News
02.16.2011
Postal Service Issues Stamps of Approval
A behind-the-scenes look at industrial designers and their iconic designs going postal
Courtesy USPS

Raymond Loewy built his reputation on making the machinery of daily life sleek and seductive. The industrial designer patented his streamlined pencil sharpener in 1934, and despite never making it into production, the object’s bullet-like curves are about to be immortalized by the United States Postal Service (USPS). Pioneers of American Industrial Design, a new stamp collection to be released in July, highlights some of the most iconic designers and product designs of the 20th century. But the sheet of stamps only has 12 spots. Who decided which objects (and creators) made the cut?

AN has learned that industrial designer Niels Diffrient was a key consultant in the process, advising USPS art director Derry Noyes (daughter of architect and designer Eliot Noyes, one of the 12 to be featured) and stamp designer Margaret Bauer on the selection. “Our original thinking was to settle on the big names—Mies, Breuer, Gropius—but Niels helped us to focus more on American designers,” said Bauer. Early in his career, Diffrient (winner of a 2002 National Design Award for product design) worked in the office of Henry Dreyfuss, whose iconic desk telephone for Bell is part of the new collection.

With an eye toward more industrial products than artisanal items like tableware, the selection team sought to capture the spirit of industrial design’s most influential figures. Some choices were obvious—in addition to Loewy and Dreyfuss, Bauer says designers Norman Bel Geddes and Donald Deskey were no-brainers—but rounding out the 12 slots was a challenge. Greta von Nessen is the only woman of the group, although the team considered other female designers such as Eva Zeisel. But, like Zeisel, some of these design pioneers may not have met the primary requirement for U.S. stamp stardom: They’re not dead.

Tucker Viemeister, an industrial designer who leads the Lab at Rockwell Group, notes that women are relative newcomers to the profession and deems the selection a solid mix of key designers and products. “Industrial design was really the first kind of geeky profession,” said Viemeister, reflecting on the male-dominated early days and highlighting a trait that stamp collectors and designers may have in common. “Gearheads in their garage making stuff? We invented geeks.”

Molly Heintz and Branden Klayko