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Richard Ten Eyck (1920-2009)

Dates of Interview:

April 27 and 28, 2002

Location of Interview:

Ten Eyck's home in Orlando, Florida


Annemarie van Roessel

Length of Transcript:

113 pages
View Online

Ryerson and Burnham Archives,
The Art Institute of Chicago.

Biographical Summary

Richard Ten Eyck was born in 1920 in Marseilles, Illinois. He studied industrial design at the University of Illinois, Urbana, in the 1930s, before leaving to work in several industrial factories in Chicago and Aurora, Illinois. During WWII, he was a junior designer in the Chicago office of Dave Chapman, working on product design for Montgomery Ward. In 1945, Ten Eyck moved to Wichita, Kansas, to join Beech Aircraft in designing the Bonanza airplane and an experimental automobile. After opening his own office, RTA, in Wichita in 1948, Ten Eyck's interests in aircraft design led him to Cessna, where he was the chief consulting designer for more than forty years. Ten Eyck also created large farm equipment machinery for the Hesston and Case-Davis companies and was a consulting designer to Bell Helicopter in the 1970s and 1980s. Ten Eyck closed his Wichita office in 1996 and retired to Orlando, Florida. He died in January 2009.

Interview Highlights

Ten Eyck speaks about his rural childhood; his industrial design studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana; his work in industry during WWII; his projects at Beech Aircraft; importance of design for Hesston farm machinery; becoming chief consulting designer for Cessna; designing the Vornado fans; operating his design firm in Wichita; designing for Charlie Siebel and Bell Helicopter; observations about industrial design.

Vornado fan for O.A. Sutton Corporation, c.1948.
Ryerson and Burnham Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Cessna aircraft design meeting at RTA. c.1955.
Ryerson and Burnham Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Interview Excerpt

"The primary purpose and the method we evolved in our design work was what we called "looking for areas of opportunity." What are areas of opportunity? They are the mischievous annoyances, the discomforts, the awkward aspects of a product. You can make a long list of that sort of thing. These define the areas of opportunity. We'll never get them all together on the product, but we'll try to exhaust our list before we start. The faults of the product are the areas of opportunity. Those areas of opportunity give us our lead to how we are going to go about this, what we are going to pursue in the design of it. Some of these are functional, some of these are ergonomic, some of them are visual—a lot of them are visual, but not necessarily styling things. Does it look ungainly? Is it too low, too high? One of the things we often encountered was that it looked like it was going to tip over easily. On big machinery, this is a disadvantage if it looks like it is going to tip over. The fact is that they are all loaded with heavy iron in the bottom, but that doesn't mean anything if it looks like it's going to tip over. That's just a negative visual factor. We literally used these two terms—negative and positive factors—[to describe] visual aspects. And in all the other aspects of design that we considered we should propose, that we did…[the clients] had things to say. They had some negatives, always. That's why they wanted to redesign it. Most assuredly, their customers expressed some negative factors to them. All products get negative comments from some customers deservedly, too, in some cases. That, to me, is the real key to what industrial design should really be about and the process by which you go about it." (pp. 45-46)

Additional Resources

Finding Aid to Richard Ten Eyck Papers
Richard Ten Eyck images in the R&B Archives
Related archival materials in the R&B Archives
Works by Ten Eyck in the Department of Architecture and Design

Funding for this oral history was provided by The Art Institute of Chicago.