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James J. Pirkl Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

Overview of the Collection

Creator: Pirkl, James J. (James Joseph), 1930-
Title: James J. Pirkl Papers
Inclusive Dates: 1936-2008
Quantity: 75 linear ft.
Abstract: Papers of the American industrial designer, pioneer in transgenerational design and disability issues. Retired in 1992 as Chair of the Dept. of Design, Syracuse University, where he had taught since 1965. Collection includes correspondence, blueprints, drawings, and client files.
Language: English
Repository: Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries
222 Waverly Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010

Biographical History

James J. Pirkl (1930- ) is an award-winning American industrial designer and educator, known particularly for his work in transgenerational design.

Born in Nyack, New York, Pirkl graduated from Pratt Institute’s Advertising Design program (1951) and went on to earn his BID cum laude in industrial design (1958). He joined the General Motors Design Staff as a junior designer, rising to senior project designer responsible for the design of the "Avenue of Progress" section of the General Motors Futurama pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair. Subsequently promoted to assistant chief designer of Frigidaire's Advanced Product Research Studio, he was recruited by Syracuse University and appointed assistant professor of industrial design in 1965. Promoted to associate professor in 1970 and full professor in 1974, he was named professor-in-charge of industrial design in 1978 and served as department chair from 1985 until his retirement as Professor Emeritus in 1993.

In addition to his academic responsibilities he served as an industrial design consultant to a wide range of organizations both in the United States and overseas, including Age Wave, Inc., the Arthritis Foundation, Asahikasei Homes Co. (Japan), The Boeing Company, Design Age (London), Ford Motor Design Center, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, McNeil Consumer Products, the National Association of Home Builders, and Xerox Corporation. He also collaborated on design projects with such notable industrial designers as George A. Beck, Arthur Crapsey, Mark Harrison, Arthur J. Pulos, and Robert G. Smith. In 1976, under the sponsorship of the U.S. State Department, he was one of five American industrial design educators invited to conduct seminars on industrial design education at the All (Soviet) Union Research Institute of Industrial Design (VNITTE) in Moscow, USSR, and again in 1978 at The Bauhaus in Dessau, East Germany.

Pirkl is the founding director of Transgenerational Design Matters, a design consultancy for the 50+ market, and has been described as a "key figure in universal design" by the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum. He is widely acknowledged as the father of "transgenerational design," a term he coined and defined in 1984 as "the practice of making products and environments compatible with those physical and sensory impairments associated with human aging and which limit major activities of daily living." In 2003, AARP's The Magazine featured his Transgenerational House project's pioneering design concepts.

He is a frequent lecturer and presenter in the U.S. and abroad, and his articles appear in numerous international journals and periodicals. He is the co-author of Guidelines and Strategies for Designing Transgenerational Products (1988), and his Transgenerational Design: Products for an Aging Population, received a 1994 Gold Industrial Design Excellence Award.

A member of the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) since 1972, Pirkl served as a board member, regional vice president, and chairman of its Central New York Chapter. He also chaired IDSA's Education Committee, its first Universal Design Committee, and the Accreditation Council, which, in 1984, established the first school evaluation and accreditation agreement between IDSA and NASAD (the National Association of Schools of Art and Design). IDSA named him a Fellow in 1985 and in 2001 presented him with the Society's esteemed Education Award. He is a life member of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, the Authors Guild, and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.

Presently (2009) James J. Pirkl lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with his wife, Sarah, and their three children.

[Biographical sketch provided by James J. Pirkl, 2009.]

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Scope and Contents of the Collection

The James J. Pirkl Papers consists of personal files, project files, scholarly works, subject files, Syracuse University Department of Design files, writing and speaking materials, and a small amount of miscellaneous. Folder titles are given as received from the donor.

Personal files includes biographical sketches and resumes, citations of Pirkl's work, a diary from a trip to France in 1967, photographs, and magazine articles. There are also sketches, blueprints and printed material relating to Pirkl's designs for General Motors, and material relating to the World Design Foundation.

Projects consists primarily of files relating to Pirkl's Transgenerational House project, including plans, sketches, photographs, and letterhead. Also in this series are three years' of judges' manuals for the Tylenol Arthritis Foundation's Industrial Design Student Innovation Excellence Awards (1994, 1995, 1996), and some material relating to the Universal Design Summit in 2006.

Scholarly works includes correspondence, presentations, proposals, press releases and other formats. The bulk of this series consists of working files for Pirkl's book, Transgenerational Design: Products for an Aging Population (1997), for which he won a Gold Industrial Design Excellence Award (IDEA) award.

Subject files cover a wide range of organizations, projects, activities, and topics related to transgenerational design. Folders contain a mixture of formats, including agendas, clippings, correspondence, itineraries, notes, programs, publications and reports, as well as in some cases drafts or final copies of addresses, lectures, presentations, papers and workshops by Pirkl. Scattered throughout are a few papers by others, including Armand Winfield and Arthur Pulos.

Syracuse University Department of Design materials date from Pirkl's tenure as chair of the department, and contains correspondence, meeting notes, course notes, samples of student work, and other items.

Writing and speaking contains notes, drafts and final version of speeches, addresses, papers, and other presentations from conferences, meetings, seminars, and other venues, both in the United States and international.

Three folders of catalogs, filed under Miscellaneous, complete the collection.

There is also a substantial amount of as-yet-unprocessed material. This material is not yet open for research.

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Arrangement of the Collection

Series and folder titles and contents were retained as received from the donor; as a result, material relating to a given topic (e.g. the Tylenol Arthritis Foundation) may be found in several different locations. Writing and speaking files are arranged chronologically, as received from the donor. The remainder of the series have been arranged alphabetically.

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Access Restrictions

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

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Related Material

Special Collections Research Center has the papers of a number of important industrial designers and companies. Please refer to the SCRC Subject Index for a complete listing.

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Subject Headings


Pirkl, James J. (James Joseph), 1930-

Corporate Bodies

Transgenerational Design Matters (Organization)


Aging -- United States.
Consumers with disabilities -- United States.
Design, Industrial.
Educators -- United States.
Industrial designers -- United States.
Older consumers -- United States.
People with disabilities -- United States.


Industrial designers.

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

James J. Pirkl Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Finding Aid Information

Created by: [Summit record]
Date: 25 Oct 1995
Revision history: 12 Oct 2007 - converted to EAD (MRC); 20 Oct 2009 - bio updated (MRC); 15 Mar 2010 - inventory added (MRC)

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Box 1 Bio / resumes (2 folders)
Box 1 Bibliographies (2 folders)
Box 1 Citations from works by James J. Pirkl
Box 1 Citations in MFA thesis 2007
Box 1 Clippings of students' work, etc. 1960s-70s
Box 2 Diary from France trip 1967
Box 2 Form paper, design notes, etc. 1970s
General Motors
Box 2 Historical material
Box 2 Pirkl designs, etc. 1960s
Pirkl designs, etc.
Box 2 GM Futurama - 1964 World's Fair drafts 1960s
Box 2 Photographs, miscellaneous
Box 3 Pratt Institute / Wayne State University 1957-1958
See also Subject files: Pratt Institute
Box 3 Who's Who Updates
Box 3 World Design Foundation 1995-1996
Box 3 Miscellaneous magazine articles
Box 3 Miscellaneous
Transgenerational House
Box 4 Proposal to Maytag Corporation 1999
Box 4 Background memorandum 2000
Box 4 Preliminary plans
Box 4 Stationery
Box 4 Miscellaneous sketches
Box 4 Description and PR material
Box 4 Final grading and stucco
Box 4 Framing and interior
Box 4 Concrete slab, concrete/stucco
Box 4 Pool construction
Tylenol Arthritis Foundation
Box 5 Industrial Design Student Innovation Excellence Awards 1994-1996 - judges' manual (3 folders)
See also Subject files: Age Wave and Rowland Company
Box 5 Design Awards, Consumer Products nominations 1995
Box 5 Universal Design Summit 2 2006
Scholarly works
Box 6 Planning Commission, Cazenovia, NY 1988-93
Box 6 Research / support / proposals 1976-2006
Box 6 Correspondence 1990-2008 (2 folders)
Box 6 Preliminary drafts
Box 6 Reports, addresses, presentations 1985-1987
Box 7 Reports, addresses, presentations 1987-2000 (5 folders)
Box 7 Design Management Journal article 1991
Box 7 IDSA Innovation article 1991
Box 7 Kohlbacher book chapter 2007
Box 8 Press releases
Transgenerational Design book
Box 8 Charts
Box 8 Drafts 1991-1994 (4 folders)
Box 8 Miscellaneous
Box 8 Final art
Box 8 Daily memo book 1994-1999
Box 9 Guidelines and Strategies flier (6 copies)
Box 9 Design research material, miscellaneous
Box 9 John Wiley & Sons
Box 9 PBC International
Box 9 Rockport
Box 9 Outlines
Box 9 Appendix
Box 9 Draft notes
Box 9 Permissions
Box 9 Research data
Box 9 PR
Subject files
Age Wave '95
Box 10 General
Box 10 Georgia Tech
Box 10 Long Beach
Box 10 Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)
Box 10 San Jose
Box 10 Age Wave '96
Box 10 Age Wave '97
Box 10 Aging
Box 10 American Association of Museums
Box 10 American Association of Retired People (AARP)
Box 11 American Institute of Architects (AIA)
Box 11 American Institute of Building Design (AIBD)
Box 11 American Society on Aging (ASA)
Box 11 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Box 11 Appliance Manufacturing Association
Box 11 Arthritis Foundation
Box 11 Aston, Judith
Box 11 Author's Guild (2 folders)
Box 11 Barr, Charles
Box 11 Bayer
Box 11 Beck, Ben - regarding Dale Beck
Box 11 Beck, Guy
Box 12 Bhaskaran, Lakshmi
Box 12 Blaich, Robert I.
Box 12 Boeing
Box 12 BOLT
Box 12 Brownlie Design
Box 12 Business / management
Box 12 Center for Universal Design (2 folders)
Chavez, Dennis (Senator)
See Cordova, John
Box 12 Chrysler
Box 12 Cleminshaw, Doug
Box 12 Coleman, Roger
Box 12 Cooper Hewitt
Box 12 Copley Publishing
Box 12 Copyright
Box 13 Cordova, John
Crucible Steel, Solvay, NY
See McCrone, Jeffrey
Box 13 Cultural Resources Council
Box 13 Davis, Bruce
Box 13 Dementia / Alzheimers
Box 13 Design for Aging
Box 13 Design Management Institute
Box 13 Domus Academy
Box 13 Elder market
Box 13 Elkay Manufacturing
Box 13 Environment
Box 13 Ergonomic Logic, Inc.
Box 13 Falls / falling
Box 13 Ford Motor Design Center
Box 13 Frost & Sullivan
Box 13 Future issues
Box 13 Gantz, Carroll
Box 14 General Electric
Box 14 Gerontological Society of America
Box 14 Glasgow School of Art
Box 14 Grossette interview
Box 14 Handicap issues
Box 14 Health
Box 14 Hearing
Box 14 Hewlett-Packard
Box 14 High Tech
Box 14 Hoyer, William - paper on cognition
Box 14 Human aging
Box 14 Human factors / economics
Box 14 ICSID, "Design for the elderly"
Box 14 IDEA Gold Award, to Pirkl 1994
Box 15 IEEE special issue 1986
Box 15 ID Magazine
Box 15 Independence
Industrial Design Society of America (IDSA)
Box 15 General
Box 15 Design History Section
Box 15 National Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) Liaison Committee
Box 15 National meeting 1995
Box 15 Transgenerational and Disabilities Committee
Box 15 International Society for Occupational Ergonomics and Safety
Box 15 Independence Builders
Box 15 Jobs / employment
Box 15 Junior League
Box 15 Juvenile Product Manufacturing Association 1990
Box 15 Kitchen appliances
Box 15 Kohler Company
Box 15 Koncelik, Joseph
Box 16 Konturi (Germany)
Box 16 Kodak
Box 16 K-Z Associates, Inc.
Box 16 KUNM-FM
Box 16 Live Oak Editions (Charles Little)
Box 16 Lochner, Wendy
Box 16 Lonczak, John
Box 16 Machine design
Box 16 Marketing
Box 16 McCrone, Jeffrey
Box 16 Mentoring
Box 16 Metropolitan State College
Box 16 Museum of Modern Art
Box 16 Myths of aging
Box 16 Nabisco
Box 16 National Association of Home Builders, Senior Housing Research (2 folders)
National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD)
Box 16 General
Box 17 IDSA accreditation
Box 17 Publications - reports to members, briefing papers, miscellaneous other publications
Box 17 National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC)
Box 17 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)
Box 17 National New Deal Preservation Association (NNDPA)
Box 17 National Public Radio (NPR)
See also Writing and speaking: National: National Public Radio interview
Box 17 New Mexico State University, The Institute for Gerontological Research and Education (TIGRE)
Box 17 Nursing homes
See Warner & Finley
Box 17 Pan American Round Table
Box 17 Pearl River High School
Box 17 Poole, Janet (University of New Mexico)
Box 17 Peachtree Doors and Windows
Box 17 Pratt Institute
See also Personal: Pratt Institute / Wayne State University
Box 18 Prince
Box 18 Procter and Gamble
Pro Matura Group
Box 18 General
Box 18 Awards judging 1995-1996
Box 18 Pulos, Arthur - includes several papers by Pulos, parodies of Christmas carols, other writings
Box 18 Ralph Lauren
Box 18 Raschko, Bettyann
Box 18 Rehabilitation
Box 18 Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA)
Box 18 Retirement
Box 18 Rickard, Paul
Box 18 Rowland Company
Box 18 Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts (RSA)
Box 18 Salmen, John
Box 18 Seating
Box 18 Sekulski, Ronald
Box 18 Seniors Research Group
Box 18 Sixbey, Friedman, Leedom & Ferguson
Box 19 Smart House
Box 19 Statistics
Box 19 Steinfeld, Edward
Box 19 Strategies
Box 19 Stress
Box 19 Sunlight Homes
Box 19 Transgenerational products / problems
Box 19 Transportation
Box 19 Transportation Research Board
Box 19 Universal Design
Box 19 University of New Mexico
Box 19 Vision
Box 19 Warner & Finley
Box 19 Whirlpool
Box 19 Winfield, Armand - includes paper by Winfield
Syracuse University Department of Design
Box 20 Chair evaluation 1990-1991
Box 20 Chair search 1981-1982
Box 20 Correspondence 1965-1991 (3 folders)
Box 20 Curriculum Vitae 1965-1990 (2 folders)
Box 20 Form originals
Box 21 Gerontology / Walter Beattie
Box 21 Graduate Students, miscellaneous 1992-1993
Box 21 Independent Study Degree Program 1973
Box 21 News clippings 1965-2000 (2 folders)
Box 21 Research project 1981
Box 21 Smith Hall renovation 1991
Box 21 Student papers
Box 21 Student projects
Box 21 Miscellaneous SU publications
Box 22 SU, miscellaneous
Box 22 Design Department, miscellaneous
Writing and speaking
Box 22 1975 SU seminar, "Closing the Gap"
Box 22 1981 New York State Industrial Arts Convention
Box 22 1983 IDSA accreditation
Box 22 1984 The Aging Human Factor (Conference)
Box 22 1986 NASAD Annual Meeting Presentation
Box 22 1989 Technology & Aging Conference
Box 22 1989 NY State Society on Aging Conference
Box 22 1990 American Society on Aging Conference
Box 22 1990 IDSA NationalDesign Education Conference
Box 22 1990 IDSA Southern District Conference
Box 22 1990 Transgenerational Design Conference
Box 22 1991 Ohio Governor's Conference on Aging
Box 23 1991 Arizona State University Lecture
Box 23 1991 International Management Council Conf.
Box 23 1991 Conference on Design Education
Box 23 1992 IDSA Educator's Conference
Box 23 1992 ADA Education Seminar
Box 23 1992 Universal Design Conference
Box 23 1994 American Society on Aging article
Box 23 1996 RISD Universal Kitchen Project
Box 23 1998 Universal Design Conference
Box 23 1998 Design Education Conference
Box 24 1998 Family Life Conference, Dakota Weslean U.
Box 24 1998 Unlimited by Design Exhibit, Cooper/Hewitt
Box 24 1999 STEMPE Technical Meeting Address
Box 24 1999 National Public Radio Interview
Box 24 2000 Universal Design Conference (2 folders)
Box 24 2005 Protection & Advocacy System
Box 24 2006 WITHIT Conference - keynote address
Box 24 2006 American River College - address
Box 24 2007 IDSA/Human Factors Society Conference
Box 25 2007 IDSA/ICSID World Design Congress - address
Box 25 2008 Kendal at Ithaca - address
Box 25 All-Union Research Institute, USSR
Box 25 1981 Inter national Symposium on Art and Design
Box 25 1989 ICSID Interdesign, Norway
Box 25 1990 China Industrial Design Congress, Taiwan
Box 25 1991 Wuhan International Symposium on Industrial Design, China
Box 25 1992 KAIST Accreditation Evaluation, Korea (2 folders)
Box 25 1993 Design Age: Royal College of Art, London
Box 26 1995 Netherlands Design Institute, Amsterdam
Box 26 1995 Design Age: Royal College of Art, London (2 folders)
1995 International Guest Lecture Series
Box 26 General
Box 26 Amsterdam
Box 26 Dublin
Box 26 Einhoven
Box 26 Helsinki
Box 26 London
Box 27 1995 Design for Aging Network (DAN) (2 folders)
Box 27 1997 Design für die Zunkunft, chapter
Box 27 2000 International Seminar on Technology, Brazil
Box 27 2000 Ozone Design Center, Tokyo (2 folders)
Box 27 2007 4th World Aging & Generations Congress, Switzerland
Box 13 Catalogs (3 folders)

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