The Institute of Design at Illinois Tech celebrates 85th anniversary

Mon Nov 14, 2022

The Institute of Design (ID), located at 3137 South Federal Street, on the Illinois Institute of Technology Mies campus, is celebrating its 85th anniversary this year with a series of events and an exhibition available to the public from October 17 to November 18, 2022.

The ID 85th anniversary exhibition, located on the second floor of Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship on the Illinois Tech campus, takes visitors on a tour of the history of ID’s leaders, guiding principles and applied design projects. The Institute’s collaboration with Illinois Tech’s archives resulted in an experience rich of unique design artifacts, interesting recordings of lectures given by worldwide renowned designers, along with the histories of groups and individuals that create impactful designs from 1937 till today.

An interview with Kristin Gecan, Assistant Dean and Senior Director of Content + Influence at ID made this article possible, along with a visit to the ID 85th anniversary exhibition.

Photo of the ID 85th anniversary exhibition, by Nathan Keay

Photo of the ID 85th anniversary exhibition, by Nathan Keay


The Origins
Originally located in the former Marshall Field mansion at 1905 South Prairie Avenue, ID was founded by László Moholy-Nagy, a Hungarian painter and poet who moved to Chicago with the support of Walter Gropius —founder of the Bauhaus in Germany,— to create what would become the Institute of Design, known as the New Bauhaus.

The Bauhaus is a German design school that operated during the first half of the 20th century, producing geometrical, abstract art that still influences designers worldwide. Chicago at the midpoint of the past century represented an ideal space to explore the connection between design and industry: this was Moholy’s goal. Balancing artistry and the reality of a business project—creating a new school—was one of the main challenges Moholy faced. Moholy strongly encouraged design experimentation during his time leading ID. In the first few decades of activity, significant contributions to the field of design were made by ID students such as the Dove soap, the Playboy logo and the design of the honey bear. 

Photo of the Dove soap and the honey bear, ID 85th anniversary exhibition, by author Angela Petrone

Photo of the Dove soap and the honey bear, ID 85th anniversary exhibition, by author Angela Petrone



Systems Era

Moholy died of leukemia at a young age. He was oftentimes defined as a genius, and his departure left ID’s community wondering how to find a suitable leader to take his place.
This is when ID first met Illinois Tech, as the basement of Crown Hall on the Illinois Institute of Technology campus turned into ID’s physical location.
Jay Doblin became the new director of ID, resulting in a dramatic turn of events for the Institute. A businessman at heart, Jay Doblin brought ID closer and closer to industry needs, with the intention to transform ID into a functionalist design school. At this time the focus was on industrial design projects, resulting in the realization of a diverse range of products, such as a five-key typewriter (1962), and a foldable scooter (1963).

Photo of the foldable scooter project, ID 85th anniversary exhibition, by author Angela Petrone

Photo of the foldable scooter project, ID 85th anniversary exhibition, by author Angela Petrone


Human-Centered Design

At the end of the 20th century ID entered a new phase under the direction of Patrick Whitney, one of Jay Doblin’s protégés. Human-centered design is at the core of this new period of exploration and production at ID. Once again the Institute’s physical location moved, this time to downtown Chicago at 565 West Adams Street, where the current Illinois Tech Stuart School of Business is located.

These years are marked by the exploration of experience design, with an increasing focus on supporting communities and improving their well-being, continuing to build on systems design and go beyond isolated products. During this period ID had a number of notable faculty members, among which: Chuck Owen, recognized as a pioneer in the field of systems design, and Vijay Kumar, author of the influential book “101 Design Methods”.


The Present

ID moved back to the Illinois Tech Mies campus in 2019, when the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship opened on Illinois Tech's main ("Mies") campus in Chicago's South Side. The present is a time of continuation with the past, as ID students’ projects maintain a sharp focus on experience while adhering more strictly to current societal needs. Anti-racism, educational, and health-related projects are just a part of the defining work that ID students and faculty are conducting. At the core of the present work at ID is the intersection of different disciplines and the emphasis on what diverse perspectives can bring to the practice of design in every field: design does not exist in a bubble, but is constantly informing and being informed by every discipline.
The problems that ID students currently tackle are referred to as “wicked problems”: thorny, complex, involving many stakeholders; these problems are intended to be solved on a multi-generational time continuum, rather than in the present by one specific team.


The Future

The Institute of Design recently changed its brand identity, launching a new version of their website along with marketing material making use of their new typeface, an emblem of ID’s intention to acknowledge its legacy while looking to the future. Combining the experimental nature of Moholy’s founding principles and the systematic approach to design fathered by Jay Doblin, the new type is modular, minimalistic yet dynamic. 

Screenshot of the Institute of Design’s website, available at

Screenshot of the Institute of Design’s website, available at 

A second iteration of the 85th anniversary exhibition will be open to the public in the spring of 2023, while Illinois Tech students can continue to access the currently available exhibition even beyond the date of November 18, 2022. 
A series of events by the name of “Shapeshift” started in October 2022 and will continue through November, 18, 2022. The last of these events will be held at ID on November 17, 2022, featuring Vijay Kumar, author and ID Professor Emeritus, who will discuss the legacy and utility of his book, “101 Design Methods”, today.

“Over its 85-year history, the Institute of Design has had an outsize influence on the field of design, the city of Chicago, Illinois Tech, and the world. There's something for everyone here to discover about design and its interdisciplinary nature—from ID's role in the design of everyday objects to the design of space stations to how we can leverage technology to build stronger communities,” says Anjo Mathew, Interim Dean at ID.

With the 85th anniversary exhibition remaining available for Illinois Tech students to visit, Dean Mathew goes on to add, “Once you have had a chance to view the exhibition, we want to hear from you – how do you think ID can influence the world and Illinois Tech in the future?" 

For more information about the Institute of Design at Illinois Tech visit their website at



Appears in
2022 - Fall - Issue 9