Danielle Shapiro: Design historian and author of “John Vassos: Industrial Design for Modern Life”
What should a television look like? How should a dial feel to the touch? This lecture will discuss how industrial designer John Vassos grappled with these questions in the design of radio, television and computers before their forms were solidified. Vassos (1898-1985) was an artist and industrial designer who shaped the look of modern media technologies as the Radio Corporation of America’s key consultant designer for almost four decades through the rise of radio and television and into the computer era. This richly illustrated lecture draws from original archival research to tell the story of a major force in design for sight and sound in the 20th century. It makes clear that John Vassos, although unheralded and under-appreciated, is a highly significant, early contributor to the field of what would now be called user experience design. Vassos focused on user-centered design to mitigate fear of new technologies, a topic he examined in his important 1931 book Phobia written in consultation with psychoanalyst Harry Stack Sullivan.
Danielle Shapiro is an independent scholar who has a Ph.D. from the department of Art History and Communications Studies from McGill University. Her research has been funded by Fulbright Foundation, the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a Wolfsonian Research Fellowship. Until recently, she was a Senior Program Officer in the Division of Public Programs at the National Endowment for the Humanities, in Washington D.C. where she oversaw grants for major museum exhibitions, documentary films, radio programs, and projects in the digital humanities. Her 2016 book on John Vassos, creator of landmark designs for modern telecommunications, was published by the University of Minnesota Press.