President and CEO, Big Monster Toys
With its oversized door, a giant knob and a monster peeking out at visitors, Big Monster Toys’ otherwise unmarked entrance gives away the secret anyway: Beyond this portal work a group of men and women doing the dream job of virtually every child ever born, designing toys. Thanks to the legacy of the now-defunct Marvin Glass and Associates, Chicago is the “toy inventing capital of the world,” according to London’s Daily Telegraph, and given the secrecy with which this business is conducted (the CIA has nothing on toy guys), who’s to argue? That Big Monster Toys, founded in 1988 by former Marvin Glass partners, is the world’s largest toy-design company is equally undisputed, with reports that eighty percent of all American homes own a BMT-invented toy. When Jeffrey Breslow retired in 2008, thirty-five-year veteran Rosenwinkel took the helm. Today, he oversees twenty-six designers, model makers and engineers coming up with the likes of Barbie’s Puppy Play Park (Mattel), Imaginext Mega T-Rex, Dragon and Ogre (Fisher Price), Flying Super Grover (Hasbro), Pictionary Man (Mattel) and Fantastic Gymnast Dora (Fisher Price) and representing sales in the billions.
Founder and principal designer, MINIMAL
If not for Scott Wilson, who knows if you’d still have Kickstarter to kick around anymore. As a former global creative director at Nike, Wilson was certainly no fresh-out-of-the-box product designer when he skyrocketed to fame in 2010 with his TikTok+LunaTik project. With that project, a kit that converted Apple’s iPod Nano into a smashing little wristwatch, Wilson had failed to get much interest when he shopped the idea to conventional channels, so threw it up on Kickstarter in hopes of raising at least $15,000. Instead, he raised almost a million dollars in a month, and the crowd-funding concept suddenly had a legitimacy that pushed it into the mainstream. Since then, he’s gone back to that well for several more successful projects, while maintaining an active design-for-hire practice (he’s one of the visual architects of the Xbox + Kinect system, designs computers for Dell as well as a host of medical technology products) that won him the coveted Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award in 2012. Family brought him back to Chicago in 2006 and it looks like he’s here to stay: MINIMAL is at work now on impressive new digs in the West Loop that it hopes to occupy some time next month.
Lead Designer and Founding Principal, John Ronan Architects
Besting Pritzker Prize-winner Thom Mayne in a 2004 design competition and receiving national applause for his South Side Gary Comer Youth Center in 2009, the young, grey-haired, black-suited disciple of Stanley Tigerman received his second AIA honor award last year for the Poetry Foundation Building on the Near North Side. Thirty-four-story building. Small house. Urban master-plan. Diminutive rowing-centers. From spoon to city, his office continues to effortlessly attract the attention of Chicago and the country.
Principal, Kara Mann Design
There’s likely not a magazine that Kara Mann hasn’t been featured in. Her elegant home interior designs, which tend to blend weighty furniture with organic accessories, just scream to be photographed and printed on glossy pages. Mann was named part of The Vogue 100 list, and her designs reside in Chicago and its suburbs, New York City, Mexico, and beyond.
Principal, Tigerman McCurry
Even while in a self-described last phase of his career, which he splits evenly between drawing, writing and practice, Stanley Tigerman maintains the same steady ambitions and spirited personality that allowed him to shape Chicago architecture culture in the seventies, to direct and then find himself fired from the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Architecture (only to reach from a grave and see his former faculty hire Robert Somol become its current director), and to co-found the activist nonprofit school Archeworks in the nineties. Completing the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago and the Holocaust Museum in Skokie in the past few years, his one-third time spent on practice seems to outpace most other architects in the city.
Founder, Coudal Partners
After years toiling away as a small creative firm doing conventional client work, Jim Coudal reinvented his business as a firm doing projects for themselves. Their biggest successes to date are Field Notes Brand, a line of notebooks, and The Deck, a large targeted online ad network. Other noteworthy endeavors include the Museum of Online Museums, which is self-explanatory, and Layer Tennis, which Coudal describes as “a series of sponsored live design events that are a terrific waste of everyone’s time.” That candid style is a Coudal trademark, which is why, as much as anything, Jim Coudal and his web site are seen as pioneers of a new way of doing business. Not bad for a self-described “traditional ad agency/design firm except we have no clients.”
Dean, IIT College of Architecture
The Dutchman became the latest to inherit the legacy of Mies van der Rohe, becoming the dean of the IIT College of Architecture in 2012. Internationally renowned as an architect, teacher, designer and urbanist who embraces progressive academic research and effortless design solutions to projects, Wiel Arets oversees four offices in three countries with projects in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Switzerland and now, presumably to come, in the United States.
Chair, Fashion Design, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
When fashionistas need to remind themselves that their calling is art along with the commerce, they often turn to Nick Cave and his Soundsuits—those bright and whimsical suits that are one part sculpture, one part installation, and one part mixed media and majestic. Cave’s suits made a sensation at the Chicago Cultural Center in 2006, and have since graced the stages and the pages of New York’s fashion elite. But Cave’s influence extends beyond the beautiful people; as chair of the fashion department at the School of the Art Institute, he’s shaping the future of his field in his own vision.
Founder and Design Director, Thirst
As the founder and design director of Thirst, Rick Valicenti has envisioned bold new graphic, book and website identities, often for cultural leaders such as Jeanne Gang, John Ronan and Columbia College Chicago. In 2011, Valicenti was given the National Design Award in Communication Design by The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. Valicenti’s latest passion project is called Moving Design, which connects designers with advocacy groups.
Richard Wright’s 60,000 square-foot warehouse in the West Loop is filled with twentieth- and twenty-first century furniture, design and art. One way that contemporary design gets disseminated throughout the city is via high-end auctions, and Wright has spearheaded that field locally, and in the process has created a new generation of design connoisseurs. Additionally, Wright has produced exhibitions of work by contemporary artists and designers such as Ron Gilad, Arik Levy and Martino Gamper.