I about to leave to give a talk about Bill Moggridge. This is what I’m planning to say. I knew Bill for many years but only got to understand him when he moved to New York to run the National Design Museum. I hope he likes it. I hope Karin likes it.
What Bill Moggridge Taught Me About Aura.
Cooper Hewitt National Design MuseumTribute to Bill
(Putting my old leather cap on my head as I begin to speak)….
I’m wearing this old cap today because Bill loved it. When Leslie and I met Bill and Karin for dinner after they had moved to New York, it was getting cold and I wore this hat. Bill, towering over me as he did, gave me one of those incredible Bill smiles and gently lifted it off my head and placed it on his. It perched there, a bit too small, as he beamed.
There’s nothing much to this hat. It’s leather, it’s worn, its old–and as a result of all that, it has a great patina. A depth. A tangibility. And its useful. It beckons you. It has a story to tell you if you want to take the time to listen. Bill took the time.
And not just with my hat. My copper pot as well. We invited Karin and Bill over to our house for the Thanksgiving Day parade. He hadn’t seen one before and we have a good view of the floats going by from our apartment. Now Leslie and I have been collecting stuff since our early years in Asia. We have Chinese blue and white, Korean celadon, Japanese prints and Native American pots and paintings. But the one thing that Bill was attracted to was our old copper pot. We never polish it and it has all the marks of age–drip marks, discolorations, the bottom is bent. It has, in short, character. The wonderful shape, the handle and that patina beckon you. You want to interact with it, engage it, and use it.
But you wouldn’t know any of that if you didn’t take the time to actually see the copper pot for what it really is. Bill took the time. He slowed things down (which is pretty unique in New York City). He took the time to to really observe, to really engage. Bill understood the nature of aura and, of course, in his pioneering work, he understood that we can design our interactions with things and actually generate auratic power.
But while his professional reputation was built on his incredible ability to understand our connection to things, it was his wonderful ability to connect TO us that made Bill so loving and such an object of OUR love.
I remember when he interviewed me for his book, Designing Media, back in 2008. We went outside. Now Bill was remarkable in so many ways and one of them was his desire to master the tools of social media and use them. So he included the interviews on a disc in the printed book–and he did all the videoing himself.
So we’re outside someplace, maybe it was Chicago, and I sit down, Bill sets up and I start talking about how my new boss at BusinessWeek walked into my office and told me he was closing down the editorial page (which paid my salary) and I had to find something else to do. Just like that.
So I start talking into the camera about launching a new Innovation & Design channel and asking Tim Brown for advice on who to hire–the amazing Jessie Scanlon–gesticulating and moving my hands as I do when I get excited–and 20 seconds into my spiel, vrooom, vrooom. This loud noise overhead drowns me out. We had set up the interview underneath an airport landing path and a commercial jet drowns me out.
So we start again and I get into how for the first time in business journalism, we crowdsourced content and went outside the silos and …..vrooom, vrooom. The noise drowns me out.
Now I am getting really nervous. So I say, OK, let’s do it faster so we can finish before the next jet flies through. And I really race through now–how CORE77 saved the day with content and money, how Jessie was editing at the speed of light, and ….vroom, vrooom. Again. Now, those of you who know me know that I am really a very, very, very nervous person. And by this time, my nerves were shot to hell.
But not Bill. Even though HE had to stop and rewind and it was HIS book and this was HIS only chance to get my interview, Bill was calm. He looked at me and saw my nervousness. And he quietly talked to me. Don’t worry, he said. It’ll be fine. Bruce, we can splice the bits together. We can even find another time to talk if this doesn’t work. Bill reframed his interaction with me from the guy behind the camera asking questions to the man understanding my nervousness and offering solace and solutions.
And so I learned Bill’s greatest contribution in interaction design was the design of his interactions with people. He took the time to really look and really listen to people. He took the time to slow the time to engage with us.
I’ve been doing work lately deconstructing the nature of experience and engagement between people and products. And I can see the seeds of that work coming from Bill. Yet in the design of his own personal interactions with people, Bill showed me something richer. Each of us can beckon people with our interest in their lives, our curiosity in what they do, our appreciation in what they accomplish.
Bill beckoned us with that understanding, that charismatic power. In our thoughts of him, our remembrances, Bill still beckons us. And always will.