Om Namah Shivaya

Om Namah Shivaya

I'll be grateful if you...

Oct 25, 2010

DESIGN STREET: A Note on Good Design Part II

George Nelson's Marshmallow chair
For Herman Miller 1956
Part two from the book on Design by Stephen Bayley and Terence Conran. Here are some exerpts from their book, as they trace the history of designs and present most valueable design ideas from the centuries. In this second part of the we trace the history of design from start of the century to present of their thoughts, ideas and views on the development and history of design through the century.


The concept of design in the USA has always been somewhat different to that held in Europe. Edgar Allan Poe outlined the American attitude in an essay,” The Philosophy of Furniture’: We have no aristocracy of blood, and having therefore as a natural, and indeed as an inevitable thing, fashioned for ourselves an aristocracy of Dollars, the display of wealth has… to take the place and perform the office of heraldic display in monarchical countries.

Around the time of First World War, what professional design there had been in consumer products was directed at, declared as “Women’s Tastes’ which was assumed to be wantonly eclectic, decorative and superficial.

By 1928, John Cotton Dana of New Jersey’s Newark Museum, a colleague of Bach (Curator of New York Metropolitan Museum, whose imagination factories were to become provinces of art and imagination) has also sensed the spirit of the age and in an emotional appeal, published in Forbes magazine, spoke of the importance of design to a lively economy and coined the memorable phrase “the cash value of art”
Henry Dreyfuss Bell 300 Telephone of 1937
Became universal symbol of American
competence - Classic Industrial design

In the great depression, as the prices stabilized, manufacturers could now only compete on appearances alone and hence the concept of design was introduced. Design here meant determining the appearance of a product not only along aesthetic lines but with a view to stimulating sales – A characteristically American compromise between idealism and profiteering. Famously Henry Dreyfuss who designed the Bell Desk Telephone (which remained the standard American Phone for next 40 years) said, ‘Design was the silent salesman” Just to note, unlike his pioneering contemporaries like Raymond Lowey and Walter Dorwin Teague, Dreyfuss was never completely seduced by streamlining, which developed into a popular automobile aesthetic and also penetrated the world domestic appliances, becoming the most familiar product style of the mid century.

An advertisement picture for Knoll's Tulip Chair
By Eero Saarinen 1957
Whatever conservative feelings Europeans had about styling, America’s contribution to the 20th Century design was the crucial one of allowing the professional designer to develop as an integral part of the process of making mass produced consumer goods. After Second World War, men such as Eero Saarinen and Charles Eames began designing furniture eventually put into production by Herman Miller and Knoll. There was an element of commercial realism to design that was always missing in Britain, and irrelevant to the more severe concerns of Germans. American’s consumerized Europe’s intellectualized and politicized design and turned it into democratic luxury goods. At one extreme this attitude into the crass commercialization of planned obsolescence. There were two views about it, one – a spring of wealth and stimulus to design, and as Brooks Steven said, “ Our whole economy is based on planned obsolescence”; two – for consumer activists like Vance Packard obsolescence was social evil, providing the opportunity for manipulations as soon as production began to outstrip demand.

Mies Barcelona chair was designed for
King of Spain visiting German Pavilion
Barcelona Exhibition 1929
It became a status object in
Corporate America
Whatever the criticism of American Consumerism, it has enabled the designer to become a serious professional. Knoll was the first furniture manufacturer to sell its wares under designer’s name, (‘the Mies chair and ‘the Breuer chair’). When the cult of ‘the designer’ appeared in the 70’s as an important marketing tool, it was the Americans who led the field.

If Britain had her industrial revolution in the middle of 18th Century, and gave the world an example for imitation, then Italy had its industrial revolution two centuries later and gave the world something different to imitate: the first coherent design style for consumers – a culture of design so complete in its embrace of fashion, products, cars and business equipment that Lombardy and Piedmont produced what amounted to a modern renaissance

In terms of international market, Italian design only emerged after 1945, durin
Piaggio Vespa 1946
Influenced by aircraft monocoque structure
and the needs of priest and women
to step on board retaining modesty
g the period of industrial and social renovation (known as La ricostruzione) that was spiritual and practical rejection of the pompous absurditities of Fascism. The great thing about Italy is that they have never successfully distinguished between life and art. Alberto Rosselli said in typifying the aims of new generation in a Stile Industria editorial: Industrial design in USA represents one of the fruits of a free competition system in which economic and production conditions have led to a continuous market expansion…. In Italy, by contrast, the true nature of design… results from a harmonic relationship between production and culture.

By the late forties, Italy had developed a design style which was characterized by an elegant modification of American streamlining, found in a range of product from Nizzoli’s ‘Lexicon 80’ typewriter to Piaggio’s Vespa motor scooter.

Certain designer became associated with specific manufacturers, producing a fertile marriage of art and industry.  The prestige of Italian design was further enhanced by the success of new generation car-body studios, in particular Giorgetto Giugiaro’s ItalDesign which was responsible for such important products as Volkswagen’s golf, which has ever since retained by manufacturers from Korea, Japan, Sweden and the United states.


In 200 or so years since ‘design’ emerged from the crafts of the pre-industrial world to its present position as a major force in all mature economies, one central phenomenon is very apparent: Sir Joshua Reynolds’ certainty about standards of taste has in recent times disappeared altogether.

‘Good taste’ and ‘bad taste’ are relatively modern terms. They emerged because a plurality of values has made it necessary to distinguish what constitutes ‘good’ in design. The modern concept of taste seems to have originated in France; and was first taken up in England by 18th centaury men of letters, who no longer used it only to mean sensation in the mouth but as a metaphor for judgment. In the 19th century many efforts were made to understand and control taste. Henry Cole was the first man brave enough to teach about ‘bad’ design.

The most stimulating achievement of Post Modernism is that it has forced a revival of interest in symbolism, an element of western culture which the modernist overlooked (although not LeCorbusier)  in their enthusiasm to prove their point. Symbolism underwrites the majority of our attitudes to material culture: the Vitruvian tradition in architecture, for example, is based on a language of forms which identifies the Doric order with manly beauty and the Ionic with feminine charm. Even Eliot Noyes, the man who created the corporate identity for IBM, and who inherited the ethic of the Bauhas from his teacher Walter Groupius and Marcel Breuer, actually told the company that its buildings lacked symbolic value. Without betraying any of his principles, he then went about – in Ursula McHugh’s memorable expression – applying the Bauhas to big business and turned the German Modern Movement into the style of corporate America.
Sony's Walkman
Design as important aspect in Marketing
26th Oct 2010 production stopped in Japan

It was reductive fanaticism that led the Modern Movement to see machines as ends in themselves. Now we can see that the most successful manufacturers of consumer products have adapted their design policies to allow for symbolism. The degree to which manufacturers such as Porsche, Sony, Braun, Audi and Ford understand consumer psychology and use design as an important aspect of their marketing (as well as their production) processes is shown by the elements of metaphor in the design of their products. IN producing one of the world’s most desirable sports cars, Porsche is justly proud of the company’s unimpeachable engineering credentials. But none of the elements in Porsche’s designs are dictated by functional considerations alone. Anatole Lapine, head of the studio, says that his assignment is to design a car that will still be visually interesting in 20 years time. Frank Llyod Wrght once said he did not care much about the essentials of life – provided that he had an adequate supply of its luxuries. In a sense, thoughtful design is a democratic luxury, but it is a luxury that no civilized person can afford to be without. It’s a form of communication that takes place without words.

Certainly, Design in the future will change in accordance with the technology and social conditions, but in important respects it also remains the same as it was in Hogarth’s day 200 years ago. Just as no form of communication has ever entirely replaced the one it succeeded (so that we have books and television), so whatever new machines will come along to pose design problems, the designer will still also have to think about things for people to sit on, eat with, drink from, and so on.


Karl Marx memorable words provide a gloss for the status of industrial design I a world where the most important commodity, gigabyte of information, is invisible. Now the corporations are gone, markets are fragmented. We are dematerialized and the world is flat. Anything or any body can be anywhere else instantaneously. Centers of excellence are not Ulm, The Corso Vittorio Emmanuele or New Canaan, but Guangzhou. Taste is directed not by Domus or The Architectural Review, still less the sclerotic Design Council, but by what comes through the broadband connection: unmediated, unedited, populist not elitist. The forces directing consumer culture have changed from push to pull, notably described in James Surowiecki’s ‘The Wisdom of Crowds (2006). The most powerful forces in the world are the organize electrons of modern communications. And they are invisible. Every one knows that 60 GB is important, but no one has a clue what they look like. And designer, in search of meaning and justification, have turned themselves into commodities and then into brands, aping the process once applied to products, but applied now to personalities.
And the great business model that the 20th century design established is no longer relevant. Pioneer industrial designers argue forcefully that there was a ‘cash value of art’ that artful transformation of banal objects could win sales and make beautiful profits. Nowadays, there are very few ugly products left to transform. A single rule-proving exception is Jonathan Ive’s iPod.

Design is maddening to define as it is pleasing to enjoy. F H Gombrich once said there is no such thing as art, only artists. May be you could apply that to design and designers.

Given below are some of the very best of them…

BMW's Logo was inspired by an aircraft propeller
Aero-engines were the source of the company's fortune

Henry Ford said he had to invent the 'Gasoline Buggy"
to escape the mind-numbing boredom of life on the far
This picture was taken in 1896
Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse, circa 1928
Max Friz established an architecture for BMW Motorbike
that lasted 80 years
The sculptor Harry Bertoia worked with Charles Eames before designing
his chair in steel wire for KNOLL in 1952.
It became a contemporary classic

Gatti, Paolini and Teodoro formed their design group
in Turin in 1965.
They became famous for Socco Chair of 1969
Produced by Zanotta

Milton Glaser is the most celebrated American Graphic
Designer. He designed the influential
New York magazine

The model Lisa Fonssagrives forming the initial 'V',
On a Vogue Cover, 1940

George Nelson designed 'Storage Wall' system and also designed
Action Office System for Herman Miller in 1965
Probably the first complete Modular Office Furniture

Le Jardin Des Modes, a part of Conde Nast's
Consumerist Dream World

Hammond Chair, 1965
Kjaereholm achieved an astonishing spareness with templered steel
Nepta Concept Car 2006
Designed by Patrick Le Quernent of Renault


  1. if you live anywhere on the East Coast - go check out the George Neson Exhibit at the Yale School of Architecture gallery. It is amazing! Give yourself at least an hour there - it's worth it! I learned so much about the history of that era - not just Nelson, but a lot of other things.

  2. oops, that's George Nelson ...


I appreciate your visit and it will be a great pleasure to know what you think of this post...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...