Home_Opinion_Design: The back story

15.01.11 | Opinion

Design: The back story

Antonia Williams takes a couch-side tour of what’s on offer in the world of design TV – a reality check to say the least.

This is absolutely the moment to consider a little design history, a refresher course, perhaps. And, blinding flash, available now is the complete BBC2 series The Genius of Design. (You may recall producer Tim Kirby’s last riff in The Genius of Photography.)

This is a history of design as function, described with the greatest clarity.

It was only 250 years ago – as the machinery of industrialisation and capitalism chuntered into being – the words design, designing and designer arrived.  (This was a bit of a surprise.) While living in a world smothered in stuff we need to grasp that design isn’t stuff, but what happens to stuff: good, bad and indifferent.

In five hourly parts, and sadly not a sixth to bring us truly up to date, we hear from: J Mays, Ford’s global head of design; Apple’s Jonathan Ives; and Dieter Rams, the industrial designer who helped resurrect a flattened Germany via Braun products. It is easy to understand why he is GoD: the Grand old Man of Design. His sane and clear view of design’s social progress is summed up by his commandments for good design. These include the need for design to be aesthetic, to be useful, to be honest and as discrete as an English butler  (I really like that one).

We see Wedgwood, we see William Morris and we see the work of nameless designers. Then, as art nouveau and friends get thoroughly knotted, in comes the future with integrated simple functionality, the discipline of the Bauhaus and modernism. Industrial designers, such as Raymond Loewy and Henry Dreyfus, feed the dreams of the American consumer. There is admiration for the machine and the machine-made, for open plan living, tubular steel furniture and the fitted kitchen.

Design, says Kirby, is the inescapable element in our man-made world, the shadow that outlines the working shape of man. And so, we meet Margaret Calvert, the woman whose typographically simple and elegant road signage became the template for highways everywhere. We get wonderful new materials out of the powerhouse of the American war. This is where plastics enter our world and where the clever Eameses come in. Before long, plastics are the thrilling and beautiful experimental backdrop; the servants of a hopeful new society. There is Robin Day’s polyprop chair: light, strong, stackable, washable, comfortable, cheap and fast to produce. Wall-to-wall and ceiling-to-ceiling we are liberated by plastics, exemplified by Joe Colombo and Verner Panton. And the postmodernists had to have a say: Barthes announces that plastics are “the first magical material that consents to be banal.” Indeed it seems everyone has a say.

Then the Japanese invent miniaturised electronics. The whole world wants nano and Sony’s Walkman. And Stephen Bayley says, “you know design is good for you if you want to lick it”.

Creating with a purpose? Alessi says ‘bah’ to market research. And a very different innovation arrives with Memphis and Sottsass. The politics of design? Or the design of politics? Now they are having fun. Ikea flatpacks: a cleverly designed life for democracy. There is wonderful, wonderful Scandinavia from the go-get. Swift on the heels of democracy comes celebrity, lead by uber designers Philippe Starck, Marc Newson and Ron Arad. Look out for Harvey Molotch. Listen to Stephen Fry, no educational program is truly a pleasure unless Fry struts his stuff.

Well, if it doesn’t bring us quite up to date with 2010, just think what on earth we must do with landfill. Is that where our human design duty lies?

 

Words_ Antonia Williams
Illustrator_ The Gallery

Share_ Facebook  Twitter  Email  Print

More

25.03.14 | News

Future panorama x Konstantin Grcic

Serious and functional, unwieldy and occasionally disconcerting, works by designer Konstantin Grcic combine an industrial aesthetic with experimental and artistic elements. More

16.12.13 | Opinion

20 years x 20 design icons

To celebrate their first 20 years, the team at Space Furniture selected the 20 designs that are iconic to them – a hard task but an interesting one. more space took a look at the list and a few of the stories behind the designers, manufacturers and designs… More

15.10.13 | Film

Marcel Wanders, on designing

Dutch designer Marcel Wanders talks with Dezeen magazine about the importance of new design thinking and the lengths the Moooi design team go to to make each piece. More

07.10.13 | Opinion

Rolf Fehlbaum, on originality

Celebrate the Original was the title that Vitra founder Rolf Fehlbaum gave to his essay on originality. Penned in 2009, his sentiments still ring true. More

15.09.13 | Opinion

Alice Rawsthorn, future gazing

Looking back at the now iconic stereotype of the future, from Verner Panton’s 1967 Panton Chair to the TV series The Jetsons, Alice Rawsthorn reviews the new technologies shaping a very different picture of the future. More

11.07.13 | Opinion

Designing, the expanded story

Alice Rawsthorn recently explored the growing use of the word ‘design’ in her column for the International Herald Tribune, arguing that the expanded use of the word doesn’t matter as long as the outcome is better design. More

10.06.13 | Opinion

Alice Rawsthorn, on 3D printing

Over the past 5 years at Milan’s annual Design Week festival and international furniture fair, 3D printing has been the white elephant in the room  More

15.05.13 | Opinion

Insider’s Milan, Front Design

Likening Milan to a classic Italian movie: a little bit crazy but with a lot of love, Swedish designers Front take a look at the city where their international career took off.  More

25.04.13 | Opinion

Insider’s Milan, Francesco Binfaré

Explosive energy, a skillful use of creativity and the Italian character help define Milan, the undisputed creative capital of Italy, according to design local Francesco Binfaré More

22.03.13 | Opinion

The collector: Peter Tay

An interior designer with a passion for furniture, Peter Tay believes that the pared-back beauty of a piece of furniture embodies the meaning of ‘form follows function’. More

Subscribe

more space magazine - now live!
First launched as a print magazine in 2003, more space is all about design and creativity with a focus on inspiring people and projects, while also exploring the behind-the-scenes machinations that make it tick. Join us online for interviews, opinion, feature stories and the immersive medium of film.


Subscribe to:

Subscribe