Donald Deskey, FIDSA

Donald Deskey, FISDA
(1894-1989)

US industrial and packaging designer. He was born in Blue Earth, MN, studied architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, CA, and painting at the California School of Design, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League of New York. He started with advertising agencies in Chicago and New York, then left to study in Paris (1920-1922), where he married and returned to Juniata College in Huntington, PA to teach art and to exhibit his work in Pittsburgh. After returning to France to attend the Paris Exposition in 1925, he settled in New York to work for furniture designer Paul Frankl in 1926.

In 1927 he designed furniture and lamps for Frankl, but also window displays at Saks Fifth Avenue, and an apartment for Adam Gimbel. He opened his own office with Phillip Vollmer (Deskey-Vollmer) from 1927 to1931, specializing in furniture and lighting. In 1928, along with other prominent designers, he co-founded the American Union of Decorative Artists and Craftsmen (AUDAC) in New York.

In 1930 he designed interiors for John D. Rockefeller, a client connection that helped him win the competition for the design of Radio City Music Hall, on which he worked from 1931 to 1934. He popularized the Art Deco style in this extravagant recession landmark that was restored to its original condition in 1999.

Deskey joined with other leading designers in organizing the 1934 Art and Industry exhibit at Rockefeller Center sponsored by the National Alliance for Art and Industry. That same year, he designed an exhibition dining room at an exhibit of Contemporary American Industrial Art at the Metropolitan Museum, where the work of many leading designers was shown.

In 1936 he was among the leading designers invited to form the Designers Institute of the American Furniture Mart in Chicago.

Deskey designed exhibits at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 and helped create the industrial design department at New York University in 1940. He formed Donald Deskey Associates in mid-1940s and was one of the fifteen founders of the Society of Industrial Designers in 1944. That same year he designed the original much-imitated concept of a post-war bowling center for Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company.

He became known for his design and decorative use of Weldtex, a striated plywood pattern, and for his bold use of other modern materials in interiors. In the 1950s he designed many famous packages for Proctor & Gamble, including the Joy detergent bottle (1950), Cheer detergent box (1951), and Gleem toothpaste (1954). He designed office furniture for Globe-Wernike and the elegant Micrin mouthwash bottle for Johnson & Johnson (1961).

Deskey’s collections are archived at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York.