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Who Are The 27 Most Influential Designers Of Our Era?

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on February 2, 2010

I don’t know how she came up with the number “27,” but Helen Walters at BBW has put together an insightful list of the world’s most influential designers.

Check it out. Who did she leave out?

Reader Comments


February 6, 2010 1:07 PM

Esslinger was on the cover of BW and didn't make the list??

Scott Pobiner

February 6, 2010 6:51 PM

Apologies for the length but I felt like making up for the missing words in the original piece.

Lists should be reserved for groceries, to do's, tabloids, late night television, and words you cannot say on those late night television shows. But if we are going to make lists related to design why populate it with "influential people". I think that "who's missing" is the wrong question - "what's missing" is the list that I would have preferred to see...

- Why them?
- What is "influence"?
- Why 27? - or - how many designers belong on a list of influence?
- What is 'Our Era'? (and who are "We"?)
- Are we there yet?

I think that each person on this list has significance of some sort and influence of another. Some on the list I actually have an abundance of respect for (I respect them all as people - but not necessarily the work they do and things they say). Lists like this frustrate me so much because they seem so shallow and fickle - and the sole claim of design is that it neither fickle nor shallow.

Exemplary of the things that make this list implausible is that it is impossible to compare the people on the list to one another. How does one compare a historian to an expert on human factors to a product designer to an architect to a professor? In design it actually matters whether you design desirous objets d'art or if you develop better soap bubbles. So it is hard to appreciate why the names of the people on the list are being applauded? Is it the number of objects that they have produced? Is the amount of praise heaped upon each of their works counted? Perhaps the amount of money they make was piled up and measured?

I would argue that their brains were each weighed and then multiplied by the amount of times they were blogged about but I can't figure out how to count the amount of times a person is blogged.

Seriously - let's be honest about this list. The characters on it represent a tiny fraction of the people in the world who do something called "design" and almost all have an army of people who work for them - also designing. Eventually one or two of those people will be on a list too. But in the end it makes absolutely no sense to make lists of people who "design". It is especially egregious to try and list people across a random set of industries. Some of the people on the list don't even participate in an industry. Across the fields (disciplines? personalities?) that are represented there isn't a common objective I can see. It's likely that they can't even compare paychecks.

If not merely forgettable, lists like these are damaging because they seem to describe a world that is fashioned by 27 (or so...) people.

I think that Helen Walters has been doing a good job but this was really disappointing. I have to believe that this was not a decision based firmly in journalism. To that end I would respectfully request that if the marketing department at BW insists on making lists that they consider stop making lists of influential people and start making lists of influential issues. There is too much work (Design) in the world to do for 27 (or so...) people to accomplish alone. Perhaps if BW spent more time identifying issues we would be able to stop perseverating problems and start solving them.

Helen Walters

February 8, 2010 1:53 PM

Scott, Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I hear your point and honestly I share some of your skepticism around the worth of lists. And of course there are tons of hard-working designers we didn't feature, some of whom we know (Esslinger), some of whom are busily working away and doing amazing things without having caught our eye.

The danger of lists is that people read them as a drawn line under a topic rather than a snapshot of a particular moment. Some of that is in the packaging, of course, but I love the fact that this list represents so many different facets of a fascinating and diverse industry. Many BW readers are not immersed in this field, and if this list gives a better sense of the industry's scope and reach through the work of amazing talents, I think that's a good thing. If it makes it seem superficial and cursory, well, sadly, that's my failure.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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