In Memory of Budd Steinhilber, FIDSA

Feb 8 2021 - 8:59am

IDSA is saddened by the loss of J. Budd Steinhilber, FIDSA (1924-2021), a towering figure in industrial design history and a friend, mentor, and inspiration to many. Budd served on IDSA's Board of Directors as Treasurer/Secretary and served three times on the IDEA Jury. He was inducted into IDSA's Academy of Fellows in 1984 and won IDSA's Personal Recognition Award in 1991. 

We are honored to share tributes by Tucker Viemeister, FIDSA and Brian Wynne. H/IDSA, below. If you have fond memories of Budd that you'd like to share, please email membership@idsa.org.

By Tucker Viemeister, FIDSA:

Budd Steinhilber was a multi-talented ecological social-justice Johnny Appleseed industrial designer known for designing the Tucker car, Antioch College’s logo, and Electronic Arts branding, and for his sensitive watercolors, gingerbread nymphs, and amateur acting. He worked his way across the country from his birth place in New York City to Ohio, then Silicon Valley, Hawaii, then back to California. Forward-thinking “Renaissance Man,” Fellow of IDSA, mentor, role model and father for 96 years. 

He grew up in Woodstock, NY, with his mother Julia and his wrestler/watercolorist Socialist Labor Party father, Walter, who encouraged him to draw and paint at an early age. According to his autobiography: “The early years are clouded in obscurity. At the age of twelve he was promptly sent off to High School of Art and Design in New York City, where he spent most of his time copying Bess Myerson’s homework papers.” He graduated when he was 15 years old, too young for Pratt Institute, until the founder of the new industrial design program, Donald Dohner, saw his portfolio. He studied with teachers like Eva Zeisel, Rowena Reed, Alexander Kostellow and Gordon Lippincott, interned for Raymond Loewy for $17.50 a week, learned how to sign Loewy’s signature and worked on his Greyhound double decker bus.  

Budd says he “zipped through Pratt Institute’s industrial design course in two and a half years," graduated in 1943 and began working with Dohner and Lippincott. As a political cartoonist (and also a pacifist), he created many cartoons for THE WEEKLY PEOPLE, the newspaper of the Socialist Labor Party in Brooklyn, NY. During WWII, as a conscientious objector, he was incarcerated in prisons and work camps for two and a half years. Afterwards, he rejoined Lippincott and, in 1947, headed to Chicago to help design the innovative but financially ill-fated Tucker automobile. During the next eight weeks, in a kind of design-off, the crackerjack Lippincott team faced off against Preston Tucker’s in-house team led by Alex Remulis, literally side-by-side, each making their own full-size clay models. The famous photo of the Lippincott team shows Budd kneeling by the front bumper (covered with foil to simulate chrome) of their full-size clay model. 

Budd moved to Yellow Springs, Ohio in 1947 to join his friend Read Viemeister in founding Vie Design Studios. They worked together designing everything: cars, lathes, Huffy lawnmowers and bikes (Radiobike with a built-in tube radio). Some are still in production today, like the DAP logo and the GraLab Darkroom Timer. They also designed and built their own houses; Budd’s modular 4 x 8 ft grid meant he didn’t need to cut any plywood sheets. For the holidays, they cooked up extravagant gingerbread houses for each other’s families and holiday cards like the one below, showing the Grinnell house with his wife, Jo, their children, Julie and Donn and a dog (1958).  

Budd loved jazz and theater, so when in 1952 Antioch College’s theater professor Arthur Lithgow (John Lithgow’s dad) decided to create a summer program to stage all the Shakespeare plays, Budd designed an abstract Elizabethan stage built in front of Antioch’s main building. He designed posters and volunteered for the cast, demonstrating his artistic versatility and his belief that staging and acting are all forms of the same design.  

In 1964 Budd, his wife Ginny and her four kids (Edward, Ross, Tracy and Lisa Stewart) again headed off to pioneer in another virgin design territory, this time San Francisco. He worked in some movies with Antioch alumnus John Korty at Zoetrope Studios (a cooperative with Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas). He then teamed up with designer Gene Tepper “to prove that industrial design could thrive and flourish in a converted burlap bag factory.” Ten years later, just as Silicon Valley started to bud, his next partnership with graphic designer Barry Deutsch established integrated design on the West Coast. From their studio at 655 Bryant Street, Steinhilber/Deutsch designed a retail display system for Esprit, CES booths for JBL's and Atari, Electronic Arts branding and Edge CMX video editing decks. One day they sent Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs down the street to Jerry Mannock and David Kelly to design their new computer.  

The Steinhilber family grew with another son, Carl.  Budd “retired” and moved to Hawaii, continuing to focus on ecology. In 1998 to combat global warming, he designed the Caballito electric scooter. Then the Konawaena Solar high school team asked him to help with their entry in the World Solar Challenge race across Australia. Not only did they qualify for the race in 1990, the team finished 18th out of 35 university and professional teams that completed the race. 

After his wife Ginny Stewart Steinhilber died in 2013, Budd finally retired in 2016 and moved back to Mill Valley, CA, closer to his son Carl, who lives outside of Portland, OR. His son Donn still lives in Yellow Springs, while his daughter Julie is in Cambridge, MA. Budd passed peacefully in hospice care at his apartment in Tamalpais, Greenbrae, CA. 

Remembering Budd Steinhilber, FIDSA

by Brian Wynne, H/IDSA

The recent passing of Budd Steinhilber struck a sad chord with me. He was one of the Society’s most influential contributors and leaders during my 11 years as CEO of IDSA during the late 1970s and most of the 80s. He was personally indispensable to me as a sounding board, and oftentimes helped to keep me sane amidst the chaos of trying to develop a cohesive professional organization out of some of the most creative and non-conformist individuals one could ever have the pleasure of knowing. 

With others, Budd brought his powerful insight, deep integrity and love for good design to the long-term plans and strategies which IDSA initiated and implemented during those years. He was particularly helpful in efforts to cure the ills of the very troubled first two years of the IDEA program. Basing the IDEA revamp on using the findings of an IDSA-sponsored poll, conducted by the Gallup organization of business executives’ attitudes toward industrial design, propelled the IDEA toward success. Budd always demanded that the criteria and judging process result in winners that would exemplify only the very best in design.

Budd stalwartly supported IDSA’s difficult and then controversial endeavor in the early 80s to develop minimum curriculum standards for Industrial Design degree programs and to secure a joint accreditation agreement with the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). I was told not long ago by an educator still involved in this accreditation process that with minor modifications the agreement still works for the profession, and that the industrial design profession is one of only two disciplines guaranteed to have participants on every NASAD school accreditation visit.

Budd Steinhilber committed himself every day to fostering the professionalism and growth of IDSA, and to ensuring IDSA's commitment to communicate the value of good design to business at a time when designers felt they were unknown and unappreciated.  

A little history: here is a photo of a relaxed but crucial June, 1983 weekend meeting of the IDSA Executive Committee in Vail, Colorado where we mapped out new directions and a more professional mien for IDSA's future. Our aim was to gain more visibility for the profession and also to offer new Bylaws mechanisms for involvement at the Chapter and District levels. For example, it was at Vail that we created the Bylaws ability for members to form specialized sections within the Society. We also formalized the District Conferences concept to try to expand them beyond just Student Merit Awards to attract more professionals and get more interaction between practitioners and education. INNOVATION, which we initiated with just one issue in 1981, became a regular three-times-per-year benefit for IDSA’s members, with one issue each year to be devoted to professional papers written by members (mostly educators) with peer review required for insertion.  

At Vail in 1983 we also dealt with how to protect a financially-scraped IDSA by structuring our hosting of the enormous 1985 ICSID Congress (over 2,000 registrants) through the then Worldesign Foundation. We used the Foundation to raise money from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and other foundations and venues. When, with tremendous assistance from members such as Deane Richardson, IDSA, we emerged from the other side of Worldesign85 fiscally solvent, the Society was even able to own its own headquarters by 1987. Budd Steinhilber was a crucial participant in each and every one of these decisions.

This very important Vail meeting led five years later toward IDSA becoming the recognized national voice of the industrial design profession with coverage in Business Week, Time, Newsweek, CBS News, Good Morning America, the New York Times, Washington Post and hundreds of other media outlets.  

Budd Steinhilber was one of the many IDSA lecturers who participated on the Society’s behalf in the U.S. Information Agency’s “Design in America’ exhibition that toured Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union just prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain. Federal agencies like the Department of State and the Department of Commerce came to IDSA in those days on a regular basis for its knowledge and expertise on industrial design. The foresight of those at the 1983 Vail meeting, prominently including Budd Steinhilber, and the actions taken then by the Executive Committee created the possibility for a new level of prestige for U.S. design and for its contribution to business success.

I couldn’t have been more happy to see Budd’s life, person and contributions extolled recently by Tucker Viemeister, FIDSA.  He so deserved it.

Following my decision to depart IDSA in 1988 Budd and I often kept in touch. It was always a pleasure to hear from him even when he teasingly tried to convince me to return to IDSA.  His dry sense of humor and outlook brought not only insight but a smile to my face whenever he tossed a pebble into my pond. Budd and his wife, Ginny, were special people.

In short, I will miss my friend.