Ponder the word "design" for a moment. Practically every object in the world we live was designed by someone, somewhere. As Denis Lawson, narrator of the new two-DVD five episode set The Genius Of Design notes, “The story of design offers an alternative history of the modern world.”
The Genius Of Design looks at this phenomenon in depth. What emerges are some wonderfully informative discussions of the objects we all take for granted, and how (for example) you favorite chair came to be built the way it is.
The first episode is titled “Ghosts In The Machine.” The origins of design are shown with individual craftsmen designing and building their products. This is illustrated perfectly with the potter - whose cups, bowls, vases and other ceramic objects are handmade, and one of a kind. With the arrival of the 20th-century industrialists, the art of design was taken from the workshop and put into effect on the factory floor. Standardization became the rallying cry. As Henry Ford once famously said about his Model T cars “It is available in any color, as long as it is black.”
Episode Two, “Designs For Living” shows how the social and landscapes of America and England had changed - and how the art of design evolved with them. Here we see the cult of Modernisms (as exemplified by Bauhaus) reshaped architecture and consumer goods. One of the great elements of design that was introduced in this time was how the designers would put non-essential accessories on ordinary items, to give them a sense of motion.
There is also an original desktop black telephone from 1937 - the Model 302. “This was the American telephone for decades, used by upwards of a 160 million Ma Bell customers by the middle of the century.” At around the same time, Wally Byram was producing the first RVS: his famous Airstream. By melding the artistic elements of design with the practical functions of the product, these items were the definitive versions for decades.
These consumer items appealed to people by appealing to their utilitarian, and personal preferences. As Lawson notes at the beginning of episode three, “A Bluprint For War,” “Here’s what they don’t teach at art school, when nations go to war design goes to the frontline.”