John Heskett

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John Heskett
John Heskett in 2009
John Heskett in 2009
Born(1937-05-26)26 May 1937
Coventry, England
Died25 February 2014(2014-02-25) (aged 76)
Hove, Sussex
CitizenshipUnited Kingdom
GenreHistorian, Art historian
SpousePamela Heskett

John Heskett (26 May 1937 - 25 February 2014) was a British writer and lecturer on the economic, political, cultural and human value of industrial design. Heskett was a professor at the Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology (1989–2004) and school of design at Hong Kong Polytechnic University (2004–11) teaching in Design history, Design thinking, he became the acting dean of the latter (2011–12). He was also a visiting professor at universities in Turkey, Japan, Chile, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Between the late 1970s and 2010, he published Industrial Design, Toothpicks and logos: design in everyday life, Design: a very short introduction and other books. These were considered as significant contributions to the history of design, to the study of design policy and latterly to the theoretical and applied articulation of the economic value created by design, first in the United Kingdom, then in the United States, and, in the last decade of his life, in Hong Kong.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Coventry in 1937, Heskett went to the Humphrey Perkins School in Barrow upon Soar, Leicestershire (1947–54); did national service; and gained a degree in economics, politics and history at the London School of Economics.[2]


With his background, Heskett began to write history considering social, economic and political as components of design. In the early 1970s, he became part of the emerging first generation of historians of design. A variety of positions followed before he obtained a design-history post at Lanchester Polytechnic (1967–77). Then he taught design history and theory in Sheffield, and at Ravensbourne College, Bromley, in south-east London (1984–89). In the late 1970s, John became a prominent member of a group of academics based in several of Britain's art schools (then part of the polytechnics when he was at Sheffield City), who developed the discipline of design history and theory, later to subsumed under the broader. His first book, Industrial Design, published in 1980 and was instantly successful since it provided one of the first accounts of industrial design as responses to changes in production methods and the organization of capitalism.

In United States[edit]

Heskett left the United Kingdom for the United States in 1988, first to work on a project with the Design Management Institute in Boston, and, then after 1989, to teach in the graduate programmes of the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago. By 1990, he was working for a Japanese consultancy and, throughout the next decades, he was invited to speak and advise at institutional and governmental levels in Mexico, Chile, Finland, Japan, Taiwan and South Africa.

In Hong Kong[edit]

Since 2004 in Hong Kong, Heskett undertook teaching and research cerning the roles of design in production and more widely in the economy as a whole, examining design policy at national levels in the United States, Europe and, increasingly, Asia.

Heskett was a member of the INDEX: Design to Improve Life Award Jury from 2004 and a board member of CIID from 2007.[3][4]

Personal life[edit]

Heskett is survived by his second wife, Pamela Smith, whom he married in 1992; his daughter, Ingrid, and son, Peter, both from his first marriage, to Irene Alksnis, which ended in divorce.[5]


As single author;
  • A John Heskett Reader, edited by Clive Dilnot, Bloomsbury Publishing, New York ( forthcoming 2016) ISBN 9781474221252
  • Works in China, Joint author with Michael Young, privately published, Hong Kong (2011)
  • Design: a very short introduction (2005) Translated into Spanish, Swedish, Korean, Portuguese (Brazil), Japanese, Greek, Chinese, Turkish and Serbo-Croat. Oxford University Press, Oxford. This book is the second edition of Toothpicks and Logos: Design in Everyday Life, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002.
  • Philips: A Study of the Corporate Management of Design Trefoil Publications, London, and Rizzoli, New York. (1989)
  • Design in Germany 1870-1918 Trefoil Press, London and Taplinger, New York. (1986)
  • Industrial Design Translated into Spanish as Breve historia del diseño industrial, Portuguese as Desenho industrial, Japanese as インダストリアル.デザインの歴史, Korean, Dutch as Industriële vormgeving and Italian. Thames & Hudson, London.
  • Very Hong Kong: design 1997-2007, with Hong Kong Design Centre and Hong Kong Trade Development Centre (2007).
  • Designed in Hong Kong, with Hong Kong Trade Development Council, Hong Kong (2004).
  • Design In Asia: Review of national design policies and business use of design in China, South Korea and Taiwan Research report commissioned by the Design Council, UK as a contribution to Sir George Cox ’ s report to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the future of design in the United Kingdom (2005).
  • Shaping the Future: Design for Hong Kong: Report of the Design Education Task Force, Hong Kong Design Centre and Hong Kong Trade Development Centre (2003).


  1. ^ Sparke, Penny. "John Heskett obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  2. ^ Dilnot, Clive (2014-01-01). "John Heskett (1937–2014)". History Workshop Journal. 78 (1): 309–313. ISSN 1477-4569.
  3. ^ "CAN THE CENTRE HOLD? - INDEX: Design to Improve Life®". INDEX: Design to Improve Life®. Retrieved 2016-03-03.
  4. ^ "Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design » John Heskett 1937 – 2014". Retrieved 2016-03-03.
  5. ^ "Introduction - JOHN HESKETT". JOHN HESKETT. Retrieved 2016-03-03.

External links[edit]

* John Heskett Official Website