100 +3 Great Danish Industrial Designs
Industrial design itself is an oft overlooked field within the design world, and encompasses many things, from the most sensitive scientific equipment, to the chair you are sitting on, to the ceiling tiles above you. Many would be surprised to find examples of these award winning designs still used today, and often they are so well designed, it's almost impossible to believe there was a designer behind them at all! In fact, what often describes a well designed item is its intuitive method of use, its reliability, and simplicity, that it often fades away from the forefront of one's concern. The best designs are unobtrusive. The best designs are also often the most successful, and thus, the companies that invest in the best designs, have also been the most successful. Of course, the field of design is every changing, as new needs develop and new technologies become prevalent, the need for ever better design is also needed for a company to not only be successful, but to remain successful. In the 60's, it was no accident that the most successful companies were also the ones that invested the most into product development and design.
Even before the ID prize for Industrial Design in Denmark began awarding exceptional design work, Denmark itself had enjoyed a rich history and world renown for well designed articles for the home. Coincidentally, a number of the designers for Georg Jensen were also ID prize winners, including Henning Koppel, for his New York flatware, as well as Arne Jacobsen winning the ID Classics award for his famous Ant chair, and again for his Vola series of bathroom fixtures. Erik Magnussen was also represented twice, once in 1972 for his porcelain service for Bing and Grondahls, as well as in 1977 for his Stelton thermos with its self closing lid. A couple other names may sound familiar, such as Poul Kjaerholm, Lunning Prize winner, for another beautifully designed chair.
The award itself was inspired by the British annual awards to designers by the Design Council, and its name from the Norwegian Design council founded only shortly beforehand. The first awards were handed out in the then new Bella Centre, as part of the Scandinavian Trade Fair being held. It didn't take much convincing to convince others of the need for such an award, and so under the Seskabet for Industriel Formgivning, and its chairman Robert Fjordboge, a small jury was set up. It only took a couple of hours for the jury to make its rounds, and that night graphic designer Bo Bonfils, designed and printed up the first award diplomas. Overall it was a bit haphazard and rushed, but the idea for the award had been established. The ID prize stayed at home with the SIF, until financial needs dictated that it merge with The National Association of Danish Handicrafts. This of course was not meant to last as tensions over the priority of handcrafts versus industrial produced goods helped to close the newly merged National Association of Danish Handicraft and Industrial Design in the mid 70's. In 1976, a loose association called the Danish Design group helped to continue the award until the following year they formally created the Danish Design Council, which finally gave firmer ground for the promotion of Industrial Design in Denmark.
The jury itself throughout the years never stayed the same. Every year brought in new judges,(while retaining a few of the old), and lent to a different perspective on Industrial Design throughout the years. Also without a formal code or set of guidelines dictating what constructed “good” industrial design meant that many different types of products were represented by the award winners, primarily judged on what that year's jury felt had best represented the design field for their year. In a way this fluid system allowed for a wider range of representation and a feeling of the currency to the award.
Judges had often experience and understanding in the field of industrial design, either being designers themselves, marketers, consumer representatives, writers on the field of design, all of which represented differing aspects of the field and lent to a more balanced judgment. Other than being of Danish origin, the pieces up for jury also could not be a purely technical improvement or innovation. Some aspect of design had to be represented. On the other hand, a design which offered form but no function, something “purely cosmetic” also was not to be included within the criteria for the award. Finally, the item also had to be industrially produced.
After sifting out the products that did not measure up to the concept of “Industrial Design”, the judges themselves were left to determine what exactly made the product “the best”. Bent Harlang, Chairman of the Jury in 1977, asked the questions, “Is the product really something new of its kind, (in this connection, it could quite well be a new and better version of a known theme)? Is the product logical in its build-up? Is the material budget sound? Is the product built up in a way that is understood and conceived as authentic by its makers? Is the chosen production technique optimal, from the standpoint of the nature of the product and the size of the series? Are the finishing, coloring, and graphics in order?”, In other words, how logical and sound is the design itself, how efficiently is it produced, and is it truly the best design that can be conceived?
Select Interviews From the Text:
In its efforts to explain better what Industrial Design is, the book gives several “interviews” with the award winning designers, or others involved with the winning designs, whom have given their perspective on the field and their work. Below are five of these excerpts, reprinted from the text.
Arne Jacobsen, designer of the ID Classics award winning ANT chair:
“The primary factor of beauty – in architecture as in design – lies in the proportions. It is precisely the proportions which make the old Greek temples classic in their beauty. They are like blocks, from which the air has been literally hewn out between the columns. And whether one looks at a building from the Baroque, the renaissance, or today, those one wants to look at, those one admires, are all well proportioned; that is vital. Next comes the material, not mixing the wrong materials. And out of that comes of course the colour - and together the overall impression.
I can't stand the term “good taste” as if we were talking about ladies' hats. I would rather say: Artistic approach, receptiveness, alertness. In one was the sense of qualit has gotten better. On the other hand, I don't understand the enthusiasm for everything in the antique shop that Grandma threw out. There I think the sense of quality has declined; otherwise Grandma wouldn't have thrown it out.
For me, the vital thing is to see things grow; to start with a small sketch and see the whole and the details become reality. It may sound a bit affected, but it is the actual creative activity, whether it is a teaspoon or a national bank. There always comes a time when one, as it were, feels one's lack in skill, feels doubt. To get a thing realized, to get it where one can say “There, now it's good”, that's very difficult to achieve. Many a time one sets oneself too high aims. Perhaps too high.
In my old age I'd no doubt cultivate my garden; I shall end up as the old gardener. Up to now I've been most fond of foliage plants that flower, but in which flowering is not the most important. I've never really cared much for roses; there's something flashy and assertive about modern roses, and I think it's a pity they haven't any scent. But now I have found a nurseryman who has spent forty years of his life cultivating roses with a scent; flat shaped roses like in the old Dutch paintings. They are tremendously beautiful; I grow them in the garden of my summer cottage.”
Jacob Jensen, designer of the 1968 ID prize winning Beomaster 1200 series of sound equipment:
“Design is a good idea which can be communicated through a product. Finding a viable idea is the creative element in design, that is where it all begins, and until you have reached this point, it is fruitless to start talking about form.
Where do ideas come from? There is only one way: From trying again, and again, and again. Avoiding attachment to ideas which are not good enough. Persisting, knowing deep in your soul you can succeed. You can only have a reasonable dialogue with a producer if your idea is good enough. If he says, “But we could also do it this way...”, your idea isn't good enough. But if he asks, “How can we actually do this?”, you are on the track, and you can begin to create a form which suits the product idea.
Concept, idea, design – these are the things which make the real difference. Everything else is irrelevant.
Technical quality and durability are banalities when you are selling a product. Of course the product is quality, and of course it is durable. The industrial products of the future will be made by robots here or there – no matter; construction will be purchased in the knowledge pool. It will not be through construction or production that products will stand out. The central issue will be a concept of function which is different, something that makes people say, “why didn't I think of that?” Something which communicated in a way that makes itself understood.
Such a product makes a customer say, “ I understand that – that means something to me”. It makes him respond to some of the product's identity through himself, and perhaps feel something for it, even fall in love with it.
It is possible to train the masses of good designer-craftsmen. People who can draw. But you cannot train people to have good ideas. They can only be found here and there, now and then, but they are the ones that make things happen.
Proof that you have made it as a designer comes when you are copied. Many of Bang and Olufsen things which I have designed through the past 20 years, as well as the Danavox hearing aids which I designed a couple of years ago, are products which are copied in these fields today.
Being copied is actually no disaster for a company – it tells the company just where the competition is. For the designer, it is stimulating, forcing you to be faster, further ahead.
My most exciting project? That is always whatever I am working on at the moment. Today it is a car, Concept Car, which will really be something. We are buying the motors from Ford in Cologne. They are a fine standard product, but this is not what we are competing about. We are competing about the idea behind the car. In two years, I'll be working on something completely different. I live much of the year in Santa Barbara, where I also have a design studio. The climate is wonderful, and all kinds of idea people congregate in California – more than anywhere else in the world. I also have two design studios in Denmark and one on Mallorca.
Today we design radically differently from the traditional method of working with one client. We run a pure idea race. We get ideas, make models and prototypes, finish products – and afterwards we go out and sell the idea to a producer.
By training I am a craftsman and like old craftsmen, I never work after 5:00 pm. That's quittin' time. In actual fact, you can only work on ideas 2-3 hours a day. The rest of the time is wasted or spend following up on your initial ideas. That is why working with models is so useful. It makes it possible to relax and rejuvenate. And by seeing the idea in the model, it is possible to keep a dialogue going with yourself.”
Erik Magnussen, designer of the 1972 ID Awared winning Hank series porcelain service:
“It is the way one lives with things that interests me. What does one want? Some people require things to create atmosphere, to create comfort. I don't really think that experience comes from the appearance of a thing - although of course in part it does, but it comes from inside, because one understands why the object is made in such a way.
I am dyslexic with regard to both words and figures, so I don't have much choice. I have always liked working with things, painting and drawing.
Most of the things I have made have come about because there was something I myself felt to be lacking. So I have tried to get someone to produce it – and so it becomes industrial design.
For example, many years ago I made a set of china crockery, because I had been at a hotel and ased for a tray to be sent up to my room. A lady arrived with a huge tray with a collection of china which did not match and could not be stacked, just to serve a very modest meal. I thought it would be interesting to create some order out of this. It was this that gave me the idea of making a matching set which could be stacked with the cup on top of the egg cup, so the egg could be kept warm, etc.
I work alone. I don't want any fellow draftsmen. The comprehensive view that is needed I like to develop myself, and then to link it up with someone who can do something else, the toolmaker, the salesman. It is inspiring and stimulating for all parties,, and in this area I think Denmark is a special country. We have a fantastic amount of know-how in small concerns.”
Peter Holmblad, General Manager of A/S Stelton, which produced the ID Award winning Stelton thermos, designed by Erik Magnussen:
“That we exist today as a concern, and thrive, is due to our design. When I came to Stelton in 1963 the company had a range of stainless steel articles, uninteresting pieces I wouldn't own myself, but which we sold and exported. Everybody made it, and the only competition was the price.
I had the ambition of getting Arne Jacobsen, who is a realtion of mine, and whom I had followed andd admired since I was a boy, to design a cylindrical line in steel – taut forms for taut steel. It took 6 months to get him interested and four years before the first new product went on the market, for we were ignorant of the technical problems we had run into. Buut despite the fact that the product thus came to lie in the higher price category, it was well accepted. The Museum of Modern Art in New York was among our first buyers.
Many customers around the world wanted a thermos flask to form part of the Cylinda Line. Arne Jacobsen did not live long enough to design it. This, our first project for Erik Magnussen, had tight specifications: Design a cylindrical thermos flask in stainless steel.
After the success with Erik's steel thermos we had the idea of making the same flask of synthetic material. We believed in the product, but really hadn't the means to develop it at the time. The initial investment was enormous. A big company would never run such a risk. The product's success entailed a revolution in product development and in the financial standing of the company as well as inn our cooperation with Erik. We have a very strong position today, and have started a comprehensive investment program for our product development.
Many businessmen have said, that in principle it is immaterial what one is selling, the important thing is to be a good salesman. I do not agree with this. I could probably survive selling products I don't like. The fact that I can identify with the products I sell has something to do with the quality of life.”
Henning Andreasen, designer of the 1978 ID Award winning Folle 26 stapler and F78 telephone:
“ 'Ah, it's a design piece – that's why it's so expensive – the designer has to be paid as well' - one has heard people say. When I talk about design in connection with product development it is more a question of giving the product a higher functional and aesthetic value, without becoming more expensive – in many cases, it is even cheaper.
When I designed the new pushbutton telephone F 78 some years ago technology contributed by giving a familiar product a completely different form. I began by talking to some ergotherapists whose job was to help people who worked in municipal offices. They said that the personnel who were busy on the telephone always had pains in the neck and shoulders. Not so much from holding the receiver, but from sitting with a raised arm the whole time to operate the dial. So I made the new telephone low so that the user could rest his arm on the table when operating the pushbuttons. This meant a radical change with regard to the basic shape of the telephone.
At the beginning of a new project it is always unpleasant to sit with a piece of white paper in front of one. I begin work by thinking of the people who are going to live with the product. What can I do to give them a product that is pleasant to live with in daily use. It must be easy to use, easy to keep clean, easy to service, and the risk of accident reduced to a minimum. At the same time I want to give the user an aesthetic experience. With these considerations in mind the task of putting open to paper immediately becomes easier.
I enjoy delivering a finished design, even though it almost hurts me to part with it. It is like giving up a little part of oneself – and was there anything I could have done a little better. One can refine a product for ever. But it has to become something – be finished, and we have to go on to other things. The art is to know where to stop.”
List of Winning Products and Their Designers By Year
Last Updated: 3/2/11
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