Design USA: Contemporary Innovation


The Design USA: Contemporary Innovation exhibition, graphics, Web site, and iPod touch interactive program were designed by 2x4, winner of the 2006 National Design Award for Communication Design. Founded in 1994 by partners Michael Rock, Susan Sellers, and Georgianna Stout, 2x4 specializes in print, film/video, Web, and environment design, following a rigorous analysis of message, program, context, and audience for its art, design, architecture, and cultural clients.

The exhibition design uses a prefabricated steel shelving system that provides a unique modular platform for the drawings, products, fashion design, photographs, and audiovisual work on display.

“Since the exhibition features so many diverse and stylistically different design approaches, we wanted to use something basic and somewhat generic for the display unit,” says Stout, 2x4’s creative director. “The challenge was to take something as basic as steel shelving and try to stretch its use so that it could accommodate many different types of displays. We worked with a local company to customize its existing products to create flat tables, glass cases, platforms, and other displays. Many of the works in the exhibition are flat photo reproductions, which are displayed on simple bent metal stands or bolted directly onto the metal shelving, while other pieces sit directly in the shelving system. All of the shelving is powder-coated white lacquer so that it all connects visually. The display falls between something very rough and something refined. In addition, the industrial quality of the shelving system stands in stark contrast to the ornate wood paneling of the architecture of the Carnegie Mansion, Cooper-Hewitt’s home. By contrasting the industrial with the decorative, we are encouraging museum visitors to recognize the design of the space and the exhibition display as much as the artworks themselves.”

2x4’s iPod touch program, commissioned by the Museum and designed specifically to complement and expand the content of the physical installation, invites visitors to delve more deeply into the work of the designers included in the show. It offers visitors audio interviews of each of the designers, videos, interactive slideshows, and footage from Cooper-Hewitt’s public programs. In addition, the Museum has installed new wireless capability inside its galleries, allowing visitors to comment on any object, theme, or element of the exhibition. Comments will be shown in real time on a series of screens in the galleries and posted on the exhibition’s Web site and on Twitter. According to Stout, “The posts are displayed immediately as part of the exhibition and shared with others. The visitors’ comments add dimension, context, and meaning to the objects in the Design USA exhibition. This participatory model is a challenging way to approach exhibition design and the relationship between the museum and its visitors within—and beyond—the museum space itself.”