Delving into Design

Meet three participants in Design MMoCA 2012

Dec 28, 2011

Design is all around us. It’s the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the bikes we ride, the phones we talk and text on. We live in and with design every day, yet it’s often only the end product we experience.

That may have been your experience if you attended Design MMoCA at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in 2010 or 2008. The event showcased rooms that area interior designers and architects created based on a work of art from the museum’s permanent collection.

For the 2012 event, the museum is changing things up. It’s opened Design MMoCA to all types of designers—graphic, product, furniture, fashion and more—challenging them to find inspiration for a design of some type in a work from the museum’s collection. And it's opened the creative process to our readers.

Design MMoCA 2012 takes place April 26 to May 6 in spaces throughout the museum. But between now and then, check the A&E page of for updates and insights into the participating designers’ process and progress. And don’t miss the April and August issues of Madison Magazine for special Design MMoCA content.

Read on to meet three participants in the upcoming event.


In late November and early December, the nineteen participants in Design MMoCA 2012 each visited the museum to choose an artwork that will serve as the starting point for their design. They followed Elizabeth Tucker, MMoCA’s director of external services, to a room where artwork is stored on tall wire screens and flipped through roughly fifty pieces.

Wesley Grubbs and Kemper Smith, creative director and designer, respectively, at Pitch Interactive, were immediately drawn to a colorful Gene Davis screenprint from 1969. Pop-y and minimalist, with thin vertical stripes in an array of vibrant colors, the work got the pair thinking about how it could inspire an interactive display.

Pitch specializes in taking data sets and building visualizations of the information—for clients such as Wired, Fortune and Esquire magazines and General Electric—in the form of illustrations or interactive web features. For Design MMoCA, the team may play with the pixels from an electronic representation of the colorful screenprint.

Drawing from the concept of a Pointillist painting, they’re considering making an interactive display using a high-definition television: Pixels will change shape depending on how close or far away a viewer stands.

No matter how the project develops, or if the team takes off in an entirely diffrent direction, Grubbs anticipates the final product being interesting and enjoyable for viewers. “When you do something like that, it’s for all ages,” he says.

When Douglas Pahl Jr. and Kate Pahl visited MMoCA, they carefully reviewed all the paintings, prints and photographs on display, ultimately choosing a nostalgic, slightly humorous 1970s black and white photograph by Archie Lieberman.

As an architect and graphic designer, Douglas and Kate say they jumped at the chance to apply their skills to such a creative outlet as Design MMoCA—and to work on a project together. They’re eager to use their chosen photograph as inspiration.

“There was something emotional about it,” Douglas says. “The scene seemed vaguely familiar.”

“I’m really into vintage,” Kate says. “That part of it spoke the loudest to me.”

The pair wanted to pick their artwork before deciding on the style, scale and even the medium of their project. And they’re keeping an open mind to how their work will develop.

“Because we come from two different disciplines, it would be neat to do a third type,” Kate says.

“I hope to do something that combines a whole lot of different things,” Douglas adds.

Lauren Slattery had a difficult time choosing between a moody Carl Corey photograph and a colorful cast-paper work by Bill Weege as her inspiration artwork.

She decided on the latter as it would work better with ideas she already had been forming for the room she wants to create for the showcase.

“I wanted something that would speak to a design but not dictate it,” says Slattery, who was just a few weeks away from earning an interior design degree from UW–Madison. 

Her concept for her Design MMoCA room is “rocker chic,” with tufted pieces, reflective surfaces, animal prints, antiques and unexpected details—“things that you wouldn’t expect to be beautiful at first glance.”

If these quick glimpses into the early stage of design for three Design MMoCA participants have you wanting more, be sure to check back periodically before the event in April.

And for more information on Design MMoCA, visit



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