20/80 Stories from the past

Part of my Looking back, looking forward series

L to R: Chee Pearlman, Beverly Willis, Milton Glaser, Ralph Caplan

In the spirit of looking back, on Saturday night I got the pleasure of listening to three great designers all over the age of 80. Hosted by the Guggenheim museum, the talked titled ‘The Consequence of Design: Ralph Caplan, Milton Glaser, and Beverly Willis in Conversation’.

This conversation came about in part due to a wonderful book by Aileen Kwun and Bryn Smith title ‘Twenty over Eighty — Conversations on a Lifetime in Architecture and Design’. The book is a collection of interviews of twenty designers over the age of eighty.

They say with age comes wisdom. Each person got six minutes to speak about their life in design. Beverly Willis the architect went first, followed by Ralph Caplan the design critic, and Milton Glaser the graphic designer, famous for the I Love New York design.

Beverly Willis designed the San Francisco Ballet building amongst many others and was one of the first female architects to design such a building. Her firm was also one of the first to use a computer programs before there was an Apple or Microsoft. The program called CARLA was a computerized approach to residential land analysis. It was amazing to hear her tell her stories of the various projects she worked on.

What I took from Beverly’s comments of her view of design was that she looked to make her designs positive in their communication and their perception.


From my point of view, Ralph Caplan was the funniest of the three. He was a comedian in WWII so that might have something to do with it.

Ralph Caplan said he was a writer who by accident stumbled into the field of design and has been in love with it ever since. He said he felt ‘Driven by the conviction that the discipline of design is to address the most important thing in life and those things can be dressed by design.’


Milton Glaser started his six minutes by saying ‘If I knew I’d live this long, I would have taken better care of myself’. Milton Glaser is not a household name but he is well known for his I Love New York graphic design. It’s been viewed all over the world and many other cities have adopted the same design for their cities.

Milton brought a different perspective than the other two panelist. Specifically he spoke of ‘Do no harm’ design. Are our designs life enhancing or death dealing? He specifically spoke about the functionality of design and whether is brings people together and encourages commonality in the world.

A poignant question all designer must ask themselves is, ‘Are you doing harm?’

Milton also discussed what he felt are the two pieces of design: Functionality and beauty. He said that these are rare in any world. When design is done well, it it makes you feel good.


The last question asked to all of them was, ‘What’s technologies impact on design?’ their answers are summarized here.

“It expands concepts of design. You have a global audience with limited time (20/30 seconds)” Beverly Willis
“No one has any idea. Conversations are no longer the same. The effect on reality is compelling. “ Milton Glaser
“We have to wait and see. The consequences will be profound.” Ralph Caplan

To hear from these visionaries was a true gift that I will treasure and share for years to come. Sharing one’s stories is the best legacy one can leave.

It is my hope that one day I get to sit on a stage with the two amazing designers that sat next to me, James Vanié and Angela Fludd.

With each generation passing the torch to the next, I look forward to what is to come. It is only by looking back to see what has been done that we are able to build what we have today and to build a better future for tomorrow.

Great quote by Milton Glaser. Photo taken by Regine Gilbert. Graphics provided by #Adobespark
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