Connected By Design: R/GA's Bob Greenberg Curates Exhibit for Cooper Hewitt

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A Correcting Selectric II, Model 895 typewriter, one of the items in Bob Greenberg's new museum exhibit about design and technology.
A Correcting Selectric II, Model 895 typewriter, one of the items in Bob Greenberg's new museum exhibit about design and technology. Credit: Courtesy R/GA

RGA Chairman and CEO Bob Greenberg runs an agency that's perhaps best known for its Nike innovations, the Owlet baby-monitor smart socks or the "Love Has No Labels" campaign for the Ad Council.

Now he's becoming the first ad pro to put on an exhibition at New York's Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, where the guest curators are more often musicians, fashion designers, artists and writers. Greenberg's exhibit, which begins a six-month run on Feb. 23, showcases how design and technology have radically changed everyday life for decades.

But it's not that much of a detour for Greenberg, whose obsession with design and tech play out at work every day.

"I can't think of anything that's had a bigger impact on the lives of people," says Greenberg.

"The Walkman had such a big influence on people, and then the iPod came out and you could have 1,000 songs in your pocket. Now your cellphone has access to Spotify or Apple or any song ever written," he says. "People's lives are completely changed."

The exhibit includes 42 works from Cooper Hewitt's holdings, as well as a few from Greenberg's personal collection, such as an Edison Voicewriter Dictaphone from 1953, a TV8-301 portable television from 1959, a 1962 Tonearm Balance (which calculates the ideal balance for a stylus on a record player), an ET55 calculator from 1980 and a pair of Google Glasses from 2013. There's also, of course, an iPhone from 2007, the year it was introduced.

Acclaimed architect and Harvard GSD's Robert P. Hubbard Professor Toshiko Mori is helping to design the exhibit itself. Mori is the same architect who designed Greenberg's home, based on Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth house, in New York's Hudson Valley.

R/GA Chairman and CEO Bob Greenberg.
R/GA Chairman and CEO Bob Greenberg. Credit: R/GA

R/GA, which previously developed an internal app to help people navigate art in the New York office, created an interactive app for the exhibit. It uses image recognition software from Clarifai, which was incubated in R/GA's investment arm, to tell visitors more about objects on display. Its audio guide includes commentary from Greenberg, Mori, industrial designer Thomas Meyerhoffer, Cooper Hewitt curator Ellen Lupton and Cooper Hewitt National Design Award-winner Michael Bierut.

In addition to presenting objects that represent the 10 principles of renowned industrial designer Dieter Rams, the exhibit will include a video animating Greenberg's own 10 Principles of Design.

R/GA itself originated in visual design, with Greenberg working in entertainment and creating memorable special effects and titles out of his company R/Greenberg Associates in the '70s and '80s. The agency evolved through the years into marketing communications, products and services innovation design, branding and IP development.

Today R/GA's approach holds that some creative thinkers, such as copywriters and art directors, focus on narratives while others, like user experience designers, think more systematically. It tries to to pair the different types together to make sure its work reflects both approaches.

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