Harrison, Marc, 1936-1998

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Marc Harrison was born on July 1, 1936 in New York City. When he was eleven years old, Harrison suffered a severe brain injury due to a sledding accident. As a result of the accident, he had to relearn basic functions such as walking and talking. It was because of this event and the years of rehabilitation that Harrison gained insight and inspiration for his future work as an industrial designer.

Harrison earned his BFA in industrial design at Pratt Institute in 1958, and his MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1959. After a brief stint of freelance designing in New York City, Harrison took a position teaching at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he became instrumental in establishing the Division of Architecture and Design. He believed in the importance of organic thought and the inclusion of liberal arts courses to enhance students' education, making them better designers.

The design philosophy of the time was that products should be designed for those of average shape, size, and ability. Though the intention was that these products would work for as many people as possible, the elderly and disabled found products designed by this method to be difficult to use. Harrison turned this philosophy on its head by deciding that products should be designed towards the disabled and the elderly. If this path were taken, then naturally those of average size, shape, and ability would also find the products easy and comfortable to use. This was the genesis of a philosophy that came to be known as Universal Design. Harrison incorporated this design philosophy into projects both at RISD and with his private consulting firm, Marc Harrison Associates.

Perhaps Harrison's most famous design, which incorporated this philosophy, was the Cuisinart food processor. Taking the previous food processor, Harrison redesigned it with large and easily pressed buttons, large and easily grasped handles, and bold easily readable typeface. The new design was a success. By designing a food processor toward consumers with arthritis and/or poor eyesight, Harrison had created a product that was accessible to people of all abilities. For Cuisinart, that meant a food processor that was extremely popular with the general public.

Towards the end of his life, Harrison became involved in an RISD project geared towards designing a "Universal Kitchen" based on concepts of Universal Design. The design study, undertaken by RISD students, was to analyze every aspect of the kitchen in order to restructure it to meet the needs of varying abilities. Based on their findings, the students would build the "Universal Kitchen." Everything from cabinets to counter height was analyzed. Students even broke down, step by step, the process of cooking a meal in a conventional kitchen in order to develop a more efficient, time saving, and user friendly model. Harrison, who had brought the philosophy of Universal Design to the forefront of his profession, was not able to see the final outcome of the project. On September 22, 1998 Marc Harrison died of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The final version of the "Universal Kitchen" was placed on exhibit in October 1998 at the Cooper-Hewitt design museum in New York City.

From the description of Papers, 1928-1996. (Hagley Museum & Library). WorldCat record id: 122648825

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Harrison, Marc, 1936-1998. Papers, 1928-1996. Hagley Museum & Library
referencedIn Lamb, Thomas, 1896-1988. Papers, 1916-1988. Hagley Museum & Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Aluminum Company of America. corporateBody
associatedWith American Red Cross. corporateBody
associatedWith Appliance Development Corporation. corporateBody
associatedWith Appliance Science Corporation. corporateBody
associatedWith Armco Steel Corporation. corporateBody
associatedWith Cadmus Computer Systems, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Cayman Systems, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Connoisseurs Products Corporation. corporateBody
associatedWith Cuisinarts, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Cuisine de France, Ltd. corporateBody
associatedWith Ets Gouttebarge, s.a. corporateBody
associatedWith Fountainhead Technologies, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Gaming Systems Corporation. corporateBody
associatedWith Industrial Designers Society of America. corporateBody
associatedWith International Lead Zinc Research Organization. corporateBody
associatedWith Kaz, Incorporated. corporateBody
associatedWith Lamb, Thomas, 1896-1988. person
associatedWith Magnetec Corporation. corporateBody
associatedWith Marc Harrison Associates. corporateBody
associatedWith Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. corporateBody
associatedWith Mr. Coffee, inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.). corporateBody
associatedWith National Housewares Manufacturers Association. corporateBody
associatedWith Quantum Electronics Corporation. corporateBody
associatedWith Quartzpower Incorporated. corporateBody
associatedWith Raytheon Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Rhode Island School of Design. corporateBody
associatedWith Robert Krups, North America. corporateBody
associatedWith Summer Infant Products, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Survival Technology, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Thinking Machines Corporation. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare. Vocational Rehabilitation Administration. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Federal Security Agency. Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Universal design
Electric toasters--Drawings
Industrial designers
People with disabilities--Rehabilitation
Food processors
Computer drawing
Artificial limbs
Design, Industrial
Universal kitchen
Electric railroads--Cars
People with disabilities
Prefabricated houses
Human engineering
Coffee makers


Birth 1936-07-01

Death 1998-09-22


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