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Behind an objects appearance there is always an idea, a function, a requirement. A stone axe looks the way it does for a reason, and that also applies to a large number of car designs which do not always look as they do purely for aesthetic reasons.

What we nowadays proudly call Danish Design, has its roots at the Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. In the early 1920s, Kaare Klint and Steen Eiler Rasmussen were both employed at the Academy’s School of Furniture Design, and soon after they started to revolutionise the method of teaching. Prior to their fundamental changes, the students would study French Empire furniture and other equally old and “dusty” styles. Klint and Rasmussen aired out the old cupboards and shelves as they asked all the students to relate to the human body’s anatomy and what could be derived from that for a designer. When a complete kitchen or even just a shelving system needed designing, it was important to first know the length of an arm or the average person’s ability to reach the upper shelves. Today this perhaps seems immensely obvious and logical, but back then it was a completely new and unknown mindset. The fact that we today embrace our country’s famous sense of design, aesthetics and the entire culture which encompasses it, is mostly due to those two gentlemen changing the very approach to design at the Danish Academy, and then feeding the students with all those new ideas. The proof lies at least partially in our golden age architects, such as Wegner, Jacobsen, Mogensen and others, were all students during that time.

In Germany, the Bauhaus school decided to ​​propagate these new ideas, which heavily influenced designers such as Dieter Rams, the German industrial designer, who for several years was responsible for the design of Braun’s consumer products. About 50 years ago, he attempted to answer the question “Is my design a good design?”

Rams summed up his thoughts by listing ten points which he felt should be present in any good design if it were to be considered a quality product:

  • Good design is innovative. The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
  • Good design makes a product useful. A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasises the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
  • Good design is aesthetic. The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
  • Good design makes a product understandable. It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.
  • Good design is unobtrusive. Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.
  • Good design is honest. It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
  • Good design is long-lasting. It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.
  • Good design is thorough down to the last detail. Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the user.
  • Good design is environmental-friendly. Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimises physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
  • Good design is as little design as possible. Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

The pamphlet Styling The Look of Things was produced by General Motors in 1955 and revised in 1958. It’s a fascinating time journey into a very different world of design and design ideas which no longer exists today. It starts with an introduction by Harley Earl and includes, among other things, the chapters: What is a Stylist, The Fundamentals of Design, and not least Evolution of Design in the American Automobile.

It’s an intriguing booklet with many interesting pictures and an insight into the contemporary spirit of American design. You can click on the images for a larger resolution.

Should you feel compelled to immerse yourself further into this material, it can be downloaded at the link below:
Download the pamphlet in PDF format

Source: Dennis Wesserling and Deans Garage


One Response

  1. Dave Leadbetter

    “Good design makes a product understandable. At best, it is self-explanatory.”

    This is the very key to it all and so rarely found, particularly where the current trends in automotive design seem to achieve the polar opposite.


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