by Art Chantry ( email@example.com )
the critics all talk about how we’ve entered into the era of ‘design as commodity’ like never before. so many designers are household names that we even buy clowns like phillipe stark in big box stores. the stuff these ‘modern masters’ create is such junk – especially when you start to compare their efforts to even the lamest industrial designers of the past. so, how come the old school guys aren’t famous? shouldn’t schools be filling our brains with the creative efforts of these monsters, these designers ABOVE designers? i just don’t get it.
a lot of us know who charles & ray eames, raymond leowy was, or george nelson, or henry dreyfuss, or harley earl, robin & lucienne day, or walter dorwin teague. but, beyond that, we start to get confused and draw a blank. but, these industrial designers of the mid-20th century created the world we live in far more insidiously than any graphic designer or architect. these are the folks who made the stuff we use everyday, the stuff we even collect now as rare exotic antiques. these are the guys who designed the packages we still buy in the stores, the telephones we pick up and talk into, the cars we drive, the light switches we flip, the desks we sit at, the toasters we make our toast with. these are the guys who invent coffee pots and doors and pencil sharpeners and motors and clocks and refrigerators and forks and logos and buildings and on and on and on… – and they made all of it look so cool! all that 50′s modern and 30′s art deco, and 40′s streamline, and 70′s chunk-style, and 80′s overkill. all of those crazy styles we all buy in junk stores and hang on the wall and display in our homes. all that cool old junk we buy on ebay for top dollar. but, we don’t even bother to find out who actually DESIGNED this great stuff we love. but, it was these names you likely have never heard before.
ever hear of a guy named Brooks Stevens? this guy deserves to be at the top of the list of great american industrial designers of the 20th century. but, he tended to do really ‘out there’ stuff. frankly, he was a little tacky. he worked with the second and third string clients and ended up doing a lot more eccentric work than the big shots like leowy or dreyfuss. his client list included Mirro pots and pan, Haylo light fixtures, Hamilton, Electr-o-matic, Lawn Boy, Bolers Snowblowers, Roadmaster Bicycles, Duratone, Club Xanadu, Pedal Cars, Rocket Trikes, Evinrude, Briggs & Stratton, Willy’s – businesses with names like that. his work was quite slick enough to reach into the broadest levels of the market, and he was interesting enough to get plenty of work – this guy was prolific. but, his output shows a mind that would get ‘stuck’. he would think of an odd idea and then work it to death – often at the expense of the rest of the unit he was designing. the results were always peculiar and little off-putting to the average buyer. total we call this sort of thing ‘visionary’. back then, it was a little too “popular” (in the lowest meaning of the word).
just the same, brooks stevens produced some of the most enduring and amazing items that we all still love. a short list: the studebaker hawk and the studebaker lark, the willy’s jeepster, johnson thermostats (still inmost homes), harley-davidson motorcycles, the logo and the clear bottles for miller beer, and all the packaging for 3M product line. he designed the first banana-seat/butterfly handle-bars small bike (the screamer). he made those classic roadmaster bikes. he streamlined Evinrude outboards and Airstream trailers. he introduced ‘robin’s egg blue’ to appliances, he designed the first hybrid car (a six-wheel item for briggs and stratton actually called the ‘Hybrid”). he designed the first helicopter/boat/car (!) for Evinrude. he created the ‘Sky Top’ passenger viewing level for the railroads. he streamlined speedboats with the Cadillac Sea Link. he designed buildings for universities and corporations and even exotic Caribbean resorts. he designed jackie gleason’s “Rolls Royce” golf cart! this is also the man who designed the legendary Excalibur sports cars (and even produced them with his son). contrarily, he was also the guy who designed the Kaiser automobile (at the other end of the luxury spectrum). this guy tried his hand at everything and he did it really well.
and most frighteningly, this is the man who coined the term “planned obsolescence” and clearly defined the idea in contemporary design thought. *shudder*
but, ol’ brooks stevens also did stuff that we love beyond everything else ever designed by a human being. in fact, brooks stevens created the most amazing machine ever built. brooks stevens’ vision of ‘plump and juicy’ went beyond us mere mortals – he reached the stratosphere flying without a net!!! this is the man who crated the Oscar-Meyer WIENERMOBILE!!!!!
bow down to brooks stevens. we aren’t worthy!
AC:oh, and contrarily, brooks stevens did not INVENT the idea of planned obsolescence. but, he was the one who p
arized it as a concept and actually gave it the ‘name’….with tuition like that, it’s far easier to show them how to simply run a machine. think of the profit margins! universities are businesses first and foremost. never forget that little fact….