By the 1930s, the teardrop shape, known since the turn of the century to be the form of least resistance, was incorporated into Boeing and Douglas aircraft, and, being the contemporary artifact that best symbolized the future, the airplane set the style for things generally. The most static of mundane objects were streamlined for no functional purpose, and chromed and rounded staplers, pencil sharpeners, and toasters were hailed as the epitome of design.
...Though all design is necessarily forward-looking, all design or design changes are not necessarily motivated by fickle style trends. The best in design always prefers substance over style, and the lasting concept over the ephemeral gimmick.
Many of the most contemporary silverware patterns appear to be designed more for how the pieces look than for how they work...There is a kind of design that can ignore function entirely. We might say that this is a "form eschews function" school of design, and one that places considerations of aesthetics, novelty, and style above everything else.
But to design from the handle is to shoot from the hip when it comes to silverware, for the business end of the individual pieces is where the action is going to be. Though Emily Post may not have perceived that tradition emerges out of the minimization of failure, there is no excuse for a designer to overlook the fact. Yet this is exactly what modern product designers seem to do when they strive so hard for a striking new look that they throw out function with tradition.
In the context of web design, Dieter Rams’ principle is not only a resounding criticism against mindless trends and meaningless decorations. It is a humanist reminder to put material honesty and social responsibility above the pursuit of the “pixel perfect” design.
Good design is timeless. Aiming at timelessness is a way to make yourself find the best answer: if you can imagine someone surpassing you, you should do it yourself. Some of the greatest masters did this so well that they left little room for those who came after. Every engraver since Durer has had to live in his shadow.
Aiming at timelessness is also a way to evade the grip of fashion. Fashions almost by definition change with time, so if you can make something that will still look good far into the future, then its appeal must derive more from merit and less from fashion.
I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.
It has been contended sometimes that our response to works of art is entirely learnt and in no way innate; but the questions 'Who did the teaching, then? and how?' have not, I fancy, been much investigated. This contention is very true of our responses to styles and fashions, but it is not true of our response to beauty.
Change is of the essence of tradition. Our declining civilization has largely lost the conception of tradition as continuous change by small variations – as evolution, in other words – and can produce only fashions which, one after another, appear, live for a little while, and die without issue.
Of all Rams’s products, the 606 Universal Shelving System is perhaps his most successful in fulfilling his own principles of good design. It is still in production today, some fifty years after its conception. The system is distinctive yet unobtrusive, and when the shelves and cabinets are filled, its slim profile allows it to fade quietly into the background.
Its ‘plainness’ lends it a timeless quality that has transcended the vagaries of fashion like no other of Rams’s designs. It was conceived in such a way as to optimize its function as simply and in as many different situations as possible, while still permitting upgrades and alterations without falling into obsolescence: all later adaptations and additions could still be integrated into the original structure and sizes.
"Fashion objects are not capable of being long-lived," said Rams in 2007. "We simply cannot afford this throw-away mentality anymore. Good design has to have built-in longevity. I believe that the secret of the longevity of my furniture lies in its simplicity and restraint. Furniture should not dominate, it should be quiet, pleasant, understandable and durable."
It seems to me that many printmakers are suffering under a delusion. Looking at current trends, it appears that recent prints are simply copying fine art and painting. Some printmakers are working in the nanga style of painting. Others are attempting to reproduce the effects of oil. Some cleverly contrived prints are often difficult to distinguish from paintings done with a brush. The question arises: Why are these printmakers working in the medium of woodblock printing at all?
For prints to follow in the footsteps of painting has very little meaning. The art of the brush and palette should be left to the brush and palette.
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Reading Design is an online archive of critical writing about design. The idea is to embrace the whole of design, from architecture and urbanism to product, fashion, graphics and beyond. The texts featured here date from the nineteenth century right up to the present moment but each one contains something which remains relevant, surprising or interesting to us today.