Is Gifford Jackson the Len Lye of industrial design?


Gifford Jackson’s career has been hugely undertstated in NZ, as has the value of industrial design and its contribution to our lives and culture. It appears that Gifford is given greater recognition for his vision and innovation in the USA where the prestigious Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) claims him as one of their own.

With its roots reaching back to 1938 and founded in 1965, the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) is the world’s oldest, largest, member-driven society for industrial design. The organization has more than 3,000 members in 29 professional chapters in the US and internationally. In the bio, below, of Gifford on the IDSA website he is described as “US industrial designer”.

Gifford Jackson, L/IDSA, FDINZ, MCSD
(1922- )

“US industrial designer, Gifford Jackson, born in Auckland, New Zealand, is at 91 in 2012, among the oldest living members of IDSA. In 1939, at 17, he set off by sea for England and by 1940 found himself in wartime Britain amidst German bombing raids. During this, Jacksonstudied naval architecture at Glasgow University in Scotland and began work as a draftsman for a shipyard in Leith, near Edinburgh. His experience was uncannily similar to that of his earlier compatriot, industrial design pioneer Jo Sinel (1889-1975) of Auckland, who had arrived in England in the midst of World War I. Jackdon’s father knew the Sinel family.

Soon, Jackson joined the Royal Air Force as a navigator and was sent to Canada for training, but before returning, stopped in New York and met a young lady, Virginia, at The Stage Door Canteen (a famous World War II place). He corresponded with Virginia after the war upon return to New Zealand, where he got a job with the largest appliance manufacturer in the country. He taught himself about industrial design by reading about the Bauhaus and American pioneer designers and joined the UK Society of Industrial Artists (later, the Chartered Society of Designers, CSD).

Desiring more experience, he emigrated to the US in 1949 through the kindness of Virginia’s father. He landed a job at Carl Otto’s office in New York, where Jay Doblin, Albrecht Goetz and Harold Vanderhyde also worked. Sequentially, he worked for International Plainfield Motors, Donald Deskey, Norman Bel Geddes, Peter Schladermundt, and finally, worked ten years with Walter Dorwin Teague Associates. He also taught part-time in the evening school at Pratt Institute and at Parsons School of Design.

In 1955, soon after he had joined ASID, he gave a slide talk to its New York Chapter illustrated with classic product styling clichés from 1920 onward, which Teague praised as “Salutary.” Later in 1962, his illustrations were featured in his article in ID magazine with a three-page foldout as well as other New Zealand magazines, and have been and are still being referenced in many design articles and books to illustrate styling history.

In 1964 Gifford began his own New York practice, doing design work for offices, including those of Freda Diamond, Monte Levin, Gerald Stahl, Robert Zeidman and Osborne-Charles. In 1966 he returned to New Zealand and opened an office in Auckland, where he designed kitchen and bathroom products; radio, hi-fi and television cabinets, and building hardware, among others.

He served on the New Zealand Council of Industrial Design during the 1970s and later became a Fellow and Life Member of the Designers Institute of New Zealand (DINZ). In the late 1970s, he began designing boats and founded the New Zealand Society of Naval Architects (which later became the NZ Division of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects in the UK).

A man of many interests, Jackson excels in painting, photography and sailing. In America he had crewed on yachts, including that of Walter Dorwin Teague, Jr. Plans for Gifford’s small sailboat design, “Marisol,” have been sold by WoodenBoat magazine in Maine for 36 years.

Jackson retired in 2005 to the lovely 113-year-old house where he was born in Devonport, a suburb of Auckland, but he still lectures on topics related to art and design.