Lucia DeRespinis, FIDSA

 

As an icon of industrial design and IDSA member for over 50 years, and for her lasting contributions to the profession and design education, Lucia DeRespinis, FIDSA, more than deserves IDSA’s highest honor of Fellowship. Her body of work is legendary, from the midcentury clocks she designed for George Nelson Associates, to the 1959 American Exhibit in Moscow she designed with a team including Charles and Ray Eames, to the Dunkin’ Donuts logo she designed using her five-year-old daughter’s favorite colors. 

A practicing industrial designer before IDSA was formed in 1965, DeRespinis received her Bachelor of Industrial Design from Pratt Institute in 1952 as one of three women in her graduating class. She built her career in a male-dominated industry by working as a senior designer at the eponymous studio run by George Nelson, FIDSA, from 1954 until 1963. She worked on lighting, interiors, ceramics, graphics, packaging, and more, including tableware for American Airlines, furniture for Herman Miller, and the Chrysler Pavilion for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Many of her designs are still manufactured, sold, and exhibited worldwide. Her clock designs have been reissued by Vitra and are still available for purchase at MOMA and the Noguchi Museum in New York. 

DeRespinis was a student of Rowena Reed Kostellow, FIDSA, and Eva Zeisel, carrying their legacies through her own teaching at Pratt. She started as an adjunct professor of industrial design in 1979, at the age of 55, and continued until her retirement in 2020, at the age of 93. She taught Kostellow’s 3D design methodology and the ways of applying it to different fields, from tableware to furniture, with her famous Tabletop Design course sought after by four decades of students.    

“My first class in industrial design was with Lucia DeRespinis,” writes Debera Johnson, IDSA, professor of industrial design at Pratt Institute. “I was a sophomore at Pratt back in 1986. She pulled the two other women in the class aside and told us, ‘You’re going to have to work harder than the guys.’ She spoke from experience.” 

“Lucia is a torchbearer,” writes Crystal Ellis, co-founder of the New York design company Egg Collective. “She always told her students, ‘Once you are an industrial designer, the world is filled with questions of how and why and you will never be comfortable again. This profession seeks to make life better for humanity. Keep that in mind as you choose a path.’” 

In the late 1980s, DeRespinis traveled with Robert I. Blaich, FIDSA, and an IDSA delegation to China to promote industrial design. She has participated in numerous events with the IDSA NYC Chapter over the years, helped to start the IDSA Student Chapter at Pratt, and has long directed individuals and potential clients to IDSA as a primary professional resource for industrial designers.  

“Lucia’s care for her work, her students, and the field of industrial design has not waned, even as she turned 94 years old this year,” writes Amanda Huynh, IDSA, assistant professor of industrial design at Pratt. “In a recent 2021 exhibition by Egg Collective, Lucia’s Beehive Lamp (1960) was shown alongside contemporary pieces. It looks like it could have been designed yesterday.”  

Indeed, designers continue to discover and be inspired by DeRespinis, including Lauren Dern, IDSA, Chair of the IDSA Northern Lakes Chapter. In 2020, the Chapter invited DeRespinis to speak on the virtual panel “Women in Industrial Design: Generations.”  

“She told us a story of her first job as a designer—as the only woman, she was expected to answer the phones—and how she took it as an opportunity to get in the door, prove her design skills, and a few weeks later, she was no longer answering phones,” writes Dern. Learning how DeRespinis advocated for herself helped to give Dern the framework and confidence she used to land a job shortly after the event. “Speaking to a group of designers about being a woman in industrial design, starting her career in the midcentury, and in a very predominantly male environment, she gives young women today the perspective and perseverance we all need.” 

As IDSA and her many nominators for Fellowship agree, DeRespinis’ legacy will live on in IDSA’s Academy of Fellows in recognition of her body of work, her commitment to promoting excellence in industrial design, and her development of young designers for generations.