Josh Owen named director of RIT’s Vignelli Center for Design Studies
Distinguished Professor and renowned industrial designer set to lead ‘global beacon for design’
Josh Owen, an internationally renowned designer, author and faculty-researcher who has led Rochester Institute of Technology’s industrial design program to national prominence since coming to the university a decade ago, has been named the new director of the Vignelli Center for Design Studies and the Massimo and Lella Vignelli Distinguished Professor of Design.
Owen succeeds R. Roger Remington, the founding director of the international resource for design that houses the archive of the late Massimo and Lella Vignelli, whose graphic and product designs are icons of modern design. Remington retired in June after 57 years at RIT.
The search was led by Todd Jokl, dean of the College of Art and Design, who is “excited to work closely with Josh and the Vignelli Center on our ambitious agenda and to realize even greater appreciation and access to this remarkable resource in our region and globally.”
“Josh Owen’s career in the profession and in education exemplifies the power of design to better the world in many ways,” Jokl said. “Just as Roger Remington was the perfect champion to found and lead the Vignelli Center through its first decade, Josh comes into this position with a unique mix of leadership skills, ambition and networking to advance and expand the center’s reach and programming in the decades ahead.”
Owen said he is “deeply honored and grateful that both my colleagues and RIT’s leadership felt that I was the right fit to lead the Vignelli Center.”
“I also recognize the substantial responsibility of ensuring that the Vignelli Center grows as a global beacon for good design,” added Owen. Both the directorship and endowed distinguished professorship were made possible through generous support from the Helen Hamlyn Trust of Great Britain, in conjunction with the university. “The sense of responsibility is balanced by my excitement and enthusiasm for the work to be done.”
The Vignelli Center is marking a decade since its establishment in 2010—the same year Owen arrived on the RIT campus. Since that time, Owen and Remington have built a close working relationship as both faculty colleagues and widely respected designers.
This year’s Metaproject—Owen’s brainchild pairing RIT student designers with a real-world client partner in what has become a seminal project for industrial design students who regularly get to exhibit their projects at Design Week in New York City—marked a celebratory collaboration by honoring both the 10th anniversary of the course and the Vignelli Center.
“Roger was one of the reasons I accepted the offer to join RIT in the first place a decade ago,” Owen recalled. “In the 10 years since our first meeting, Roger has become a colleague, mentor and friend. We have collaborated on countless projects galvanized by the Vignelli Center and he has been generous in sharing his process and passion with me. I am looking forward to his continued camaraderie as I transition into the role and onward.”
Remington said he is “delighted” to pass the directorship baton of the Vignelli Center—the crown jewel of his efforts to turn RIT into an international archival resource for design—to Owen.
“I am confident that the Vignelli Center for Design Studies will flourish in this next phase of its evolution,” he said. “Having worked closely with Josh on Vignelli Center programming for many years, I am delighted to pass the leadership torch to him. I look forward to being part of this growth and supporting our new director and Vignelli professor.”
Owen noted that Massimo and Lella Vignelli’s children, Valentina and Luca, “have been generous in helping us to accession additional items into the archives and we very much appreciate their continued support.”
He added that “the Vignelli archives were not only a great gift to RIT, but it is the legacy of the Vignellis’ design vision that is the true gift” to a troubled world.
“The Vignellis taught us that design is a systematic framework for solving the world’s most intractable problems,” said Owen, named to RIT’s first class of Distinguished Faculty in 2019. “My goal is to make the Vignelli Center even more accessible and applicable by bringing in exciting guest contributors from diverse and under-represented backgrounds who are using design in innovative ways.”
“If 2020 has taught us anything,” he added, “it’s that while we humans are adaptable, our societies and systems have major flaws. We are at a point when we need to have difficult discussions and work to create a new balance in the world. In this, design must play a critical role.”
In addition to his role at RIT, Owen is president of his design studio, Josh Owen LLC. His professional projects are produced by major manufacturers and have won numerous industry awards. His works are included in the permanent design collections of the ADAM Brussels Design Museum, Centre Pompidou, Corning Museum of Glass, Denver Art Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, The Chicago Athenaeum National Museum of American Jewish History and Taiwan Design Museum. He also is the author of the book Lenses for Design and the forthcoming Design for Study.
While Owen will continue to teach the Metaproject course, Bruce Leonard, a lecturer in the School of Design, will take over as director of the undergraduate industrial design BFA program. Alex Lobos will continue in his role as the graduate director of the MFA in industrial design.