Pushing the Edges of Design

David Smith, L/IDSA, Passes at Age 84

Mar 10 2017 - 7:48am

David Smith, L/IDSA, passed away on Feb. 25, 2017 at his home in Columbus, OH, surrounded by his family. He was 84. Colleague and fellow Pratt Institute alum Deane Richardson, FIDSA, was with Smith only a few hours before he passed. "Dave was a person of rare merit, enabling design and designers to push the edges of design. He was about experimentation, and creative challenges through design thinking processes that generated better solutions," Richardson says. "He will be missed but we know his ghost is hanging around the corner."

A memorial service and reception were held on March 5 attended by several hundred family, friends and colleagues including about 200 former RichardsonSmith and Fitch designers, engineers, software developers, cognitive psychologists, architects and program managers.

At its annual conference in Santa Fe, NM in 1995, IDSA honored Smith for his management style with RichardsonSmith that helped bring the consultancy to prominence within the industry. Smith's role in integrating different disciplines, developing diversified teams, broadening their knowledge base and enriching the process helped grow the breadth of the design business.

Smith studied architecture at The Ohio State University and graduated from Pratt Institute with a degree in industrial design. He worked as a staff designer at the Kelvinator Division of American Motors Corporation; Chrysler Corporation in Detroit, and AEG in Frankfort, Germany. In 1959, he co-founded RichardsonSmith in Columbus, OH. During the next 36 years, along with a group of talented designers and professionals, Smith built an innovative design and marketing communications consultancy with offices in Columbus, Boston and San Diego. As president/treasurer and later co-chair, Smith oversaw operations of the firm. In 1989, RichardsonSmith merged with Fitch.

When he retired, Smith worked with Crown Equipment, extending a long-time relationship dating back to 1960. In 1994, he became the first Nierenberg Distinguished Professor of Industrial Design at Carnegie Mellon University, and the following year, he received the Alumni Achievement Award from Pratt Institute.

"He was there when longer range design strategies converged with business strategies successfully as exemplified by the long-term Crown materials handling program," says Richardson. "He was there as design capabilites integrated with cognitive issues in search of greater understanding of how the mind works, quietly enabling others to seek their own paths which led to an extended RichardsonSmith family in the vibrant Columbus design culture and much of the design world."

Smith served as chair, president and treasurer of the Association of Professional Design Firms and was a member of the Human Factors Society. He received the Edward Grauer Award from the Columbus Society of Communicating Arts and served on the YMCA Board of Directors.

​Along with his family and the Richardson family, Smith restored a circa 1808 second home in Castine, ME. He was married to his best friend and wife, Elaine, since 1955.

Log into IDSA.org and post your memories of Smith in the "Add New Comment" section below this article.


I had the good fortune of working with Dave during my first job out of design school and through my association with Crown Equipment Corporation. Dave’s honesty, generosity, kindness and work ethic made him an ideal role model for a young designer. He always led by example and the example was always a good one. I couldn’t have asked for a better role model and mentor.

Although I’m just one person who knew and greatly respected Dave, I’m certain that Dave had a profound effect on many, many people. I hope his family and close friends can find some comfort in this.

Thanks Dave, we’ll miss you.

Russell Kroll


In 1963 Richardson/Smith was a five-designer consulting office, (including Dave, Deane and Deane's wife Sandra) operating out of a converted chicken coop in Worthington OH. I was a native New Yorker, a Pratt grad working for Walter Dorwin Teague along with 100+ other staffers on Madison Avenue. On the surface, the job offer was not an ideal fit . My NYC friends said, "six months, tops...you'll be back." But R/S believed in pushing the envelope and taking on challenges, and above all Dave and Deane built a firm that was passionate about good design. We worked long hours, designed award-winning products and made our mark. When I left in 1979 to open my own office and then joined RCA Consumer Electronics as head of design, I looked back on those 17 years with R/S as the most creative and meaningful of my career. Retired since '95, I still do. Thank you David Burke Smith, old friend and mentor, I owe you...a lot.