The Annual 2012

School of Visual Arts

A Mind for Design

Steven Heller

On September 13, 2011 in a White House ceremony, first lady Michelle Obama honored MFA Design Department Co-chair Steven Heller as one of the recipients of the National Design Award, naming him 2011 Design Mind. Given out annually by the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Design Mind award recognizes a professional who has “effected a paradigm shift in design thinking or practice through writing, research, and scholarship.” The first lady opened the ceremony by quoting SVA Acting Chairman Milton Glaser, reminding attendees that “good design is good citizenship.”

Back in his hometown, Heller collected his award at a black-tie gala at Pier Sixty in New York City, where The Village Voice published this profile by Julia Cooke:

There’s a bookcase in the studio apartment that author Steven Heller rents as a kind of storage closet for his overflowing collection of design ephemera. Compared with the rest of the room, which is a cheerful riot of pop-culture design esoterica—1950s mini mannequins, plaster Chairman Mao dolls that salute from military tanks, art deco signage, racially insensitive barware, and precarious piles of hardcovers—the plywood bookcase is tidy. Still, it too is crammed, with books of all shapes, sizes, colors, and languages.

Heller either wrote, compiled, introduced, art-directed, or otherwise contributed to every volume in the case. He has authored or co-written upward of 140 books. This week sees the publication of two new ones bearing his name—Typography Sketchbooks, with Lita Talarico, and Vintage Types and Graphics, with his wife, designer Louise Fili. They number 12 and 13 on the list of Heller’s 2011 offerings.

‘What I like to do is come up with ideas and sell them,’ he says with a half-smile. ‘When I was a kid, I used to think, How does somebody come up with ideas? It’s so magical and mystical. . . . For me, it’s not the kill, it’s what leads up to cornering the beast.’


Steven Heller Doesn’t Need Your Matisse