But Mr. Harrison had his own ideas. He had had a profound experience, as he put it, when he was 11 and a sledding accident sent him into a monthslong coma, after which he had to relearn how to move and speak. Years later, when he became a designer and educator, he was determined to make systems and objects as easy to use as possible, and to sensitize his students to the drawbacks and the possibilities of the man-made world. In short, he was a pioneer in universal design, a term coined in the late 1970s by Ronald L. Mace, an architect who had used a wheelchair since contracting polio as a child.
The new Cuisinart, which appeared in 1978, turned what had been a drab-looking machine with unlovely signage into a stylish, must-have kitchen tool — an aspirational object for the aspirational kitchen — and a design icon. Its pure lines were the inspiration for early Macintosh computers; Steve Jobs had admired Cuisinarts on the shelves at Macy’s.
The Cuisinart’s success was perhaps not surprising to Mr. Harrison, because he believed that if you designed for all abilities, you couldn’t help but make better products. So when he was asked to rethink the American home as a showcase for prefabricated components — also known as manufactured or industrialized housing — he and his students tackled the assignment the same way. And then they built the house themselves, right down to the furniture.
What they came up with was a knockout, although it had an awkward name: the ILZRO House, for the International Lead Zinc Research Organization, the trade group that funded it, whose members were eager to get into the housing market. (It was Mr. Harrison’s practice to bring industry and government sponsors and commissions into his classroom.)
The house was designed like a LEGO toy, a kit of parts that clipped together and then were bolted using basic tools — no experience required. No part was so big or heavy that it needed any lifting equipment. And the pieces could be delivered in flat packs (as Ikea furniture would later be) on flatbed trailers.
The heady idea was that this form of construction would cut costs with its efficiencies, and with its material — zinc panels filled with foam — which could be recycled. (The cost was estimated at $20 a square foot, or about $133 today.) Maintenance costs would also be reduced, because zinc develops an appealing patina and doesn’t need to be painted or repainted. (Think of the roofs of Paris!) It was soundproof, fireproof, bug proof, thermally efficient and, cunningly, magnetic, so that the sleek light fixtures (cone-shaped sconces in the bedrooms) and the magnetized picture hangers Mr. Harrison designed could be attached firmly to the walls and moved around easily.