am 4. November 2013
An impressive and thoughtful history of design that covers it all in five hundred pages. Design historians Charlotte and Peter Fiell pull together the various creative strands stretching back over the centuries. Though they start with simple tools created by earliest man I think the story really begins with Middle Age craftsman and then takes off with the development of mass production, in the eighteenth century, allowing the same item to be made thousands of times. A good example of this is the simple but elegant model fourteen cafe chair designed by Michael Thonet in 1859. It cost less than a bottle of wine and by 1891 had sold 7.3 million units.
Thonet's mass produced simple chair was made a little later than the 1850 Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace, housed in a huge glass pavilion. The chapter called ' High Victorian style and dishonest design' reveals that many of the exhibits were of questionable design and manufacture. They had been chosen to represent the best of contemporary art and production but the consumer items were covered with ornament and heavy patterns, the more excessive the better, the complete opposite of Thonet's chair.
The book reveals plenty of examples of good design versus commercial mass-market products and the reasons for the existence of both. I thought the coverage impressively broad with a chapters on, for example, Springfield Armory and the American Civil War, Vienna Secessionists, WW2 military design, Memphis and the last chapter on 3D printing. One of the strengths of the book is the way the editorial is divided into sections. The twenty chapters are each split into three, four or five additional clearly defined sections revealing the various design themes and styles which makes them very accessible to the reader. There are also several hundred photos and graphics (all beautifully printed on a matt art paper) to illustrate the text.
I thought the book was a fascinating and revealing explanation of why things look like they do and how they got that way. Nicely the writing is jargon free so that the pages can be enjoyed by the general reader or design professionals.