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By Nina J P Evans

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Genius of Design


I very much enjoyed watching the Genius of Design BBC series episodes 1–5 broadcast on TV. The book by the same title written by Penny Sparke is a companion to the programme, includes a lot of finer details with quotes and a good selection of imagery for inspiration. The tag line—Design is all around us is the focus point; design is a positive part of our lives that both enhances and nourishes.

There are lots of little gems of knowledge that could be of interest to either a designer of any specialism or someone who’s interested in design. However, because of this generalization, it doesn’t go into to things in too much depth. An assortment of things get a mention, for example one page covers topics such as: Ray-Bans (1937), Routemaster bus (1950), Nylons (1938), condoms (1930s) and the ballpoint pen (1930) apparently all these things though very different, have one thing in common. The concepts and the technologies owed much to the technological developments made during wartime. The Routemaster bus owing much to the technologies developed in aircraft production.


The chronological order is the same as the TV programmes, but with different headings is a little confusing at first, though maybe better as the titled illustrated pages are rather gloriously designed. I especially liked: more matter with less art, a magenta print similar to a painted ceramic design, but with a darker urban twist illustrating: gun crime, drinking in park space, and city mobile communications with wayward pigeons sporadically placed.

It started more or less with William Morris and ended up full circle, which shows (a) design beginning a cylindrical process (b) reinforcing design values telling a more complete story. I thought it was fairly honest in mentioning, Morris had done designs for very wealthy clients at times as to maintain running a successful business, struggling with his own ideologies. The book quotes:
His commitment to the tenets of ‘truth to materials’ and ‘fitness to purpose’ offered a modern approach to design that was to find its ultimate expression in the twentieth century modern movement.
In the 21st century designers still struggle with those key issues, with clients whose budgets won’t always consider the vulnerability of the worlds natural resources and financially support applications for using sustainable materials. But rather select the designers based on their competence and style.

The programme worked most inspirationally with featuring designers, such as: Dieter Rams, Peter Saville, Michael Graves, Philippe Starck, Jonathan Ives.


The book documents the evolution of design through technology and manufacture. Everything showcased was the end product; I would like to have seen some bits of the design process. Due to the books titled: The genius of design I was super critical of the graphic layout, sometimes I felt it missed a beat. The worst case I noted was a full page of products designed by Dieter Rams and his 10 commandments on the sequential page. The programme better showed each rule with an object enhancing both the object and the rule simultaneously. Also, I question the need for the books dusk jacket, as I found that it simply kept slipping off on the hardback edition. The design is actually printed onto the hard cover itself, why then the jacket?

The thing about the book that made me smile was at glancing through the pages at how many chairs there were featured. From tubular steel, ply wood, plastic to the far-fetched inflatable things, some iconic examples. Amazingly titled: Air chair, Dolly chair, Mr. Impossible, the S chair, Tulip chair, Ant chair. In the programme Diater Rams sums up perfectly by saying:
I'm still thinking about a chair that can go on soft floor, hard floor and has wheels. And, there isn't a chair yet, designed that can do all those three things. (He laughs) I know he says, I'm still thinking about it.
This dilemma made me think too! If the chair is still under consideration as a design problem after, so many have been designed. Then, what about everything else? When it seems like there’s no such thing as an original idea, clearly this book and the BBC programme: The Genius of Design illustrates that it’s just not the case at all. Dieter Ram’s wise, experienced and very thoughtful insight proves this point utterly and conclusively—design enlightens, inspires and entertains new possibilities!

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