes who invented the digital stuff that permeates our daily lives. "I thought it would be a great opportunity to actually meet the real people and have them tell the stories, and I'm more of the journalist or the translator."

Moggridge also envisioned the book as a beacon for how different media can be combined to communicate more effectively. "I feel a lot of sympathy with book publishers because they're sort of under pressure and a lot of that is due to the fact that the new media are kind of impinging on the traditional media. And I believe that it's possible that new combinations could make everybody better — better for the reader, better for the publisher."

In addition to the book's DVD, the video interviews can be downloaded by chapter for free on the Internet. "There's 10 times as much material in the book as there's in the DVD. But what the visual medium does — the movie media — it allows you to get an impression of the person being interviewed in a much more intimate way. It also allows you to show moving examples, interactive examples, including the time connection, which is really difficult to do on the printed page. So if you combine those assets, you find there's a much richer communication of the content because of the combination of media."

The book confirmed a core belief around people and prototypes that Moggridge and IDEO practiced and preached. "It seemed that success was always built around understanding what people want and who they are and why they are doing things – the people part. And, then, try out concepts in a prototypical way ... as quickly as possible. So you've got a lot of chances to improve or fail before you move to the final solution. When one of those aspects was missing, there were a lot of failure stories."

For Moggridge, design thinking is a powerful set of tools. "You can solve problems in a much more successful way if you use some of the methodology that's been common to design for a long period. To me, it's like harnessing the power of the subconscious."

The conscious part of the mind "is like the bit of the iceberg that sticks out of the water," Moggridge said. "It's a tiny bit. There's always stuff underneath the water that's like your subconscious mind. In a lot of methodologies operated by business and academia, there are people only really talking about the conscious mind. They're talking about explicit knowledge: 'Don't give me any designs unless you can explain them and fully support them. I want all the evidence.' And that is fairly limiting."

"Every form of creativity is about that subconscious zone. It's tacit knowledge. It's subjective. It's qualitative. Science is based on that. The link which allows a scientist to come up with a new concept is, of course, intuitive. Then they have to go ahead and prove it with their conscious minds."

Design thinking gives companies a set of tools and processes that "allow you to understand how to use your subconscious in a way that really yields a result. And our methods of people-prototyping are just ways that you can harness that. If you get good at it, and you put teams of people together who've got expertise in it, you'll move along much faster. You'll be more successful. You'll be more competitive because you've allowed design techniques and design thinking to inform your process."

Moggridge left behind more stories than any one book can contain. But the content and format of Designing Interactions makes it a cookbook for success — a powerful story on its own and one to remember.

About author Gaylon White

Gaylon H. White is a writer, storyteller and communications consultant.

White retired in 2012 from Eastman Chemical Co., where he was director of design programs. Under his leadership, Eastman had launched the Eastman Innovation Lab website — EastmanInnovation Lab.com — for designers and brand owners. The website, introduced in March 2004, received a gold-level 2005 Industrial Design Excellence Award (IDEA) for digital media and interfaces.

In September 2009, the Innovation Lab launched a highly acclaimed "Design Insights" video series that later prompted Executive Travel magazine to feature Eastman in an article titled "Top Game-Changing Companies."

White received a personal recognition award from the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) in 2010 for his support of design education and being a "great builder of bridges" between the manufacturing and design communities. Past recipients of this prestigious award include leading designers and advocates of design, such as Sam Farber of Oxo; Bruce Nussbaum, then-assistant managing editor of BusinessWeek; Victor Papaneck, designer and sustainability advocate; and Herman Miller, designer of the Aeron chair. In 2011, White was awarded an honorary lifetime membership in the IDSA.

The Los Angeles-born White graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1967 with a bachelor's degree in journalism-broadcasting. He was a sportswriter for the Denver Post, Arizona Republic and Oklahoma Journal before entering the corporate world and writing speeches for top corporate executives at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Control Data Corp. and Eastman.

He has written some 80 articles for national and international publications, ranging from travel to sports to business-related issues. More than a dozen of his speeches have been reprinted in Executive Speeches and Vital Speeches of the Day magazines. The 2011 spring edition of "Innovation," the quarterly publication of IDSA, features an article by White titled, "When Worlds Collide," describing Eastman's design journey. He and his wife, Mary, live in Kingsport, Tennessee.

On retiring from Eastman early last year, White wrote a book about the 1956 Los Angeles Angels of the old Pacific Coast League, a team of castoffs and kids built around a bulky, beer-loving basher of home runs named Steve Bilko. Titled The Bilko Athletic Club, the book will be published by Scarecrow Press with an expected release date of spring 2014.


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Gaylon White: Moggridge leaves a story to remember

By Gaylon White
Columnist

Published: August 19, 2013 9:04 am ET
Updated: August 19, 2013 10:42 am ET

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