This is from 2012 | 3 minute read

The Impact of Rowena Reed Kostellow

Culture comes from a number of forces intertwining; these include technological advancement, politics, mass media, and design—and design education. One of the most interesting, yet subtle, historic paths of influence in design can be traced to a single person: Rowena Reed Kostellow. She was the Chair of the Industrial Design department at Pratt after helping to create the first ID program at Carnegie Mellon (then Carnegie Tech), and she was the driving force behind the study of form. This program taught: Rectilinear volumes, Curvilinear volumes, Rectilinear and Curvilinear, Composition of Fragments, Planar Construction, Lines in Space, Construction, Convexity, Concavity, Abstract Analysis, and Space Design.

She taught these skills to designers like Jay Doblin, who went on to teach at IIT and then form Doblin Group; Marc Harrison, who pioneered Universal Design and taught at RISD; Craig Vogel, who taught at Carnegie Mellon (and who is now the director of the Center for Design Research and Innovation at DAAP in Cincinnati); and Read Viemeister, who founded the Department of Industrial Design at the Dayton Art Institute.

That's an interesting history lesson, but for me, it becomes more interesting when you consider that:

  • Jay Doblin taught Jim Hennessey (who co-authored a number of books with Victor Papanek) and then went on to work with and influence Larry Keeley
  • Marc Harrison taught for thirty years at RISD
  • Craig Vogel taught at CMU for fourteen years. He was one of my professors, and also taught, among others, April Starr (now teaching at IIT), Justin Maguire (ECD at frog), Dino Sanchez (ACD at frog), Katie Minardo Scott (Director, MAYA), Justin Petro (President, Thinktiv), and Chris Kasabach (Director, Thomas J. Watson Foundation).
  • Read Viemeister's son Tucker founded Smart Design, opened frog's New York office, and acted as EVP of Razorfish.

In a way, Reed's form program has become so engrained in the fabric of professional designers that you can trace her influence now to each Foundations program in the country, at schools like SCAD, RISD, Art Center, Pratt, CMU, DAAP, and more. Consider the output of each designer, trained in a particular theory and approach, and then play out how that influence is embedded in the products, systems, services they design. And—most importantly—think of how that philosophy or influence is embedded in the design pedagogy of design education, once these designers go on to teach others. I can trace my curriculum at Austin Center for Design directly to the influences of four people, all of whom were teaching at Carnegie Mellon at the same time. Richard Buchanan, now at Case, taught the underlying theory for the way I think of design: as a form of rhetoric, and as a temperament of technology. Herb Simon heavily influenced the way I consider problem solving and computing. Bonnie John stressed the humanization of engineering culture, and Craig Vogel taught an appreciation of form, culture, and the lasting cultural impact of mass production.

I find the spheres of influence in design education fascinating, mostly because I realize the tremendous power of design in shaping the world around us. That really means that a single designer carries a tremendous amount of responsibility, and that means that design educators had better do a damn good job.

Read more about Rowena Reed Kostellow here.

Originally posted on Thu, 24 May 2012

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