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Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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Every year, The Henry Ford partners with the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) on their International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA). The Henry Ford receives and processes the entries, and then hosts dozens of jurors—including The Henry Ford’s own Vice President of Historical Resources and Chief Curator Marc Greuther. Those products that win become part of the permanent collections of The Henry Ford.

Black tablet computer with keyboard and stand
Google Pixel Slate, IDEA bronze award winner in the consumer technology category, 2019. / THF185319

While asking Greuther and IDSA Executive Director Chris Livaudais about the relationship between the two institutions, we also took the opportunity to ask them about the judging process. In addition, Greuther shared the rationale behind some of his “Curator’s Choice” award picks from previous years.

Do you think the concerns of the IDEA jury have shifted over the years? If so, how?

Chris Livaudais: The IDEA jury rotates each year, but it is always composed of designers who are at the top of their field. In many cases, their work is what drives our profession forward and sets the bench other designers follow. As such, the interests of the jury do tend to shift with current trends or conversations within the industry. Sustainability and circular design are huge areas of interest right now, for example. To counter this, IDEA uses the same core judging criteria [see box below] each year. This consistency helps keep things rigorous, while still providing a little room for interpretation and influence from current forces impacting design.

 IDEA Judging Criteria
Design Innovation: How new is the product or service? What critical problem is it solving? How clever is the solution? Does it advance a product category?

Benefit to User: How are users’ lives improved through this design? Can they accomplish things not previously possible?

Benefit to Client/Brand: What is the business impact of this design? How has leveraging design proven to be a key market differentiator?

Benefit to Society: Does the solution consider social and cultural factors? Is it designed/manufactured with sustainable methods/materials?

Appropriate Aesthetics: Does the form of the design adequately relate to its use/function? Are the colors/materials/finishes used befitting its purpose?

From your perspective, what are IDSA jurors looking for?

Marc Greuther: I think over time, I’ve seen two distinct lenses that get played out in the jurying process. One is rooted in “good design is good business” and responsibility. So it’s about utility, user interface, user experience. It’s about effectiveness, about durability. It’s about the use of appropriate materials.

The other has got much more to do with industrial design as a discipline and a certain kind of design purity, and it gets to how well-finished something is. Where are the part lines on there? How do dissimilar materials join in a way that’s pleasing? If you’re in the wrong mindset, you can start looking at it as being incredibly fussy and overly judgmental, but it’s really the design discipline’s roots in craft.

Gloves that are half yellow and half orange on back and gray with white pattern of circles or gears on palms
NordicPul: all-weather women's work gloves, IDEA bronze award winner in the student designs category, 2010. / THF154924

Part of what IDSA’s done well is put together a jury that has a wide range of backgrounds. People who know about assistive technology, the medical arena, gamers, and all the rest of it. That’s part of the secret of its effectiveness—ensuring that such a wide range has got a presence.

How do you approach the Curator’s Choice?

Marc Greuther: I’ve never tried to take it on as a kind of contrarian, but I’ve definitely seen things where I’ve felt like, “Holy cow, that’s been disregarded or knocked out of the spotlight for pretty poor reasons, and it needs to be rendered visible.”

I have the great advantage of not having to ask permission for the ones I award. I just try to ensure that my winners are thinking about the use of good materials and the appropriate deployment of objects: their sustainability, their usability, their understandability. It’s an interesting motley crew of things.

IDEA Curator’s Choice Award Selections

Hydropack Self-Hydrating Drink Pouch

Dark-skinned child in t-shirt holds a packet containing pink liquid to mouth
Photo courtesy Hydration Technology Innovations LLC

Year: 2011
Description: Water-filtering pouch that becomes a flavored drink rich in electrolytes
Designed by: HTI Water

Why Greuther picked it: “This was for use in disaster situations to purify water. It hadn’t been given the recognition I thought it deserved. There were some designers who said it wasn’t designed. That, to me, was of interest, because sometimes you don’t need to design any more. Why? It was that notion of design almost getting out of the way. It’s about exercising restraint. Less is better in this instance.”


Dark-skinned woman in black-and-white zebra print dress and headwrap stirs a pot over a portable stove in front of a wall of reeds or sticks
Photo courtesy of McKinsey Design

Year: 2012
Description: Wood-burning stove for use in developing countries as a replacement for cooking over an open fire
Designed by: Ergonomidesign, Mårten Andrén, Håkan Bergkvist, Jonas Dolk, August Michael, Stefan Strandberg and Elisabeth Ramel-Wåhrberg for Creative Entrepreneur Solutions

Why Greuther picked it: “This was about cleaner, more efficient use of existing resources in places where people would be improvising all manner of ways of cooking or heating. It wasn’t trying to be the complete solution. It was partially reliant on charity and the local skills of the users. I liked that it seemed hackable and that people could bootleg this thing. It was about effecting change.”

Sonos SUB

Square black device with gray-rimmed rectangular cutout in middle
Photo by Dave Lauridsen

Year: 2013
Description: Wireless subwoofer
Designed by: Mieko Kusano and Rob Lambourne of Sonos Inc., and Wai-Loong Lim of Y Studios LLC for Sonos Inc.

Why Greuther picked it: “Sonos had committed themselves to backwards compatibility, and they were building things that had enough redundancy in them that new functionality could play out in them. The SUB sounds really good. It’s a very enigmatic looking thing, and it was designed to work with their earliest equipment. It’s got kind of a Kubrick-like quality to it.”


White box with text label on side and labeled packet extending from top
Photo courtesy of Pillpack

Year: 2014
Description: Delivery and management service for people with multiple medications
Designed by: TJ Parker and Elliot Cohen of PillPack, and Jennifer Sarich-Harvey, Sophy Lee, Katherine Londergan and Gen Suzuki of IDEO

Why Greuther picked it: “This is rooted in my sense that as medications have proliferated as conditions become treatable in one way or another, the complexities of managing those medications almost exponentially increase, and the chances of missing a dose or peculiar interactions increase as well. This was a way of managing that complexity. It’s almost infrastructural.”

Flip Reel by Squiddies

Gray and blue plastic item shaped like a camera lens
Photo courtesy of Tiller Design

Year: 2015
Description: Handline fishing reel
Designed by: Brandon Liew, Robert Tiller and Lisa Gyecsek of Tiller Design for Squiddies Pty. Ltd.

Why Greuther picked it: “This was an interesting use of new materials. It was very minimal. The irony for me is that I don’t fish. I’ve never fished. I never intend to. But I did like the idea that this was something that could be easily pocketed, casually used. I like that notion of design that just slips into its place, because it’s so usable and so readily apparent in its usage.”


Bassinet with hairpin metal legs, wooden base, and clear mesh sides
Photo by Travis Rathbone

Year: 2018
Description: Robotic bassinet
Designed by: Yves Béhar, Qin Li, Michelle Dawson and fuseproject design team, and Dr. Harvey Karp of Happiest Baby

Why Greuther picked it: “It’s a beautiful object. Part of what I liked about it was that it was robotic. When you look at robotics from a cultural standpoint, it’s almost always very threatening. This is robotic technology, but it’s designed to take care of newborns, something incredibly vulnerable, so the robotic element is appropriately stated and deeply camouflaged. I thought that was an interesting kind of paradox.”

Bernie Brooks is Collections Specialist at The Henry Ford. This post was adapted from an article first published in the June–December 2020 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

International Design Excellence Awards, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, The Henry Ford Magazine, by Bernie Brooks, design

Every year in the spring, the boxes begin to arrive from all over the world. Just a few at first…. Then more and more, day after day. They are carted from the loading dock down a long hallway and into The Henry Ford’s Main Storage Building. There, they will fill dozens of shelves and tables. In each, a product: computers and smartphones, sporting goods and medical supplies, appliances and tools, all manner of things solving all manner of problems.

Gray fabric-covered goggles with closure, pictured with box and oval-shaped accessory
Google "Daydream View" virtual reality headset, IDEA gold award winner in the consumer technology category, 2017. / THF174007

These are finalists in the Industrial Designers Society of America’s International Design Excellence Awards (known as IDSA and IDEA, respectively). Over the next several weeks, museum staff will process and sort them into 19 categories ranging from Automotive & Transportation and Service Design to Social Impact. Eventually, 41 esteemed jurors—representing a microcosm of the wide-ranging practices and interests of the industrial design community—descend upon the entries. The best will be declared winners and accessioned into The Henry Ford’s permanent collection, as they have been since 2010.

This ongoing partnership was the result of a 2009 meeting former Chief Historian Christian Øverland and current Vice President of Historical Resources and Chief Curator Marc Greuther from The Henry Ford took with Clive Roux, IDSA’s executive director at the time. At the meeting, Øverland and Greuther pitched the idea that there could be a relationship between The Henry Ford and IDSA based on the latter’s yearly IDEA judging process. The storied professional association agreed. Greuther was asked to select the recipient of a Curator’s Choice Award each year and was eventually given a spot on the jury.

Portrait of man in black leather jacket sitting in workshop with window behind him
The Henry Ford’s Vice President of Historical Resources and Chief Curator Marc Greuther. / Photo by Roy Ritchie.

Below, Marc Greuther and IDSA’s current executive director, Chris Livaudais, answer some questions. We talked to Greuther about The Henry Ford’s relationship with IDSA, IDEA, and curating through the eyes of designers. Livaudais provides his own perspective on IDSA’s partnership with The Henry Ford, how IDSA helps to promote sustainability in industrial design, and more.

Circular portrait of man's head and shoulders in dark frame
IDSA’s Executive Director Chris Livaudais.

Why did The Henry Ford’s relationship with IDSA come about?

Marc Greuther: It partly came about because of a deeper institutional interest in design. That heightened a lot in the ‘80s under [former president of The Henry Ford] Harold Skramstad, who’d done work with the Eames Office. There was a deeper sense that The Henry Ford had good design holdings that got to the origins of the industrial design profession—and we wanted to continue building those collections.

I think a lot of how I’d looked at it at the time related to the proliferation of designers and design in everyday life. I wanted to ensure that we could stay current but also work more closely with designers, partly to get their take on things but also to make them aware of us as a resource. Unlike many museums, we didn’t just collect spectacular things to put on a plinth. We were quite eager to collect prototypical material and process-related material. It could be drawings, sketches, false starts, dead ends. We were aware that designers could look at that and it would be useful.

Silver and white comma-shaped device, coin battery, and cardboard and plastic blister packaging containing text
Starkey Laboratories S Series behind-the-ear hearing aid, IDEA silver award winner in the medical & scientific products category, 2010. / THF166375

It was based on real mutual benefit. Because design is a discipline that touches people’s lives, IDSA was interested in being more visible, so their work was better understood. Industrial design for many companies was still seen as a styling exercise. But the design discipline had evolved to a point where, no, there’s human factors—the benefits of technologies can be rendered in more usable ways if people’s needs are being better anticipated. Designers are intermediaries for those kinds of processes.

How has the partnership with The Henry Ford benefited IDSA?

Chris Livaudais: IDEA [celebrated] its 40-year anniversary [in 2020], making it one of the oldest design awards competitions around. Our collaboration with The Henry Ford provides an additional level of credibility to the program and helps preserve the legacy of design’s impact on our society. All winning IDEA products can be entered into the museum’s permanent collection, so this is a unique and huge incentive for designers to enter their work into the competition.

White rectangular device with a smiley face and two cords, one white and one black
Model of "Pico - The Projector Camera," IDEA bronze award winner in the student designs category, 2010. / THF171351

How does the IDSA collaboration relate to and benefit The Henry Ford’s mission and collections?

Marc Greuther: We’ve been able to acquire items that we might not necessarily know about—because of the markets they serve—or even be able to encounter. I think if we can build our collections in a literal sense, we’re always going to be able to get things out in front of the public that serve our mission to inspire people through America’s traditions of ingenuity, resourcefulness, and innovation.

The vast majority of the designers we’ve met are interested in the design discipline as a way of making the world a better place. And that’s a good subtext for our mission. We’re not simply trying to document new or novel things; we’re looking at the deployment of human creativity and imagination.

White container with red "X" brace pattern and black handle; accessories pictured next to it
Stone Cold Systems ice-less vaccine refrigerator, IDEA bronze award winner in the social impact design category, 2018. You can get two curatorial perspectives about this artifact here. / THF185488

One of the jurors once said that one of the things he loves about going to the IDSA conference is that you’re hanging out with optimists. I think that’s another slant on our mission, which is optimistic. It’s that sense that things can be improved. I think that’s one of the best readings of how Henry Ford collected for the institution and how we’ve built off that.

Collecting via IDEA seems to create the potential for incredible contrast between the totally new and untested and the iconic artifacts already in the collection. It allows us to play with that edge, because we’re doing it through an industrial designer’s eyes. That’s why I value some of the earlier smartphones and gadgetry that have come in. You look at it and think, “Wow, I wouldn’t collect that now. That’s such a flash in the pan.” And it’s a good job that I didn’t collect it then with a future perspective of my own, because I would’ve been wrong. But it was the best guess of an industrial designer, and that has value.

Compact wheeled vacuum pictured with a box and many accessories
LG Electronics "CordZero C5" cordless canister vacuum cleaner, IDEA bronze award winner in the home & bath category, 2015. / THF176286

One of the first exhibits I enjoyed at The Henry Ford when I first visited in 1986 was called Yesterday’s Tomorrows. It was all about past views of what the future would be like. That applies to some of the IDSA materials we’ve got. It’s that notion of “Journalism is the first draft of history,” right? It’s going to get superseded pretty quick, but it’s still got value. Our IDSA collections are the first draft of an industrial designer’s sense of what’s important.

When you’re talking about an institution that has the kind of collections that The Henry Ford has, the relationship with IDSA is an incredible asset. In 10 years, if one IDEA award winner is a huge success, the museum might have the prototype already.

Marc Greuther: Or we might have the very first production model. It gets to the fact that the institution is obviously very much wanting to see things through a lens of innovation, and innovation takes place across all of our collections, but it’s apparent in some more than others, simply because of the nature of what’s going on technologically in the world.

It is interesting to think about how IDEA has grown collections that seem incredibly workaday. If you think about the impact of ergonomics and human factors research into the design of handles for ladles and traditional kitchen utensils, that grows our collection in those areas that seem utterly everyday. That’s where design is an interesting discipline. New materials come along, or new knowledge about the way the body works or doesn’t work. All the work that’s been done by companies like OXO Good Grips is deeply informed by research into arthritis and rheumatism, and just the sheer inappropriateness of so many everyday utensil designs.

Sleek black plastic and silver metal device with folded instruction sheet
OXO SteeL CorkPull, IDEA bronze award winner in the home furnishings category, 2010. / THF166376

As someone who’s been on the jury for many years now, you get these things that come up—brand-spanking-new, out-of-the-box office concepts—and you’ll look at it and say, “Yeah, OK. I saw that in a Robert Propst drawing from 1962.” It’s good to be able to wield that historical perspective and say, “Hey, you know what? That’s been noticed before, and this is how it played out.”

How does IDSA hope to promote the continued growth of sustainable design practices going forward?

Chris Livaudais: IDSA has long been active in promoting responsible and sustainable design practices to the design community. In 2014, for example, we supported the development and distribution of Okala Practitioner, a comprehensive resource for designers on materials and best practices related to the ecological impact and footprint of a given product or service. We also have an Ecodesign special interest section, which allows subject matter experts in this space to connect and generate content for publication throughout IDSA’s networks. It is very important for us as a professional association to advocate for this topic and to show that having responsibly designed products can in fact be positive for our planet, the people who use the products and the bottom line of the business.

Bernie Brooks is Collections Specialist at The Henry Ford. This post was adapted from an article first published in the June–December 2020 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

International Design Excellence Awards, The Henry Ford Magazine, design, by Bernie Brooks, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford

Co-founder Andy Cruz shares how an enthusiast’s disposition and a willingness to experiment helped build his font factory, House Industries



Even if you’ve never heard of House Industries, it’s safe to say you’ve seen its fonts and graphic design work. They’re everywhere, from drive-thru menus to record sleeves to children’s toy blocks to the signage associated with the modern-day burger joint Shake Shack.

House’s output is a connective tissue that runs between such cultural touchstones as hot-rod hero Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, iconic French fashion house and saddlery Hermès, midcentury designers Alexander Girard and Charles and Ray Eames, and renowned pottery and tile manufacturer Heath Ceramics.

House Industries was founded in Delaware in 1993 by graphic designers Andy Cruz and Rich Roat, when, in response to the overwhelmingly corporate clientele in Wilmington, the pair decided to develop their custom lettering into fonts they could sell as products. This additional income acted as a buffer, affording Cruz and Roat a certain measure of freedom when selecting clients and collaborations. Taking visual cues from their various influences and interests — hot rods, skateboarding, punk rock, cycling and modern design, among others — House Industries developed a reputation for enthusiastic experimentation and an idiosyncratic approach to type that has only grown over the years.

Soon much of their work and the stories behind it will be published in the book The Process Is the Inspiration and presented to the public in an exhibition in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. While preparing for the exhibition, Cruz took some time out of his busy schedule to speak with The Henry Ford Magazine about the underlying philosophy behind House Industries and its approach to collaboration.


DID YOU KNOW? House Industries delivers its space-age 3009 font set in a die-cut spaceship reminiscent of a ’50s sci-fi film.

THF Magazine:
Can you talk about the general philosophy behind House Industries?

Cruz: We built House on the simple idea of incorporating personal interests into our work.

The trick was figuring out how to make our hobbies work hard for us, instead of working hard to support our hobbies. We tried to create a world at House where our curiosities and interests help fuel our business and personal lives and created a sense of purpose. So that’s one idealistic pillar of House Industries. Reality eventually kicked in, and we had to get down to figuring out how to apply those interests — that acquired knowledge — to the things that we were making. It started out as fonts, and then our design attention deficit disorder kicked in. Soon we were making clothing and then that became ceramics and then that became bicycles. So it’s always moving. It’s slightly unpredictable. But the cornerstone of House is following our interests and self-led learning.


A DEEP DESIGN DIVE: House Industries spent four years researching the work of designer Alexander Girard, traveling to Germany, Michigan and New Mexico in the process. The result was the Girard collection of fonts and other items capturing the designer’s folk art sensibilities, plus a book documenting the project. House Industries also did its homework when iconic luxury brand Hermès commissioned the studio to “dress” its flagship Tokyo store with its signature alphabetical flair.

THF Magazine:
The spirit of collaboration is present and a constant throughout House Industries’ body of work. How do you approach collaboration?

Cruz: A lot of it is mutual appreciation, if you will. I think of the Heath stuff, where we just went out there for a factory tour with no credentials — just sort of rolled in as tourists. I put up a shot of the men’s bathroom [on our blog], where they had some really cool tiles, and [Catherine Bailey, co-owner of Heath Ceramics] reaches out and says, “I wish I’d known you were here. I’ve been following you guys for a long time. Let’s try and figure something out.”

Sure enough, we figured something out. Again, that wasn’t a calculated business maneuver. It was just one of those things where, “Hey, I’m digging what you guys are doing; you dig what we do; let’s put the chocolate in the peanut butter and hope other people like how it tastes.”

The best work always comes out when that relationship is there. When they trust us and we trust them, we end up with something that everyone is excited to be a part of.

THF Magazine:
It’s interesting the way you can thread the needle so successfully over and over again — creating something that’s identifiably a House Industries’ creation but also amplifies the message of a world-renowned brand like Hermès, for example. 

Cruz: There’s definitely a level of respect there that we try to be sensitive to. I think the Hermès project might be a good example because we wanted to be reverent to the brand, but at the same time, we wanted to bring something to the party that was a little more House Industries. We basically drew their name in the shape of a horse, then cut each letter out of solid chunks of cedar. If you tell someone that, you could definitely get some eye rolls. But that was all part of trying to understand the company’s equestrian history, their design legacy, and bake some of those elements into the project, and usually we can come out the other side looking and sounding like we know what we’re doing. [laughs]

THF Magazine:
You’ve taken on other projects during which you’re actively collaborating with brands connected to a family name and, in some cases — such as Charles and Ray Eames or Alexander Girard — with the history of design itself. How do you approach that?

Cruz: That stuff does come from being fans first, and I always try to remind our collaborators — be it an Eames or the Girards, even a Jimmy Kimmel — that we are stoked that they thought enough about us to let us work with their names. So we’re always conscious of that relationship. And as fans, you hate to see when your favorite brand does something, and it’s like, “Oh, man. That’s lame. Why’d they do that?” So that fan mentality helps us keep things honest at times. When we’re dealing with people’s family names and histories you admire, you don’t want to botch things up.

Accidental by Design
Throughout the conversation with The Henry Ford Magazine, Cruz is self-effacing and nonchalant, almost as if the success of House Industries has been a happy accident or its collaborations with indelible brands and legacies just sort of happened. But House’s new book, The Process Is the Inspiration, belies some of that.

With the Eames project, for example, it took House Industries a decade to bring that project to fruition. At which point, even after a lifetime of appreciation and a painstaking scouring of the Eames archive at the Library of Congress, House’s sketches of “whimsical display fonts” left Charles Eames’ grandson Eames Demetrios unimpressed. He asked for something more forward-thinking that would contribute to the already established Eames legacy. So Cruz and company attacked the project from another angle, enlisted another collaborator in Erik van Blokland and created a purposeful typographical system of “workhorse” fonts rooted in the utilitarian spirit and playful joy of Charles and Ray’s work. They even applied it to toys.

Having been won over, Demetrios said in retrospect: “Design is a willingness to surrender to a journey ... Every once in a while you encounter a company like House Industries who is willing to go on that journey and grow our brand as well as theirs.”

Despite Cruz’s charming self-deprecation, it’s clear that, far from being accidental, the success of House Industries and its collaborations comes down to the obsessive, enthusiastic hard work and due diligence of wonderfully obsessive enthusiasts.

By Bernie Brooks for The Henry Ford Magazine, with photos by Carlos Alejandro.

House Industries, The Henry Ford Magazine, design, communication, by Bernie Brooks