Taking design underground for the masses
If ever one piece of design summed up Britain and our capital in particular, it’s Harry Beck’s often imitated London Underground map. Although the huge growth of London today means it has grown significantly, it still retains the charm, simplicity and effectiveness of Beck’s 1931 original. This is largely due to the fact that he himself continued to work on it right up to his death in 1964.
I would say that as a piece of design it uses a perfect balance of functionality and aesthetic beauty to solve a problem, which is after all the purpose of design.
In your Face typography
Ask any designer to name typographers from the last few decades and Neville Brody will be high on their list, and may even be the only one on the list. From his record cover designs and innovative style of The Face magazine in the early 80s through to his visual experiments with type and ultimately creation of his own typefaces, he has always found new ways to communicate with reader and viewer using design. Typography is a minor obsession of mine so i’m always going to be a fan of anyone who uses type to create striking visuals, as Brody did. The Face magazine gave the then pretty dull world of magazine design a huge kick up the backside that had a lasting influence.
Looking at things sideways
No survey, poll, conversation or article about British design classics is complete without mention of the four wheeled icon that is The Mini. Favoured by cinematic gold heist gangs the world over, this little beauty was the work of greek born british citizen Alec Issigonis, who started working at Morris Motors during the war, first creating the classic Morris Minor then a decade later in 1959, the Mini itself. You might be spotting a theme here but with the Mini, Issigonis wanted to solve a problem and make people’s lives easier. There was a severe fuel shortage at the time so creating a small car was a priority for many manufacturers, but small economical bubble cars weren’t much use to a family of four. By simply turning the engine sideways, 80 percent of the car’s floorplan could be used for passengers and luggage, meaning four adults could be comfortably and economically transported. Not something that had previously been possible in a car that could have fitted inside a 10x4x4 foot box.
At the core of Apple’s success
One of the largest american corporations ever in the history of such things, Apple has a lot to thank British designer Jonathan Ive for. Just as the original Macintosh revolutionised the world of computing, Ive’s first project at Apple – the iMac – did it all over again. With problem solving at the heart of his design ambition, every product he’s designed at Apple does something in a better way to how it was done previously making things easier for the product’s user. If that isn’t the very definition of good design I don’t know what is!
Jock Kinneir & Margaret Calvert
Telling you where to go since 1957
“Never in the field of design was so much owed by so many to so few,” said somebody possibly once about the creators of Britain’s road signs as we know them today – Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir. Inspired by the work of another designer, Herbert Spencer, the government of the day enlisted Kinneir and his assistant Calvert to create a new signage system for the nation’s roads. In his journal Typographica, Spencer had photographically documented the huge variety of roadsigns, their styles and symbols in a short journey from central London to Heathrow, highlighting the need for a cohesive and consistent style. Having created the signage for the UK’s first ever motorway in 1957, Kinneir was ideally placed for this task. Creating the not very cryptically named font ‘Transport’ in the process, along with Calvert, a decade long project began which resulted in signage rules, colours and pictograms that we still use today. I always knew photographing signs could lead to great things…
Feature walls are not his fault
“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” For me this famous quote from William Morris sums up pretty much all design disciplines; just substitute ‘in your house’ for ‘on the page’ and you’ve got a great tip for layout design. Largely credited for transforming the way people were able to decorate their homes, his late 19th century wallpaper and pattern designs still endure today.
Giles Gilbert Scott
An architect who found his calling
Voted by the public as the most popular piece of British design in March 2015, the classic red phone box was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott. An architect who was no stranger to winning competitions, having had his design chosen for Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral in 1902 at the tender age of just 22, Scott also went on to work on both the Battersea and Bankside iconic power stations. Inspired by shapes he’d seen on the tombstone of 19th century architect John Soane, the K2 phone box turned something that was a the time an intimidating sign of modernity into something familiar and friendly.
Balls to the competition
Another great exponent of design as a tool to make life easier, James Dyson is a household name in every sense of the word. His first commercial product, the Ballbarrow, made wobbly wheelbarrows a thing of the past and his most famous product, the Dyson vacuum cleaner, consigned hoover bags to the bin forever (well for those people who could afford a Dyson anyway!). It even got a starring role in a Christmas episode of another british favourite – The Royle Family.
This was not intended to be an exhaustive list, these are just a few of my favourite british designers, there’s plenty I haven’t mentioned: Peter Blake, the godfather of Pop Art; Terence Conran, Habitat founder who changed the way people furnish their homes; Edward Johnston, designer for the London Underground who’s font ‘Johnston’ is still in use today; and probably lots of others who I’ve overlooked.
Do you have favourite British design influence? Why not tweet us and let us know!