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Design Review: Volume 2, Issue 1 (June-July, 1949)

Design in Everyday Life

page 10

Design in Everyday Life

Of the many meanings of the word “design” I would like to select one. “Design,” says the dictionary, means “adaptations of means to ends”. If we apply this to industrial design then “means” are machines and raw materials, and “ends” are the satisfaction of the user of the goods and the manufacturer and trader who sell them.


Following the first World War, the emphasis on design was on art, taste, aesthetic values, as witnessed by the work of the Design and Industries Association and the officially sponsored British Institute of Industrial Art. The Design and Industries Association drew its support from public-spirited people who wished to see a better standard of design in everyday things. They wanted the mass of the people to enjoy the use of common things that were aesthetically pleasing. The principle on which this improvement was to take place was embodied in the slogan “Fitness for Purpose.” This was essentially an aesthetic and altruistic movement in the Morris-Ruskin tradition. Its main influence was not on industry but in the creation of a benevolent official attitude towards design.

In the later period between the wars, propagandists for good design, influenced by American “stylists,” changed to the idea of “design for selling.” This doctrine received its greatest stimulus in America, claiming that the purpose of the designer was to move the goods as quickly as possible from the dealer's shelves to the consumer's hands. It created an artificial obsolescence or short life for consumer goods by tricks of fashion calculated to persuade the public to replace purchases frequently and long before they were worn out.

Before long the more responsible designers in America realized that the same skill which had been brought to superficial styling could be applied to improving convenience in use and economy in production. The designer, hitherto on the fringe of industry, had graduated to the position of an essential technician within industry. During the second war the production of armaments and essentials goods imposed economies in skill, time, material and effort. In certain fields design became closely integrated with production as a sheer necessity of survival. So in the 1940's “Design for Selling” gave way to “Design for Making.” From the cosy gatherings of the converted and the high ideals of the highbrows of the 1920's, industrial design had come down to earth.

Obstacles to Expansion

The design of cheap mass-produced articles is still, with few exceptions, as unsatisfactory in Great Britain as in most other countries. This is due to the failure of the manufacturer to understand the purpose of industrial design. The manufacturer is justified in believing that it is not his responsibility to educate the public taste at the expense of his dividends. The industrial designer has failed to explain that he is as much concerned with tooling costs as with the function of the articles he designs for its sales appeal. The approach to industrial design must be a synthesis of the three ideals of form and function, sales appeal and economic production—fitness for purpose, design for selling, and design for making.

Saucepans, manufactured by British Emulsifiers, Ltd.; designer, M. Christina Brock.

Saucepans, manufactured by British Emulsifiers, Ltd.; designer, M. Christina Brock.

Jug and Pail, “Elizabeth Ann” stainless steel, manufactured by Andrews Bros. (Bristol), Ltd.

Jug and Pail, “Elizabeth Ann” stainless steel, manufactured by Andrews Bros. (Bristol), Ltd.

Another factor working against the industrial designer has been the manufacturer's resentment against the pretensions of the “expert.”

Purpose of Industrial Design

Glance backward a moment. The mediaeval craftsman was an expert in his material and in close touch with the buyer of his goods. The machine killed the craftsman and produced cheap ugly goods to which the manufacturer gave some surface decoration. The results were uglier than ever because they were pretentious. Against this, Morris's revolt was a failure as he failed to realize that the machine was still a tool. Designers and manufacturers have been unable or unwilling to come to terms with the implications of machine production. The difference between designing for production by hand and by machine is that one is a process of making while the other is a process of planning.

Industrial design is a team job and its functions comprise:—


Ensuring that the product fulfils the purpose for which it is made.


Keeping as low as possible its cost of manufacture.


Reducing to a minimum the cost of finishing, handling, packing, storage, repair and maintenance.

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Promoting its sale by control of its form and presentation.

Gas Fire, “Radiation,” manufactured by Radiation, Ltd.

Gas Fire, “Radiation,” manufactured by Radiation, Ltd.

Preliminaries to Design

The first preliminary to successful industrial design is fact-finding about the market to which the product is intended to appeal.

The designer must know about the people to whom the producer expects to sell, their fads and fancies, how they live, what they expect to pay, whether it is a novelty, a luxury or a necessity to them.

Manufacturers themselves, like the public, are apt to observe two standards—a standard of judgment and a standard of buying. Thus when a panel of women was asked to judge the best of six scarves and chose one design as best, only 10 per cent. selected it when offered as a gift.

Colour is an important factor, as is shown by an instance in which factory workers complained that they strained their backs lifting black metal boxes, but when the boxes were painted pale green commented that the new lightweight boxes made a great difference.

The enterprising firm will wish to try out new ideas perhaps ahead of its public. While the easiest thing to sell is what is already familiar the changes resulting from two wars have made the present a time when people are more ready to accept new ideas.

Coffee Percolator, redesigned by F. H. K. Henrion, F.S.I.A., about 1948, produced by F. and F. Electrical Fittings, Ltd.

Coffee Percolator, redesigned by F. H. K. Henrion, F.S.I.A., about 1948, produced by F. and F. Electrical Fittings, Ltd.

The second preliminary to successful design is fact-finding about productive equipment and methods.

The designer must ascertain the limitations imposed on him by the client's production equipment and methods, the source of supply of raw materials, and his commercial policy. It is the little things that count. The omission of a gear, the substitution of a standard part for a special one, often will make no difference to the consumer's satisfaction, but a great deal to the shareholders.

The third preliminary to successful design is fact-finding about the distribution and handling of the product to ensure that every aspect of its design is efficient and economic from the control of its form so as to avoid damage in transit, to the lay-out of its consignment labels to make for quick and easy identification.

Photos reproduced by courtesy of the Council of Industrial Design

Photos reproduced by courtesy of the Council of Industrial Design

For every fraction of a penny that can be trimmed off the cost of producing an article a shilling can often be saved by greater efficiency and speed in moving it from the factory through all stages of warehousing, transport and display to the point of sale.

The services of the design consultant have been most frequently used in packaging. War-time experience with military stores showed how much wider is the subject of package design than had been realized in the years when selling was all-important. We now know that the protection of the contents from all the hazards of transport, storage and climate, breaking and crushing, permeation by water, drying-up, mould attack, insect infestation, tainting from odours of adjacent products have to be taken into account as well as economies brought about by the better adaptation of the package to storing and handling.

Practical Considerations

By concentrating on the economies of design the impression may have been created that aesthetic considerations page 12 can be overlooked and that design loses spontaneity and individuality in a dull routine of planning and cheeseparing. But these considerations are the limitations imposed by machine production to which the designer must submit as a craftsman accepts the limitations of his material and his patron's requirements.

The most satisfying forms that have survived from the age of the craftsman were the product of a complete preoccupation with practical considerations. Why are the hammerhead, the farm cart and the saddle such pleasing objects? Why are most electric lampshades, electric fires, ashtrays, cheap furniture and radio sets, designed with self-conscious artistry to please, so distressingly hideous?

The task of the designer is defined by Alfred H. Barr in “Machine Art” as: “To choose, from a variety of forms, each of which may be functionally adequate, that one form which is aesthetically most satisfactory. He does not embellish or elaborate, but refines, simplifies, and perfects.”