R. Craig Miller

Curator; Writer; Lecturer / Architecture; Product Design / United States / Indianapolis Museum of Art

Books Every Product Designer Should Read

. . . A thoughtful curator—and designer, for that matter—must intrinsically know the history of design: the artists, manufacturers, institutions, and museums that have created and shaped the field in which we work. Books are among the most important entrees into that larger world. . . . View the complete text
17 books
Hans Wichmann

A defining European curator, Hans Wichmann built one of the premier collections of modern design at Die Neue Sammlung in Munich. These holdings were not only international in scope but also reflected a new, more encompassing interpretation of modern design that would have a profound effect on the field.

Edgar Kaufmann Jr.

In many respects, Kaufmann personified the role of a modern design curator in American museums in the 20th century, one who was highly visible and influential in shaping public taste. His advocacy of the concept of “good design” profoundly shaped MoMA and the ideals of modern design at mid-century.

Erik Zahle Editor

Now largely forgotten, this early publication opened my eyes to the extraordinary achievements of Nordic design in the two decades after World War II. Rarely have so many countries produced so many first-rate designers in such a broad array of design media. It was a brief but golden age for Scandinavia.

Reyner Banham

Banham was a provocative writer who constantly questioned the “myths” of modern design, offering challenging new interpretations. This ability to question and rethink is an intellectual task that each generation must address, to be able to move forward, linking the present to the past from fresh perspectives.

Perhaps the last epochal design show and catalogue to be produced by MoMA. The exhibition not only anointed Italy as the leader in design in the second half of the 20th century, but it also christened a pantheon of Italian designers and manufacturers who would ultimately lead contemporary design in a multitude of new directions.

Nikolaus Pevsner

This iconic book chronicles the formative development of modern design from the mid-19th century into the early 20th century. While it is now easy to criticize or dismiss Pevsner as a historian, he was one of the “gods” who helped create and define modern design. One of his most important achievements was that he was not only able to discern what was important in contemporary design, but he also had the exceptional and rare ability to simultaneously put it into a larger historical context, a feat to which many aspire but at which few succeed.

Martin Eidelberg Editor

The Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Montreal was among the museums in North America that—following MoMA's lead—embraced a broad and what would be influential view of the scope of modern design. In the early 1980s, the museum began an ambitious program of acquisitions, exhibitions, and publications. It quickly became an important design center and showed that it was still possible to build a major collection in the late 20th century.

Le Corbusier

In the 1920s, Corbu broke with the Beaux-Arts tradition and helped to shape a new modernist style. He also reinvigorated the architectural treatise, once again, as a powerful manifesto that could change every aspect of the design arts.

Yvonne Brunhammer

By the 1960s, a number of European museums had begun to usurp the leadership role in defining modern design. Curators such as Yvonne Brunhammer transformed the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris into powerhouses, institutions that rewrote the history of modern design and that mounted major exhibitions and produced catalogues that defined contemporary European design.

With his two colleagues, Venturi reasserted the importance of the vernacular and showed that the ordinary can be transformed into the extraordinary, again pushing the boundaries of modern design.

Penny Sparke

Design history is still a relatively new field, and Sparke is one of the most original and influential European design historians of her generation, who has fundamentally changed our way of seeing and understanding design. This book is one of her earliest publications but remains essential reading for anyone in the field.

Henry-Russell Hitchcock

Like Nikolaus Pevsner, Hitchcock was one of the most influential historians of his generation. It was not only what he wrote but how he thought that was so important to students. Certainly one of Hitchcock’s finest attributes was his catholic taste: he had the discerning ability to see what was equally significant in “conservative” as well as “avant-garde” work, an important lesson aptly illustrated for a young designer or historian in this early publication.

Fifty years after Le Corbusier wrote Towards a New Architecture, Venturi likewise turned the design field on its head, arguing that modernism and modern were not synonymous. He offered a new, more encompassing vision of modern design that would bestir the field for almost a half century.

Barbara Radice

Ettore Sottsass was one of the most radical and influential designers in the second half of the 20th century. Through groups such as Memphis, he created a new conceptual and visual language for design, one that is now called postmodernism (until a more apropos term is invented). Radice’s publication is a powerful manifesto of Sottsass’s polemics for this alternative international style.

Henry-Russell Hitchcock
Philip Johnson

One of the most influential exhibitions and catalogues of the 20th century, The International Style not only introduced modernism to an American audience, but it also established modernism as the “holy grail” for The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, a conceptual approach that the institution has embraced for almost three-quarters of a century.

Kathryn Hiesinger Editor

The Scandinavian and American hegemony of contemporary design was brief, and this pioneering publication chronicled the reemergence of Europe—particularly Italy—as a leading force in the second half of the 20th century. Design Since 1945 is also unusual in that Kathryn Hiesinger chose designers—versus curators or historians—in shaping this important exhibition (designed by George Nelson, no less) and accompanying catalogue.

Robert J. Clark

Along with Scandinavia, the United States was the other important center in postwar design. Under Eliel Saarinen, the Cranbrook Academy of Art offered an alternative design philosophy to the Bauhaus teaching methods that prevailed at schools like Harvard and the Illinois Institute of Technology. Cranbrook, in many respects, produced the first generation of American designers that were truly of the first rank—towering figures like Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, Florence Knoll, and Jack Lenor Larsen who made the United States into a powerhouse in international design. This catalogue (which accompanied an exhibition) was among the first publications to document this important chapter in modern American design.

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