Society, history, politics, economics, geography and religion – all produce unique pressures on the design process. Design is not just about style and inspiration. The collective imagination of a country is conditioned by how it relates to issues as diverse as self-expression, class, landscape, war and ideology. 

What is design?
What is Design? looks at how 11 countries: Thailand, Japan, Spain, France, Italy, UK, Netherlands, USA, Germany, Finland and Brazil, have each interpreted their cultural uniqueness into 20th century industrial design classics.
01. Thailand
Royal craftsmanship and a playful sense of humour. Thai design is shaped by two key influences: the royal courts' exquisite craftsmanship and the common folks' inherent sense of playfulness. Tropical climate and abundant natural resources cultivated the gentle culture, demeanour and way of life.  The use of natural materials such as silk, bamboo, rattan, and cotton, the common crafts of everyday life such as carving, weaving and basketry, the harmony of colours, richness in detail and artistic ingenuity, as well as cheeky humour, all play a vital part in Thai industrial design today.

Experience, destiny and talent
Silk Robe (2008) - Somchai Kaewthong, Kai

This silk robe by Somchai Kaewthong, owner of the Kai boutique, was inspired by a robe worn by the Russian Empress Alexandra, a personal friend of King Rama V. The robe is made from a single thread of raw silk spun by villagers in the northeastern province of Surin. The fabric was specially treated and then cut into strips on the bias to make it more flexible. These strips were sewn into cords which were woven together to give the robe its basic shape. It took more than a week and over ten dressmakers to assemble the completed robe. Born in Yala in 1947, Somchai grew up before the advent of ready-made clothes. He learned how to make and design women’s clothing by watching his mother and older sisters. Hollywood movies, ballet and an education in art gave him further inspiration to open his own fashion boutique at the age of just 22. Today, some 40 years later, Somchai continues to create original designs that keep him at the forefront of Thailand’s fashion industry.

Silk Robe (2008) - Somchai Kaewthong, Kai

Kai Celelbrates 40 Years in Fashion (2009)
Somchai Kawtong, Kai

Kai Celebrates 40 Years in Fashion (2009)
Somchai Kawtong, Kai

Opening a treasure chest
Printed fabric and assorted items - HRH Prince Boworndej and HRH Princess Pajongchitr Kritdakorn, Khomapastr

The printed fabrics made by Khomapastr are a synthesis of Thailand’s rich village weaving traditions and the art of craftsmen and women in service to the royal court. Having opened trunks of royal clothing stored at the National Museum, the founders of Khomapastr were inspired to revive traditional patterns such as rajarot, benjarong, kinaree kai fah, and kiew pim thong, which had graced the clothes worn by members of the court of King Rama IV. These patterns have their origin in nature and reflect village life.

Khomapastr was the first company in Thailand to sell printed fabric by the yard. Today the company has expanded its range of products to include bags and placemats.

Printed Fabric made by Khomapastr - Traditional Pattern

Printed Fabric made by Khomapastr - Traditional Pattern

Opening a treasure chest
Printed fabric and assorted items - HRH Prince Boworndej and HRH Princess Pajongchitr Kritdakorn, Khomapastr

Opening a treasure chest
Printed fabric and assorted items - HRH Prince Boworndej and HRH Princess Pajongchitr Kritdakorn, Khomapastr

Building on a rich inheritance
Cotton goods - Nandakwang (1951)

Farming is the dominant occupation in the north of Thailand. After the harvest and during other slack times, people have traditionally woven cotton cloth. This eventually developed into a household cottage industry. It was respect for this tradition, handed down from one generation to the next, that inspired Sopa Muangkrachang to set up Nandakwang in 1951. Her business provided a lucrative outlet for local weavers, shining a spotlight on their traditional handmade cotton cloth. In the early years, visitors to Amphur Pasang in Lampoon province would flock to the Nandakwang shop to buy scarves, blankets and tablecloths before continuing on to Chiang Mai. The success of the business led Sopa to open new branches in Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Nandakwang has also expanded its range of products to include triangular pillows, sofas, cushion covers, and stuffed animals – all retaining that distinctive handmade feel.

Cotton goods - Nandakwang (1951)

Modern-day handicrafts
Dalai chair (2003) - M.L. Pawinee Santisiri and Suwan Kongkhunthian, Yothaka

The water hyacinth, a plant native to the Amazon River, was introduced to Asia through Indonesia by the colonial Dutch. Brought to Thailand in the reign of King Rama V, it quickly spread to ponds, rivers and canals throughout the kingdom, eventually becoming a menace to the native ecosystem. In 1989, M.L. Pawinee Santisiri teamed up with Suwan Kongkhunthian to set up Yothaka, a company that allowed her to pursue her interest in making useful household items out of fiber made from the pesky water hyacinth. At Yothaka, the emphasis is on delicacy and elegant simplicity. All the items on display are meant to reflect the Asian esthetic, combining modern production techniques with traditional craftsmanship. The business provides important job opportunities for village weavers while helping to address a pressing environmental threat.

Modern-day handicrafts
Dalai chair (2003) - M.L. Pawinee Santisiri and Suwan Kongkhunthian, Yothaka

As nature intended
Model Chairs (2002) - Nithi Sathapitanon and Saiyasana Semangern

Thailand’s tropical climate has shaped the national character. Thai people’s love of comfort and convenience owes much to the weather. This is reflected in the way that Thais have traditionally sat and slept, preferring a raised platform or a litter to a Western-style bed or chair. These model chairs were designed by National Contemporary Architect Nithi Sathapitanon and Saiyasana Semangern, a gifted furniture designer known for incorporating railroad sleepers and parts of boats and wagons in his designs. Here, the two artists have chosen not to cut the wood into small pieces but to respect its true nature. As a result, the chair has a light and airy feel, like a traditional Thai house, while the rounded edges recall traditional Thai architecture and its respect for nature.

Model Chairs (2002) - Nithi Sathapitanon and Saiyasana Semangern

Model Chairs (2002) - Nithi Sathapitanon and Saiyasana Semangern

Turning trash into treasure
Giraffe bookshelf (2007) - Singh Intrachooto, Osisu

At first glance all you’ll probably notice about this bookshelf is the clever, playful design. But if you look closer, you’ll see that it’s really a whole lot more. This giraffe bookshelf is a reflection of the designer’s commitment to giving value to things we normally think of as worthless. Angled so that books won’t fall off the shelves, it is made from recycled packaging materials like the kind used to wrap candy and instant noodles. Osisu was founded by Singh Intrachooto and Weeranuch Tanchukiat right here in Bangkok, a city that churns out over 10,000 tons of garbage every single day! The company’s founders are determined to explore the creative possibilities of waste products like milk cartons, wood scraps and printed matter. They are developing technologies for turning each of these materials into original products that are not just sturdy but environmentally-friendly, too.

Turning trash into treasure
Giraffe bookshelf (2007) - Singh Intrachooto, Osisu

Keeping the crafts tradition alive
Aranyik Knives – Craftsmen from Aranyik Village

Ayuthaya is located in a fertile river basin that was once an abundant source of bamboo and tropical hardwoods. Because the wood from these trees burns hotter than other kinds of wood, they were ideal for use in iron smelting. In the time of King Rama II, the village of Aranyik in Ayuthaya province was a thriving marketplace and home to a number of popular gambling houses. One of the most popular items for sale or barter in the markets around the town was a particular knife known as an Aranyik knife. The tradition of knife making was started by Lao immigrants from Vientiane who had fled starvation in their homeland and taken refuge in Ayuthaya. These migrants were skilled in making sharp, sturdy knives with wooden handles that were occasionally adorned with mother-of-pearl inlay. Some of the knives were used in agriculture, others in the home, and still others were intended as weapons. Even today the tradition of knife making remains very much alive in Aranyik, although the styles and manner in which the knives are made have been modernized to suit the needs of people today.

A World of Information
i-mobile TV 620 (2009) - Makorn Chaovanich, Samart i-mobile

In the Information Age, the Internet connects us all, and the accelerating pace of modern life has made all of us masters of multitasking. Telephones that used to just make and receive calls now have a whole range of functions and applications that let us do ten things at once! In recent years, Thailand has become a manufacturing and export hub for many Western electronics firms. But the i-mobile TV 620 is a Thai mobile telephone designed by Makorn Chaovanich, founder of Cerebrum Design. The phone was designed with business needs, marketing, brand building, and functionality in mind. Users can watch movies, listen to music, and access high-speed Internet – all at a price that the average Thai consumer can afford.

Siam – the land of smiles
Mr. P lamp - Propaganda (1994)

Thailand’s natural abundance encouraged a kind of communal way of life that has nurtured the native love of fun and the Thai sense of (sometimes risqué) humor. Recognizing these national traits and working within Thailand’s technical and technological limitations, a group of designers who had cut their teeth in the advertising trade formed Propaganda in 1994. Propaganda brought a Thai sense of fun to a range of industrial products that had always been seen as cold, impersonal and sterile. The company is probably best known for a cartoon character named Mr. P. Introduced in 2002, Mr. P is an adorable if somewhat mischievous figure whose body doubles as such items as a tape dispenser and a key chain. His clever poses are guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of city dwellers stressed out by the pressures of modern life.

02. JAPAN
Tradition and innovation. Japan is a land of continuities. Not even traumatic history, in the defeat of World War II, could alter its fundamental spirit.   Animistic, perfectionist and ingenious, with a meticulous capacity for knowledge and learning, Japan takes the world on its own terms. Ultimately, Japanese design is introspective, exploring its cultural psyche in a continual reinterpretation of its own traditions. At the same time, it looks outward to appropriate a world aesthetic. This intellectual dichotomy has resulted in a subtle balance of tradition and innovation.

Animistic pets
Tamagotchi (1996) – Bandai

Tamagotchi, an electronic pet given life by both battery and imagination, is emblematic of the simplicity of Japanese design and its ability to accommodate animistic worship and beliefs by essentially seeing nature as a living force (‘kami’) in all things – natural and man-made.

Peasant wear as ‘universal clothing’
Pleats Please clothes (1993) – Issey Miyake

Ever since his early career, Issey Miyake had the idea of infusing Japanese concepts of clothing into western couture. His later notion of ‘universal clothing’, defined as clothes that anyone anywhere could wear in their daily lives, was linked to an enduring interest in the clothing of Japanese workers and peasants. In 1993, he put this idea into practice with Pleats Please.

Hi-tech minimalism
Muji CD Player (1999) – Naoto Fukasawa, MUJI

Like many other products by Muji - literally meaning 'no brand' in Japanese - Fukusawa's CD player captures the perennial Japanese obsessions with technological innovation and aesthetic purity.

Good-bye loneliness
Walkman (1979) – Sony

The Japanese dichotomy between the need for private space and social correctness can be seen in the early designs of the Walkman. Initially perceived as solitary and unsociable, the Walkman was redesigned with a second headset jack and orange button, allowing the user to share the experience with a friend.

The beauty of imperfection
Wool and Nylon Shirts – Junya Watanabe and Comme des Garcons

Untucked, loose-fitting shirts, loose-knit sweaters with a moth-eaten look, and tight-fitting skirts with sponge padding that protrudes like a tumor. Items like these fill the collections of designer Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons (French for “like the boys”). Rejecting Western notions of beauty, Kawakubo’s designs have been turning heads in the fashion world since her first collection hit the runway back in 1981.

Apes rocks
Bathing Ape Hoodies – Tomoaki “Nigō” Nagao

“Nigō,” born Tomoaki Nagao, got his start in fashion making silk-screened T-shirts that spoke to youth brought up on Japanese manga and hip hop music. Influenced by music producer, urban fashion designer and trendsetter, Hiroshi Fujiwara, the so-called “godfather of Harajuku culture,”

Money from the God
Evisu Jeans – Hidehiko Yamane

Hidehiko Yamane launched his own brand of jeans called Evisu, after the Japanese folk god of money. Yamane’s jeans were a throwback to the vintage jeans of the 1950’s and were produced on machinery in use at the time. To further distinguish them from the mass-produced version, a seagull was hand-painted on the back pocket of each pair. Initially, only 14 pairs of jeans were produced each day, a clear reflection of the Japanese obsession with detail. Because of this limited production, Evisu jeans have become hard-to-find fashion status symbols.

Spirit in iron
Mobile Suit Gundam (1979) – Yoshiyuki Tomino

Ever since it made its TV debut back in 1979, the Japanese anime series Mobile Suit Gundam has been a favorite with hardcore otaku (animation fanatics). A reflection of the post-World War II generation’s obsession with robots, science fiction and engineering technology, the series has had a major influence on subsequent generations of anime creators.

03. SPAIN
Cultural exuberance.  The transition to democracy brought with it a chance to embrace a new age, politically and culturally. Spain’s post-Franco euphoria encouraged a flowering of the arts.   Inspired by the heritage of Antoni Gaudi and Joan Miro, the Catalan capital of Barcelona emerged as an expression of Spain’s cultural renaissance and economic regeneration. 

Freedom on a T-shirt
Printed T-Shirt – Custo and David Dalmau, Custo Barcelona (1990s)

After their motorcycle journey around the world in the early 1980s, the brothers Custodio and David Dalmau returned to Barcelona and used T-shirts as a canvas on which to express the freedom of post-Franco Spain. Distinct, original and innovative, Custo Barcelona’s printed T-shirts combined unashamedly bright colours, intense graphics and intricate details using embroidery, foil and metal.

Undoing the oppression
Duplex bar stool (1981) – Javier Marsical, BD

Mariscal, who once lived in self-imposed exile in Ibiza following the government crackdown during Franco’s heyday, designed his first-ever piece of furniture, the Duplex Bar Stool, as a uniquely and self-consciously Spanish bar stool, revelling in the national colours blue, red and gold. With its three legs (straight, curved and ‘crinkly’), the striking stool expresses Mariscal’s playful view of Spanish community spirit

It’s playful, but does it work?
Flamp (1998) – Martí Guixé, H2O

Growing up amidst the climate of post-Franco euphoria, Martí Guixé has been at the forefront of the ‘new’ Spanish design movement that began to flourish in the Catalan capital of Barcelona since the 1970s. Marked by anarchic humour, many of Guixé’s designs, like the Flamp are conceptual and whimsical, with an undercurrent of seriousness.

Farmer shoes go global
Pelotas shoes – Camper (1975)

Rich in local character, Camper shoes are inspired by farmers’ footwear from the Spanish island of Mallorca and the rural environment of the Mediterranean. In this part of the world, ‘camper’ means ‘peasant’

Instant Fashion
Zara Basic - Zara (1975)

A native of Coruña, a port city and textile center in the Galicia region of northern Spain since the 16th century, Amancio Ortega got his start in fashion as a delivery boy in a clothing factory, gradually working his way up to become the owner of a textile mill, Inditex. In 1975, Ortega launched his own brand of clothing, Zara, a brand which revolutionized the fashion industry, with new collections hitting stores once every two weeks, rather than the usual six months.

Can we help the world through design?
PVC Bag – Demano (1999)

This eco-friendly bag is the brainchild of three Colombian friends with a love for the posters advertising art exhibits and other cultural happenings around their adopted city of Barcelona. While the posters were attractive, the three transplants regretted the fact they were simply discarded after a single use. That’s how Eleonora Para Chini, Marcola Manrique and Lilianan Andrade, living in Barcelona since 1998, came up with the idea of turning these posters, made from highly-flexible, waterproof PVC plastic into trendy bags and other fashion items.

04. FRANCE
In Pursuit of Style.  Ever since Louis XIV dazzled Europe with the opulence of Versailles, France has been an emblem of luxury, exquisite taste and high life. This obsession with style and refinement in daily life transformed traditional ateliers of handcrafted goods into modern premium designer brands, a major source of France's national income.

How did this suit survive so long?
Chanel suit (1920s) – CoCo Chanel, Chanel

Inspired by menswear, the Chanel suit symbolised the birth of modern clothes for women. with its practical jersey dress and knee-length skirt with collarless jacket, Coco Chanel’s most famous creation, the Chanel suit, redefined couture for French women in the early 20th century.

Grandma’s underwear?
Gaultier bustier (late 1980s) – Jean Paul Gaultier

When Madonna commissioned Jean Paul Gaultier to design costumes for her ‘Blonde Ambition’ world tour, Gaultier took inspiration from his grandmother’s corset. He reinvented it as Madonna’s unforgettable pointed basque and bra, resulting in one of his most talked-about contributions to modern couture. Turning underwear into outerwear, Gaultier challenged traditional boundaries between the private and the public.

Who cares if the juice spills?
France: Juicy Salif (1990) – Philippe Starck, Alessi


Though Juicy Salif looks great, it is impossibly awkward to use. Try squeezing a lemon on it, and the juice spills all over the counter. Don’t think about Juicy Salif as a functional object, says Philippe Starck, see it as a stylish conversation starter.

Haunted from the past
Louis Ghost chair (2002) – Philippe Starck, Kartell

It’s hard to believe that the sumptuous furnishings favored by the court of King Louis XIV served as inspiration for some of Philippe Starck’s most famous designs. His Louis Ghost chair, for instance, revives the spirit of the 17th century, but instead of finely polished wood and gilt-brocade upholstery, Starck’s chair is made from injected transparent polycarbonate in a single mould.

Place them as you like
Algue (2004) Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec

Algue, the French word for seaweed, encapsulates the modern French design esthetic, which has broken away from traditional high-end fashion. The designs are simple enough to fit almost any décor. Mass-produced and made from injected plastic, Algue comes with as many as 19 holes to let buyers assemble the pieces into any shape they want.

The Goddess
Citroen ID 19 (1957-1975) - Flaminio Bertoni, Citroen

The Citroën ID19 first hit showrooms in 1957. At the time it was the newest in the line of Deesse (French for ‘goddess’) economy cars which went into production in 1955. Designed by sculptor Flaminio Bertoni, the car had a modern look, with lightweight fiberglass roof, and extra-wide windshield and rounded side windows that resembled a spaceship.

05. ITALY
Happiness in daily life The Italian quest for happiness in daily life emerged as a global design influence in the 1950s. Combining an understanding of the industrial production methods in use during WWII with contemporary ideas about life and living, the Italian sense of everyday enjoyment to new materials and technologies, appealing to a new international consumer elite. 

Roman holiday
Vespa – Corradino D’Ascanio, Piaggio (1946)

Piaggio, Vespa’s manufacturer, originally made warplanes. Under Allied agreements, at the end of WWII, the company was no longer allowed to manufacture aircraft. Enrico Piaggio decided to create a stylish scooter that was fast and easy to use – a modern design for the masses.

Does coffee taste better in this?
Illy coffee cup – Matteo Thun, Illycaffè

In 1990, Ernesto Illy asked architect and engineer Matteo Thun to redesign the espresso cup. Supplied with precise instructions on how to serve the perfect espresso, Thun created a simple white porcelain cup that has since become an icon of everyday Italian design.

Love machine
Olivetti Valentine portable typewriter – Ettore Sottsass, Olivetti (1969)

Dubbed by many as ‘godfather of Italian design’, Ettore Sottsass has worked throughout his long career to create products that challenged the icons of Italian design that he thought “functioned in terms of status and money.” Launched on Valentine’s day of 1969, the Olivetti Valentine – with its distinctive red colour, light in weight, stylish and compact in shape –captures the Italian joy of life. Ettore Sottsass described it as “an anti-machine machine and was conceived as a domestic fashion accessory… For use in any place except an office…

Power suit
Jacket Suit (1980) - Giorgio Armani

Since hitting the runway more than thirty years ago, Armani suits have never fallen out of style. In the 1980s, they were potent symbols of male power and prestige. They were an expression of renewed confidence and wealth after the global economic stagnation of the previous decade. While Armani suits wed the fine art of Italian tailoring and the elegance of French design, they retain the functional informality of the best American-style clothing.

More than a hat
Fedora hat - Borsalino (1857)

For more than 150 years, Borsalino has been recognized as one of the world’s finest hat makers. Founded by Giuseppe Borsalino in 1857, the company has continuously built on its reputation for outstanding craftsmanship, quality, and attention to detail. A typical Borsalino hat is made by hand using 19th-century technology, and requires seven weeks to complete. The brand’s signature style is the fedora, made from Belgian rabbit fur lined with satin and carefully packed in its own hatbox.

The reflection of classical architecture
La Conica (1984) - Aldo Rossi for Alessi

The shape of this coffee pot by Aldo Rossi is a testament to the designer’s love of classical architecture. Among the most influential industrial designers of the late 20th century, Rossi focused almost exclusively on concept and function.

King of leather shoes
Oxford Women’s Shoes (1970s) - Ferragamo

During World War II, when leather supplies were requisitioned to make army boots, Ferragamo gained attention by making shoes out of fishing line and braided fiber. But Ferragamo is known above all for its classic-design leather shoes that are comfortable to wear. These brown, leather lace-up Oxford shoes with rubber soles – made for European women’s feet using the most up-to-date technology of the time – attest to Ferragamo’s love of experimentation.

06. United Kingdom
Class and creative imperialismIt is ironic that as the British Empire declined, British creativity began to rule the world, especially in fashion, music and industrial design.Rooted in the enduring influence of the British class system, the most striking British creative expressions have struggled with issues of class dynamics. Witty and quietly subversive, irony is a recurrent device in British creative culture.

Breaking class barriers with polypropylene
Polyprop chair (1962) – Robin Day, Hille

Day was interested to resolve practical design issues in the most efficient and cost-effective way. As a result, he created one of his most influential esigns, the Polyprop – a light, stackable chair, made from a single piece of injection-moulded polypropylene, back mounted on steel tubular legs.

Fashion from the war trenches
Burberry trench coat – Burberry (1920s)

Thomas Burberry invented a way of treating cotton to make it strong, waterproof, lightweight, and impervious to heat and cold. He patented this ‘gabardine’ cloth in 1879, and used it for his famous Burberry raincoat.

Rebels in a skirt
Mini skirt (1960s) – Mary Quant

Mary Quant’s highly popular garments reflected a shift in fashion values. Designed for a skinny female form, Quant’s mini skirt was aimed at young women who were keen to rebel against the long skirts of their mothers.

Punk sensibility
Jeans jacket - Vivienne Westwood (1970s)

What first distinguished the designs of Vivienne Westwood was the spirit of rebellion. She took classic designs and turned them on their head. One of the central figures in the Punk Movement and the style revolution of the 1970s.

Who said you need a batteries or a socket to listen to the radio?
Wind-up radio (1995) - Trevor Baylis

Trevor Baylis came up with the idea for the free-play radio in 1995, after a trip to Africa, where he saw the importance of radio in places without modern technology. This radio is operated by a crank in the back which is connected to an internal circuit that produces electricity, eliminating the need for batteries or an electrical socket.

07. Netherlands
Contradictory histories.  Dutch history is marked by profound contradictions. The free trade values and religious temperance of the bourgeois forefathers continue to influence Dutch creativity. Contradiction remains key in contemporary Dutch design, reconciling the old with the new, the mass produced with the bespoke.

New milkmaid costume
Silk burgundy evening gown (2007) - Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren, Viktor&Rolf

This silk burgundy evening gown was inspired by native Dutch fashion designs. For instance, the bodice and shoulders are patterned after the dress worn by milkmaid, but rather than cotton, the dress is cut from iridescent silk. Viktor & Rolf’s clothes are concept-driven. Both designers have a fondness for taking classical design elements and giving them a quirky, contemporary feel.

Some like it soft!
Soft Urn Vases (1994) – Hella Jongerius, JongeriusLab

Hella Jongerius’s Soft Urn Vase series exploits polyurethane as a material, forcing its properties beyond the usual boundaries. The Soft Urn is essentially a soft twist on a (normally) hard object. Fusing traditional and contemporary influences, Jongerius’ work revolves around the search for balance between the mass-produced object and the one-off traditional craft item.

Mundane aesthetics
Milk Bottle Lamp (1993) – Tejo Remy for Droog Design

Tejo Remy’s milk bottle lamp is an icon of contemporary Dutch design movements like Droog (literally meaning ‘dry’).Functional and conceptual, the milk bottle lamp reflects the dry wit and measured liberalism of the Dutch.

Soft but strong
Knotted Chair (1996) and Crochet Table (2001) - Marcel Wanders, Droog Design and Moooi

This knotted chair and crochet table, both by Dutch designer Marcel Wanders, are striking for the contrast between soft and hard. Both pieces are a harmonious blend of handicraft and industrial technology.

08. USA
The American dream.  Based on frontier optimism, and a belief that wealth creates happiness, the American Dream has been a potent force in American design. In the pursuit of profit, American merchant adventurers exploited opportunity with ruthless design. 

How to turn canvas into gold
501 Jeans – Levi’s (1870s)

In 1847, a young Levi Strauss headed west to seek his fortune in the Californian gold rush. For two decades, San Francisco, he supplied miners with dry-goods, pillows, blankets, underwear and clothing, before they headed out to the gold fields. In 1872,
noticing that the miners needed something tough to wear, he began manufacturing his famous Levi’s ‘waist overalls’, with copper rivets for extra strength. Made from brown cotton duck and blue denim, a very tough fabric, the pants were tremendously durable, and extremely popular with miners and cowboys. Levi’s jeans were soon in demand across America.

Hurricane proof
Zippo lighter – Zippo (1930s)

Launched during the American Depression in 1932, Zippo’s success story exemplifies the pursuit of American Dream. George G. Blaisdell saw light and opportunity amidst economic despair. From his modest workshop in a small Pennsylvanian town, he took an existing lighter and incorporated a hinge to hold the lid to the bottom, enabling the user to open the lighter with only one hand, and a wind hood around the wick. Blaisdell named his lighter ‘Zippo’.

Adult doll
Barbie (1959) – Ruth Handler

Founder Ruth Handler introduced the first Barbie at the American Toy Fair in 1959. Inspired by Lilli, a German cartoon character created in 1952, Handler got the idea for the now-iconic doll from watching her daughter playing with paper dolls. She recognized the potential for an ‘adult’ doll since the only other dolls on the market at the time were infants or small children.

Easy! a single screwdriver only
Lounge Chair (1956) – Charles and Ray Eames for the Herman Miller Company

In the years following World War II, design technologies accompanied the development of new household appliances spurred on by the prosperity of the American middle class. This lounge chair, designed by Charles and Ray Eames for the Herman Miller Company, is one of the classic designs of the 20th century. Basing their design on the English club chair of the previous century, the Eames brothers simplified the production process. The basic frame is made entirely of molded plywood, the upholstery is leather, and the legs resemble a five-armed star. The chairs can be disassembled for easy packing and shipment and then easily reassembled with a single screwdriver.

Please dial…
Western Electric Model 302 Desk Telephone (1937) – Henry Dreyfuss


Western Electric Model 302, introduced in 1937, was just what Bell was looking for. Based on ergonomic and anthropometric principles, the Model 302 sent and received signals through a single handset, making it easier to use than earlier telephones. Starting in 1941, when World War II brought steel shortages, Bell began making the phones out of plastic.

09. GERMANY
Power of the Folk.  One influential theme in 20th century German thought is its search for inspiration in the prehistoric folk past and the pristine origins of the Germanic peoples.The Bauhaus School of Art and Design and the German Volk (‘people’) were a response to the country’s defeat in WWI, and her loss of status as the central power of Europe. 

Styling a new order
Wassily chair – Marcel Breuer, Knoll (1925)

In many ways, Marcel Breuer subverted the meaning of the traditional European chair with the Wassily. Considered the first modern tubular steel armchair, the Wassily was innovative in its lightness, minimal structure, and use of ready-made steel tubes, welded together.

So Long, Grammophone!
Phonosuper SK4 (1956) - Dieter Rams, Braun

To industrial designer Dieter Rams, function should always precede form. Good design is aesthetic, but it’s unobtrusive, honest, and “as little design as possible.” The SK4 Phonosuper phonograph that Rams designed for German household appliance manufacturer Braun in 1956 epitomizes this functionalist philosophy.

Form follows function
Safari fountain pen (1980) - Lamy

Lamy revolutionized the stationery business by producing the world’s first fountain pens out of sturdy, lightweight plastic. The iconic Safari pen, designed by Wolfgang Fabian, is unlike more traditional fountain pens in that it has an angled shaft which makes it more comfortable to hold. The ink cartridge is also easy to remove and replace. The clip at the top of the pen is made from a single piece of stainless steel. This smart design, ease of use, and reasonable price made the Safari fountain pen a favorite with designers and architects all around the world.

10. FINLAND
Design for the many.  Finnish imagination is driven by collective survival in a land of fragmented landscapes. Thrift, practicality, skill and resilience – the very communal values of its traditional hunting and fishing lifestyle – inspire the basis of modern Finnish design. Expressing sensitivity to the environment and an affinity with nature and sees itself as a tool for the many, rather than as luxury for the privileged few. 

Getting a grip on arthritis
Softouch scissors (1990’s) – Fiskars


When a Fiskars vice president received a one-page study by the Arthritis Foundation citing arthritis as a major concern of aging populations, few people in this 357-year-old Finnish-born company imagined it would lead to one of the world’s best known ergonomic scissors. In 1989, Fiskars began to develop new products based on sensitivity to the aging consumer market, particularly those with manual limitations. The ‘Golden Age Scissors’ concept was a lightweight design that accommodated both right-handed and left-handed people, and offered a larger, softer grip.

Icy inspirations
Ultima Thule (1959-1968) – Tapio Wirkkala, Iittala

Tapio Wirkkala’s ‘Ultima Thule’ is a design classic that speaks eloquently of Finland’s pristine northern landscape – from the soothing snow and ice, to wintry forests and lakes. Inspired by Arctic ice formations and the natural environment of Lapland – Europe’s farthest-reaching wilderness – the Ultima Thule also reflects the thousands of hours Wirkkala spent perfecting the glassblowing technique.

Quality & durability
Sharpaneva Cooking Pot (1960) - Timo Sharpaneva, Ittala

This Sharpaneva cooking pot by Timo Sharpaneva has a black cast-iron exterior and a shiny white interior finish. With its deep flat bottom and its heat resistant wooden handles, it combines the advantages of a baking dish and a skillet. Because of its simple, elegant styling, this pot can go straight from the stove to the dinner table without anyone batting an eye.

Who says we cannot eat with colourful plates?
Kilta Ceramic Plates (1953) - Kai Franck, Arabia


Kilta dishes revolutionized the way people ate in the years following World War II, when meals became a less formal affair. Kai Franck took over design responsibilities at Arabia, one of Finland’s largest ceramics factories, in 1950, producing clean, simple, polished tableware for the first time. What made these inexpensive glazed dishes so outstanding was that they could be stacked, making them easy to store in a small space.

Vivid colours in cold climate
Marimekko Cotton Dress (1970s) – Marimekko

Marimekko was founded in Helsinki in 1951, under the direction of Armi Ratia, who sought to produce textiles that merged native and international influences, rural and urban lifestyles, and nature and technology in a perfect synthesis. In the early years, the company’s collections, with their large, bold patterns inspired by everyday objects, nature, and architectural works, had an immediate impact on the international design and fashion communities. Marimekko clothes were bright, casual and comfortable-looking like a Finnish peasant dress.

11. BRAZIL
Beneath the Rainforest. Dominated by the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest, Brazil is a wild mix of abundant natural species and ethnic groups. Brazilian design emerges from an intersection of clashing cultures, textures, rituals and beliefs. This has infused Brazilian design with a unique vitality.

Amazon in the living room
Giramundo Chair (2002) – Marcus Ferreira, Decameron Design

Throughout Brazil, people make use of what they can find and designers often create products using indigenous materials, found objects and conventional forms. The appeal of this modern lounge chair, which can rotate through 360°, lies in its unique texture of natural Brazilian cotton and 15 vibrant colours.

Flip-flop fashion from Japanese immigrant farmers
Havaianas Flip-Flops (1960s) – Havaianas

Colourful and eclectic, the Havaianas flip-flops are a result of Brazil’s hybrid cultural history. Inspired by the “zori” footwear of immigrant Japanese farm workers in Brazil. The soft durable flip-flops are made from Brazilian rubber, with a secret formula. Relaunched in 1994, the Havaianas have become a staple of the fashion wardrobe.

Charm from favela
Favela Chair (1991) and Anemone Chair (2001) - Fernando and Humberto Campana, Campana Brothers

Fernando and Humberto Campana look at ordinary objects from a perspective that qualifies as “outside the box.” They may substitute strips of rubber and plastic for cloth, and scraps of wood for leather, for instance, without regard for technological considerations. What the brothers make depends primarily on the material to be used and reflect an esthetic that some people have termed “naïve.”

Brazilian cut
Bikini (1990’s) –Amir Salama, Rosa Cha

Rosa Cha swimwear collections, designed by Amir Salama, an historian turned bikini designer, are known for their vibrant colors, native bead designs, and body-hugging curves. The Brazilian-cut bottoms reveal the buttocks, and Salama’s use of stretchy fabric accentuates a woman’s figure, especially when she walks. Rosa Cha bikinis are an expression of that playful Brazilian sexiness that women the world over long for.

Old items make a comeback
ZigZag Bags and Shoes (2004) – the Campana Brothers, Melissa

Melissa is a major Brazilian shoe manufacturer best known for its soft PVC sandals modeled after the woven sandals worn by French fishermen which made their debut in the 1980s. Beginning in 1999, the company started hiring top designers and architects like the Campana Brothers, Brazilian Alexandre Herchcovitch, Vivien Westwood, and Zaha Hardid to give brand a more contemporary look. Today, it takes less than a minute to produce a pair of classic Melissa shoes, and the PVC used to make them is 100% recycled.

Old items make a comeback
ZigZag Bags and Shoes (2004) – the Campana Brothers, Melissa

Thailand Creative & Design Center
Credits: Story

What is Design? Exhibition @TCDC
What is Design? looks at how 11 countries: Thailand, Japan, Spain, France, Italy, UK, Netherlands, USA, Germany, and Brazil, have each interpreted their cultural uniqueness into 20th century industrial design classics.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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