Patrick Whitney Biography

Director of the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology

Born Patrick Foster Whitney, c. 1952; married Cheryl Kent (an author). Education: Cranbrook Academy of Art, M.F.A., 1976.

Addresses: Contact —Illinois Institute of Technology, 3300 S. Federal Street, Chicago, IL 60616-3793. E-mail —


Chaired the program of the 1978 US Conference of the International Council on Graphic Design Associations; principal researcher for research initiatives Global Companies in Local Markets and Designing for the Base of the Pyramid; consultant to Aetna, Texas Instruments, McDonald's, and Zebra Technologies; Steelcase/Robert C. Pew Professor of Design; director, Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology, 1986—; served on the jury of the 1995 Presidential Design Awards.


In the world of design, Patrick Whitney is known for his ongoing dedication to innovation and revolution. Forever investigating the ways that form impacts and interacts with function, Whitney uses his position as director of the Institute of Design, housed at Illinois Institute of Technology, and Steelcase/Robert C. Pew Professor of Design to influence design students' understanding of where and how design functions in the world. Specifically, Whitney has urged both aspiring and accomplished

designers to reconsider the role of design in the 21st century. As the Institute of Design's webpage describes, "Whitney has published and lectured throughout the world about how to make technological innovations more humane, the link between design and business strategy, and methods of designing interactive communications and products." Thinking, specifically, about the ways in which changing design strategies can respond to increasingly flexible, as opposed to mass, production and increasingly global, rather than national, markets, Whitney's ideas about design lie at the intersection of art and business, education and humanitarianism. Whitney has devoted much time and energy to investigating how the design of everyday objects, such as cell phones, impacts the quality of everyday life. Described in an issue of Forbes as having "devoted his life to redesigning design itself—function over styling, substance over glitz," Whitney has devoted his career, generally, to reconsidering the function of form.

At the Illinois Institute of Technology's Institute of Design, Whitney has brought this revolutionary design theory both into the classroom and into the various projects on which he has worked. As the director of the Institute of Design, Whitney oversees both a thriving undergraduate program and a highly competitive graduate program. The graduate program, in particular, is a leader in its field, offering two professional degrees, the Master of Design and the Master of Design methods, and a research-oriented PhD. Professional academics and students alike come from around the world to take part in the design innovation underway at the Institute of Design. In both his administrative and professorial capacities, Whitney is very much at the center of this activity. Indeed, his personal design philosophies and professional devotion to revolutionizing the field of design meld nicely with what the Institute of Design describes on its website as its dedication to "approach[ing] design problems from many perspectives [by] employing analytic and synthetic design methods to identify current and future needs and to humanize the technology needed to solve those problems."

Beyond his work as director and professor, however, Whitney is also intricately involved in several of the research initiatives central to the Institute of Design's vitality and stellar reputation. One of the initiatives with which Whitney has worked most closely is the Global Companies in Local Markets (GCLM) research consortium. As part of this effort, which both investigates and attempts to ease the difficulties faced by companies expanding their base from local markets to global markets, Whitney examines the cultural factors that influence how specific design innovations are received within specific cultures. In their work with the GCLM, he and the researchers whom he has assembled from around the world push beyond the anthropological studies traditionally conducted by companies seeking to introduce their products and services into foreign markets. Recognizing these studies as far too general, Whitney and his GCLM colleagues investigate the aspects of daily life that affect how various goods and services are received by communities other than those for which they were originally designed.

Also at the Institute of Design, Whitney has been involved in a research initiative entitled Designing for the Base of the Pyramid. Here, again, Whitney's work centers around understanding the function of design at a global level. With Designing for the Base of the Pyramid, however, Whitney and his colleagues investigate the extent to which considering design and employing various design innovations could enhance the living condition in developing nations, and specifically in the slums of India. As Whitney and colleague Anjali Kelkar assert in an article published in Design Management Review, those working on this particular research initiative are "focusing specifically on wealth creation in urban slums in the developing world." Their goal, according to Whitney and Kelkar, "is to make the local economies more sustainable, encourage the growth of small businesses, and in the long term to help transition residents toward improved living conditions." The researchers were also focusing on the ways in which increased attention to design could help facilitate this potential economic upswing. In this case, however, the design issues to which Whitney and his colleagues are most closely attending have more to do with housing and business strategy than product design and marketing. Indeed, they are using their experience to design intricate models for economic uplift.

Whitney has been an invaluable member of the Institute of Design's faculty, in particular, and research community, in general. Yet, Whitney's contributions to the world of design extend far beyond what he has accomplished at his home institution. For decades, Whitney has served on committees and panels not directly associated with the Illinois Institute of Technology's Institute of Design and shared with diverse audiences his ideas about purposeful, sustainable, and marketable design. He has, for example, served on the Distinguished Advisor Board of the Association of Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group in Computer Human Interaction, whose primary mission is to promote interest in and knowledge of human-computer interaction and human technology. Moreover, he has been a member of the White House Council on Design and was on the jury of the 1995 Presidential Design awards. Finally, Whitney set into motion his reputation as an innovator nearly ten years before he took over as director of Institute of Design by chairing the program of the 1978 US Conference of the International Council on Graphic Design Associations. This conference marked the first major effort to consider design strategies from the perspectives of users rather than the designers. As he would be throughout his career, Whitney was at the forefront of the endeavor.



Design Management Review, Fall 2004.

Forbes, September 6, 2004, p. 158.


"Global Companies in Local Markets," Institute of Design, (August 24, 2005).

"Patrick Whitney," Institute of Design: People: Faculty, (August 17, 2005).

"Profile," Institute of Design: Overview, (August 25, 2005).

"Seventh Annual CIO 100 Symposium and Awards—Speakers," CIO 100 Symposium, (August 21, 2005).

Emily Schusterbauer

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