Exhibition Text

When designers are creating products, spaces, or interfaces, they continually circle back to people like you, asking how users eventually will engage with their designs.

The user is the person the design is intended for. There are many types of users, including people with different sizes and abilities, people with different professions and occupations, and people of different ages and cultures.

The focus on the user is relatively recent in design history. In the early 20th century, designers and architects began considering measurements of human anatomy in order to create more functional products and to standardize design. U.S. military engineers during World War II measured pilots’ bodies to improve the layout of airplane cockpits.

After the war, designer Henry Dreyfuss and his colleague Alvin R. Tilley created “Joe” and “Josephine,” generic depictions of the average American body. Tilley and designer Niels Diffrient went on to create Humanscale, a system of measurements that accounts for people of diverse ages, abilities, and heights.

Henry Dreyfuss also applied this approach to consumer goods. His telephones for Bell Labs became the most widely used products of the 20th century. Dreyfuss’s phrase “designing for people” sums up his idea of creating products that fit people, rather than making people fit products.

Designers have approached users in various ways: as ideal or normative types, as consumers to be observed, measured, and even manipulated, and as active partners in the design process. Today, the divide between designers and users, subject and object, is breaking down as users become a creative force in their own right.

Beautiful Users is the first in a series of exhibitions in Cooper Hewitt’s first-floor Design Process Galleries. These exhibitions seek to introduce the public to the people and methods that define design as an essential human activity.
Beautiful Users is dedicated to Bill Moggridge, who pioneered the methods of human-centered design. As director of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum from 2010 to 2012, he led the museum in new directions.
Beautiful Users is made possible by major support from Amita and Purnedu Chatterjee and Adobe Foundation.
Generous support also provided by Dorit and Avi Reichental.
Additional funding is provided by the August Hekscher Exhibition Fund, the Ehrenkranz Fund, the Bill Moggridge Memorial Fund, The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, Deborah Buck, May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation, Inc., and IDEO.
See all the objects in this exhibition.

Handle Text

The word handle is both a noun and a verb. As a physical thing, a handle invites human grasp. From the molded grip on a bicycle to the curving loop of a water pitcher, handles invite certain behaviors or actions. Users have immediate responses to handles. A well-designed handle is easy to use and feels right in the hand; a poorly designed handle provokes discomfort and confusion.

The verb to handle means to hold, touch, or manipulate. The objects displayed here explore handling as a dialogue between people and things. Handles invite users to grasp, push, squeeze, lift, or support an object.

“Good Grips was more than just a peeler. It was an enabler. It actually enabled people who couldn’t do things to do things.” Davin Stowell, Smart Design
See all the objects in the Handle section.

Mobility Text

Bicycles, wheelchairs, and canes can transform users’ lives and livelihoods, enabling them to achieve personal and economic independence. Each method of transport, however, exists within a broader system. Standard wheelchairs can’t function on rough terrain. Bicycles can be difficult to store and carry. Canes and walkers that look like medical equipment are unappealing to use. Designers today are addressing these problems by engaging the wider context of a user’s lifestyle and environment.

“Engage the end user in the design process. Don’t just ask him what he needs, but ask him how he thinks it can be achieved.” Amos Winter, GRIT
See all the objects in the Mobility section.

Interface Text

Many products today feature integrated hardware and software. A mix of inputs, outputs, and gestures allow humans and devices to communicate via sight, sound, touch, and even smell. As smart products begin to emulate human behavior, some people respond to them with emotions of attachment, trust, or empathy.

Henry Dreyfuss’s Honeywell Round thermostat, which replaced earlier box-shaped models, operates with a simple turn of the outer ring. Recent products like the Nest Thermostat and the August Lock System combine digital technology with simple forms and gestures to enhance everyday tasks. Such products are examples of interaction design and experience design, fields that consider a product’s ease of operation and emotional and cognitive engagement with users.

“You will only know that the design is good when you have tried it out with the people who will use it and found that they are pleased, excited, motivated, and satisfied with the result.” Bill Moggridge
See all the objects in the Interface section.