Ralph LaZar, FIDSA

Ralph LaZar, FIDSA
Cofounder of Herbst, LaZar, Bell
2020 Inductee into IDSA's Academy of Fellows

With more than 50 years of membership and service to IDSA and the industrial design profession, Ralph LaZar has laid the path for countless others to follow. The co-founder of the influential product design consulting firm Herbst, LaZar, Bell (HLB) in Chicago, IL, and co-founder with the late Carroll Gantz, FIDSA of the International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA), LaZar was inducted into IDSA’s Academy of Fellows on September 16 as part of the virtual IDSA Awards 2020 ceremony.

The distinction is long overdue for LaZar, a renowned, early champion of IDSA and of design as a value to businesses worldwide. He and University of Illinois Urbana -Champaign classmate Walter Herbst founded the firm Herbst LaZar in 1963; and when their college friend Randy Bell joined them in 1965, the partnership became a trio. HLB operated for almost 50 years under their management. At its peak, the firm employed 60 designers, engineers, and other professionals.

At HLB, LaZar was known for encouraging staff to develop multiple design programs and led by example to inspire designers in their work. Several IDSA members started their careers at HLB and later formed their own offices or assumed important roles at design firms, in manufacturing organizations, and at educational institutions. These members include Marianne Grisdale, FIDSA, Bryce Rutter, PhD, IDSA, and the late Mark Dziersk, IDSA.  

LaZar’s service with IDSA began in Chicago, where served as the Chicago Chapter Chairman, Vice Chairman, and Program Chairman during the 1970s. He also served as Chairman of IDSA’s Nominations and Elections Committee, leading numerous programs and activities. In this role, he encouraged IDSA members reach for solutions to seemingly difficult programs, such as how to structure a program like a major conference that would effectively interest, educate, and inspire its attendees. As Chairman of IDSA’s 1977 national conference in Lake Barkely, KY, he assembled an impressive roster of guest speakers that included astronaut Neil Armstrong and journalist Sidney Harris. 

LaZar began his career in Chicago as well, starting out at GE Hotpoint as a designer of kitchen appliances and televisions. Concerned with cleaning issues for Hotpoint kitchen appliances and ranges, he is credited with introducing glass control panels to industry. He went on to hold approximately 100 patents in various product areas and receive numerous design awards, including IDEA/Business Week awards, Appliance Manufacturer Excellence in Design Awards, the HSMAN Graphics 2000 Gold Award, and the Italian Triennial Award.

Instrumental not only in IDSA’s formative years but also to the growing recognition in the United States of design as essential to businesses looking to innovate, LaZar often gave presentations at trade association gatherings and contributed articles to early IDSA publications, ID magazine, and Design Manufacturing magazines. He attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the North Shore Art League, and often lectured to students on the power of good design.

LaZar currently resides in a retirement community in San Diego, CA, where he uses his abilities as a designer to assist the administration in improving the quality of life for its residents. He has been involved in an employee scholarship program that grants assistance for employees to continue their education at the university level. He also founded and designed a resident art gallery, where he heads the art committee that plans exhibitions and events. As an artist, he produces work in watercolor, acrylics, mixed media, photo transfer, and monotype techniques.  

IDSA members have fond memories of Chicago Chapter parties LaZar co-hosted on HLB’s riverfront deck at Wolf Point, as well as the many studio visits LaZar organized with others over the years, both at HLB’s Chicago headquarters and at the firm’s many satellite locations during IDSA national conferences. He also is widely remembered and still known as a kind, gracious, and good-humored leader, someone who is eager to take time out of his day to help someone else. IDSA is proud to honor Ralph LaZar, FIDSA as a Fellow for his half-century of IDSA service and his enduring impact on the industrial design profession.