Read Time: 5 minutes

By Design
is a retrospective of experience design work guided by Keith Helmetag, co-founder of the award-winning design practice C&G Partners. The show explores the intersection of design, object and interpretation, and culture in public spaces. 

Created in collaboration with FIT Associate Professor and Chair of CD Pathways Craig Berger, as well as the students and staff, the immersive, spacial, and digitally illuminated exhibit features work Helmetag created independently and at Chermayeff & Geismar and C&G Partners. 

BY DESIGN Philosophy 

The show rewinds four decades of Helmetag’s experience design work, much of which is unified under the ethos: design for culture. This philosophy begins with believing in the untapped value of culture, the institutions that enrich it, and the smart companies that cultivate it. It builds on the 

value of culture to connect people, create community, and find meaning. The end results are engaging experiences that embrace the design disciplines of branding, digital installations, exhibits and environments, print, signage and wayfinding, and websites. 

Over this time span, the featured projects reveal how experiential design has expanded beyond museum and library exhibits to encompass science visitor centers and financial services lobbies as well as memorials, gardens, trails, and other public spaces. By Design reveals a foundation of past and recent design for FIT students to build their experience designs upon. 

Constants throughout the show underscore a focus on design for a diversity of cultures that foregrounds authentic voices; a commitment to engage with local and specialist photographers, artists, illustrators, and artisans; a collaborative process that occurs with fabricators and programmers; and the integration of the architectural and landscape context. The gallery show emphasizes how objects in exhibition experiences go beyond physical reality through interpretive layers added by the designers, artists, and many specialists and collaborators involved in the projects. 

Combining his Quaker schooling and University of California, Berkeley, Architecture degree, Helmetag has focused his designs on world-changing events such as the 9/11 attacks, the Vietnam War, and JFK’s assassination. The designs explore changing cultural landscapes that were shaped by Native, African, Hispanic, and contemporary Americans; the role of climate science, astrophysics, and marine biology in understanding our world; and the resonance of sports, gender, and faith in shaping public places. Ideally, the themes in By Design will set an example for students to design for their world, time, and culture. 

Along with his professional oeuvre, the exhibition features personal items. The surfboards, bike, and automobile satellite displays expose Helmetag’s “living By Designmantra and his inspiration from legendary creatives that propelled his award-winning career. The show encourages students to follow their passions and surround themselves with talent to embark on a meaningful career. 

BY DESIGN Exhibit Walkthrough 

The gallery show is composed of six satellite “object” displays that are knit together with a video presentation of Helmetag’s exhibits and installations that interpret politics, science, gender, sports, faith, and nature, as well as the impact of Native, African, Hispanic and contemporary Americans on their cultural landscapes. 

“LGBTQ+ Ribbons” is an immersive installation that encourages visitors to relate to a spectrum of gender identities. The display expands on the San Diego History Center’s related exhibition that has had over 250,000 people in attendance and extensive social media coverage. 

The “Design Collaboration Collections” section is a montage of collaborations with photographers, illustrators, and artisans that augment the featured exhibit, experience, and signage projects. The collaborative artworks include an innovative patent, a legendary campaign, and a perfect baseball game. 

A trailhead display places a handcrafted bike atop the stone hardscape that is part of America’s longest state trail. The trail was a recreational oasis for many New Yorkers during the height of the pandemic. 

Helmetag’s print work is also featured in the exhibition in the form of layouts, brochures, and posters for memorials, museums, courthouses, and trails. Some printed pieces have outlived the exhibits, shows, and installations. 

The artist’s personal artifacts include “Boards,” which present the three sporting artist-inspired “bands of color” that are a harbinger for the East Coast’s Fall surf season. The “Alfa Romeo Duetto” display continues the bicoastal MoCA/LA and MoMA’s motor car shows and provides the designer’s insight into “… what makes him motor.” 


Kieth Helmetag is a long-time member and supporter of SEGD, serving on the Board and presenting at numerous conferences and chapter events. In the article, “Keith Helmetag: Then and now,” he recounted how the SEGD Design Awards have transformed from the first time he was a jury chairperson in 1996 to his recent 2017 juror’s panel. “21 years ago, the entries were mostly static signs for individual buildings that were designed primarily by NYC and LA studios.

Today, there’s media, signage, exhibits, and place-making in a broad spectrum of scales and sizes, from all over the globe.” 

Keith Helmetag has won over twenty SEGD awards, some of which are featured in By Design’s four-screen media program that rewinds four decades of experience design work. 

Projects include New York Hall of Science’s kidpower!, the Western Hemisphere’s largest science playground, and Science City, an interactive exhibit in the streets. The award-winning Good Housekeeping Testing Lab Tour Experience was part of new Hearst Headquarters’ re-branding, construction barricade, and comprehensive signage program. The Erie Canal Commercial Slip was an urban archeological centerpiece of Buffalo’s waterfront revitalization. 

Most recently, an SEGD Global Design 2022 Merit Award was given to the exhibition design of Native New York at the National Museum of the American Indian, designed by C&G Partners, the multi-specialty design studio Helmetag co-founded. 

SEGD NYC Chapter is excited to host a tour of By Design with Keith Helmetag on Thursday, August 25, 2022 from 5:00-7:30 PM EDT. The event is free and open to our SEGD members! Be sure to RSVP to secure your spot.

BY DESIGN Exhibition Details

August 15 – September 25, 2022 | Opening Date: 15 August 2022 

Art and Design Gallery at Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) 

Open daily: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm 

Pomerantz Center, 227 W 27th St, New York, NY 10001

All Images Courtesy C&G Partners / @cgpartners