Ralph Caplan is an American design consultant, writer, and public speaker, known for writing several books and regular magazine columns about design.
After earning his Master's Degree at Indiana University, Ralph Caplan taught at Wabash College for a stint before moving to New York to become editor of Industrial Design. This was the beginning of a prolific career writing about and analyzing design. He currently writes for major design publications, and he has authored some iconic works on the topic of design.
By Design: Why There Are No Locks on the Bathroom Doors in the Hotel Louis XIV and Other Object Lessons, explores concrete topics like industrial design, interior design, fashion design, and graphic design. It also touches on design in a more abstract or systemic sense, as in the case of designing businesses or social situations.
The Design of Herman Miller describes how the modern furniture manufacturer was one of the first companies to produce furniture in its design style. In fact, Herman Miller may be one of the most prolific and influential producers of furniture in the modernist style. They have a unique position among manufacturers for cultivating the talents of a big crowd of modernist designers who produce a significant number of pieces that are still thought of as icons in industrial design. Caplan had been a consultant to Herman Miller for more than 20 years.
Cracking the Whip, published in 2006, is a reprint of a selection of essays on design and its effects. Caplan covers topics of design of just about everything: clothing, hardware, posters, cars, airports, chairs, lighting, vending machines, cities, and bathrooms. But the topics delve deeply into philosophy, covering topics like how we use design, language, and instinct to navigate our everyday world from eating and relating to others, maintaining traditions, and advancing causes.
Caplan has established himself as one of the great deep philosophers of design. While others establish themselves in practicing the craft, Caplan's contribution is comparison, thoughtful dissection, and an in-depth analysis across many disciplines. When Caplan said, "Thinking about design is hard, but not thinking about it can be disastrous.”, his words come from a place of objective reasoning.
Caplan understands and appreciates the implication of design as a method of front-loading effort, as careful and thoughtful planning. A poorly designed chair might collapse under the weight of its owner—a thousand such chairs inform a poor reputation (or even result in a lawsuit). A poorly designed business can collapse under its owners as well, but the result is much more devastating than dropping a few feet.
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