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Chicago Design Museum

April 2018

Public Viewing Hours:
Fridays 6–8pm
Saturdays 1–5pm
Sundays 1–5pm

From 1950–1975, Chicago-based Container Corporation of America ran a series of provocative artworks in national publications, as a means of promoting discourse. "Great Ideas of Western Man" was heralded as one of the best advertising campaigns in history. For this installation at 150 Media Stream, the Chicago Design Museum (ChiDM) animated three advertisements from the original campaign. The world has changed a lot since 1975, but great ideas are timeless. On April 20th, ChiDM opens an exhibition of contemporary works to continue the conversation, "Great Ideas of Humanity."

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Interview with Chicago Design Museum

For those who are not familiar with the Great Ideas of Western Man, can you talk about the concept and mission behind the campaign and its original series of advertisements?

From 1950 to 1975, Container Corporation of America (CCA) provided a platform for artists and designers to bring attention to thoughts on philosophy, politics, and morality. CCA founder Walter Paepcke and his wife, Elizabeth, had deep, personal passion for art, design, and culture. Elizabeth encouraged Walter, and ultimately CCA, to embark on an advertising campaign that married the words of great thinkers with the visuals of great artists and designers. The result was the unprecedented “Great Ideas of Western Man,” a series of thought-provoking artworks that were run as advertisements in national publications.

Were there challenges in transforming static images into motion and onto the unique structure of the 150 Media Stream?

Over the years, we have resolved that every project worth doing is challenging, and 150 Media Stream is no different. Translating the static images into motion and onto the unique, multi-screen canvas took time, energy, and a lot of iteration. We stayed very close to the concepts of the original posters, and translating static print images to motion, particularly at this scale, is always challenging! Projecting early versions of the videos as a way to review them in context helped massively, allowing us to identify problems and find unique opportunities. Putting historic ideas into a modern context has been thrilling. We are so grateful for the opportunity!

How do the ideas for the advertisements from 1950 to 1975 reflect their time? Are they still relevant in contemporary culture? Do you think the messages now being shown on the 150 Media Stream venue are as effective as they were in their original format and media?

Like many modern advertising campaigns, effectiveness can be subjective and hard to measure. It is important to remember that CCA wasn’t expecting the people seeing these ads to go out and buy boxes themselves; CCA’s products were being purchased by large companies, so a traditional measure of “how much impact did this campaign have on sales” isn’t exceptionally relevant. When asked about the CCA’s cultural efforts, Paepcke responded, “the direct sale of boxes is not and never has been the purpose of our institutional advertising. But, insofar as it creates an acute awareness of our company, giving it a distinctive personality and identifying it with the best in graphic art, it succeeds extremely well.” The three historic ads on display on 150 Media Stream are about women’s rights, achieving greatness, and the art of progress—ideals that were relevant in historic culture and still resonate today.

Could you tell us about the upcoming exhibition “Great Ideas of Humanity” at the Chicago Design Museum? How do the new ‘Great Ideas’ differ from the original ones that are being shown on the Media Stream?

Sure! From April 20th to August 18th, ChiDM is exhibiting “Great Ideas of Humanity: Out of the Container.” Like the original series, a committee meets, creates a list of “great ideas” from a variety of thinkers, and commissions an artist or designer to create a visual response to one of several provided quotes. Also like the original series, the contemporary work does not advertise a product, but an ethos—of the museum, of the community, of Chicago in general—to make the world a better place via thoughtful design. This exhibition accepts the increasing globalization of our world, and celebrates the resulting cross-pollination of ideas, philosophies, societies, and cultures. Special components to the exhibition include work from student writers at 826CHI and a special Chicago grouping presented in partnership with Art Design Chicago, a citywide celebration of Chicago’s art and design history through more than 25 exhibitions, as well as tours, talks and special events in 2018. Come see it!

Learn more about Chicago Design Museum here

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Sean Capone

150 Media Stream website:
design by the narrative: branding & design
photography by michael salisbury