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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Donald Deskey

Donald Deskey
Donald Deskey (1894-1989) was born in Blue Earth, Minnesota. He studied architecture at the University of California, but he chose not to practice. Instead he became an artist and an industrial designer.

In 1925 he went to Paris to attend the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes. What he saw there would influence his approach to design.

He first gained recognition for creating window displays for the Franklin Simon department store in Manhattan in 1926. In the 1929 he won the competition to design the interior of Radio City Music Hall.

He opened a design consultant firm in New York City and later entered a partnership with Phillip Vollmer, forming the firm of Deskey-Vollmer, which specialized in textile and furniture design. In the 1940s he formed Donald Deskey Associates and became a pioneer in the branding industry. He designed the original brands for Tide laundry detergent, Crest toothpaste, Joy dishwashing detergent, Pampers diapers and Duncan Hines food products. This firm is still in business in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Deskey's designs progressed from Art Deco to Streamline Moderne and included a broad range of items, even including light poles for New York City. A collection of his work is held by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.

From and

Coffee table for Charak Modern

Art Deco table

Art Deco lamp
Pool table

Dining chairs

Three-panel screen


Radio City Music Hall

New York City lighting

Tide bullseye logo

Patent application renderings for Drene shampoo and Joy detergent bottles


  1. It's strange, we talk about artists and art pieces that we have only seen in photos, but we never talk about the artists of our everyday products like the label on the yogurt or the favorite shampoo that I use over and over. I sure do complain about it a lot if they happen to change the package on a favorite product. I need to figure out who designed some of these things!

    1. It does seem as if today's graphic designers don't have the glamour attached to them that early admen had, and, when you stop to think about it, that seems strange in a society that has almost turned consumerism into a religion.

  2. It is funny to think that designers had such a far ranging reach into everyday lives. Now it seems like style is no longer a priority. Cheap rules - years from now I wonder what people will consider the design style of our age.

    1. I wonder if any era every really recognizes its icons at the time. The googie starbursts of the 50s, the psychedelic flowers of the late 60s, the disco theme of the 70s and the neon graphic designs of the 80s immediately come to mind, but the nearer it gets to "now," the harder it is for me to pinpoint the icons... maybe because the more recently a person has been immersed in the details, the harder it is for him to step back and see the big picture. Like you, I wonder what will typify us.

  3. Truly an early Madman. Love the cocktail, credenza, pool table and andirons. Actually it's all pretty swell!! Fun post!

    1. The designers back then truly were multi-talented Renaissance men...even before we started using that term. I love being surprised when I research them.

      Light poles, elegant furniture and detergent packages? Really???

  4. Oh heck! I love the art deco table and lamp.
    I have always liked the Tide bullseye logo.

    1. Isn't it amazing when you discover the person behind logos and packaging designs you've known all your life?

  5. Thank you for doing this post - excellent!!

    I work at Deskey Associates - we are a branding and design firm that was established by Donald when he introduced the art and science of design to the world of consumer products with our friends over at P&G.

    We recently did a retrospective about him at UC's design school called 'the collective conscious - the unconstrained mind of Donald Deskey' - with the purpose of inspiring the next generation of designers that you don't have to specialize to one aspect of design- that the creative mind can do whatever it wants. As part of this, we did interviews with his clients at the time and his kids to make sure we capture as much of his story as possible.

    He really was an amazing person because he married the art and science of design before anyone else... he was talking about packages needing 'personality' to connect with consumers at shelf before any of the modern tactics of 'neuromarketing' existed... he was a pioneer at arguing the ability of smart design to deliver both style and cost savings at the same time (how one could mass produce design if part of the design intent was optimizing physical resources for cost efficiencies) ...

    We venerate him around here... calling ourselves decedents of a design god and when in doubt, challenging ourselves to live up to his fearless passion in order to make the world a more beautiful, fulfilling place :)

    I can't wait to explore more of your blog - we LOVE to find people with a real passion for design because that is what gets us out of bed in them morning :) Happy to chat offline if you ever want to compare notes!

    We'll post a link to your blog on our Facebook page to spread the word!

    Amanda Matusak
    VP Brand Strategy - Deskey Integrated Branding

    1. I just found this comment, and I'm very honored that you found my post and liked it. I apologize for seeing this so long after you posted it. I'll visit your Facebook page, and I may very well take you up on your offer to compare notes!