‘Making Modern Britain’ may seem a confident, almost arrogant name for an exhibition, but it appears justified based simply on the range of everyday objects Kenneth Grange has designed in his long career.
Product design often goes unnoticed unless an object breaks, does not match our standards or is very striking, elegant or unusual in it’s design. Unlike art or graphic design, we rarely wonder who designed or created such commonplace items, but are only satisfied if they exceed or equal our expectations.
It is often said that the best design is that which goes unnoticed; applying this theory to the exhibition of Grange’s work, he must be one of the best. Most of the items we all recognised – nothing we had not seen before – yet none of us knew the designer’s name. Everyone knows roughly what a London taxi looks like, what an Intercity 125 train looks like, what an Anglepoise lamp looks like – yet his name rang no bells.
Was this because we are not product designers?
We rarely take design inspiration from products, yet we all recognised this large plethora of gubbins arranged neatly in an upstairs room in the Design Museum, London. There were cabinets of Kodak cameras, shelves of sewing machines, a bus stop and maquettes of trains dotted around the room with a different yet instantly recognisable item with every step.
Grange, a founding partner of the design (and much more) consultancy Pentagram has been ‘in business’ for fifty years, lending his trained eye to many brands; helping Wilkinson Sword razors fit better in the hand, Anglepoise lamps more beautiful and a bookcase that doubles as a coffin.
He’s designed, he’s conquered, he’s got the Design Museum t-shirt (maybe). So why are we happy to ignore product design and product designers, as we don’t see them breaking barriers? What about the iPod, that broke barriers, that was revolutionary for the music industry, yet does anyone know who designed it? (Answers on a postcard, no googling.)
We all know about the late, great, Steve Jobs, but he didn’t actually design every iDevice; why is product design ignored even when it slaps us in the face? Maybe ‘Making Modern Britain’ is the beginning of bringing product design to the masses, bringing it to the fore, establishing it as an art form.