(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘industrial design

“I hate housework. You make the beds, you wash the dishes, and six months later, you have to start all over again.”*…

“The Kitchen Practical” at the Women’s Exposition, 1929

The remarkable Lillian Gilbreth…

Lillian Moller Gilbreth (1878-1972) was famous for being two seemingly mutually exclusive things at once. She was one of the most celebrated mothers and one of the most celebrated engineers in the 20th-century United States. That one self-effacing woman could conquer the cut-and-thrust world of industry while bringing up a dozen children made her the subject of endless public fascination. Her career didn’t suffer either. It spanned six decades, four after the death of her husband and partner, Frank Bunker Gilbreth.

Unlike many professional women of her era, Gilbreth has never been forgotten. Her impact on human environments and design, however, is not much discussed. An exception was Sigfried Giedion who, in Mechanization Takes Command (1948), cited Gilbreth as a founder of industrial psychology and a key figure in modernising kitchens. Yet when Giedion was writing, the work she was most proud of – designing rehabilitation facilities for the disabled – had only just begun.

Although Gilbreth regularly headlined at national conferences, served on presidential commissions and featured in the media, she was modest to a fault. Her lifelong pursuit was to memorialise Frank, posthumously keeping the spotlight firmly fixed on him. And then there was the Hollywood effect. Two Gilbreth children would chronicle their experiences of growing up efficiently in bestselling memoirs, Cheaper by the Dozen (1948) and Belles on their Toes (1950), both made and remade into popular films.

In 1924, Frank died, leaving Gilbreth with 11 surviving children to put through college. She tried to continue Gilbreth Inc on her own, but as contracts dried up, she shifted focus. Capitalising on media interest in her family life – a female engineer with a plethora of children was ‘good copy’ – she reinvented herself as a domestic authority, publishing The Home-Maker and Her Job in 1927.

We might think the home terrain was well covered, particularly by Christine Frederick, whose The New Housekeeping (1913) influentially applied scientific management principles to domestic life. But as a co‑inventor of motion study, Gilbreth’s interventions were regarded as more credible and rigorous, and she did more to secure acceptance for home engineering among North American university researchers, philanthropic funders and government officials.

The difference is evident in Gilbreth’s ‘Kitchen Practical’ designed for the Brooklyn Borough Gas Company in 1929. Whereas Frederick sought to save steps by routing workflow linearly and eliminating cross traffic, Gilbreth explored ‘circular routing’, compressing the plan and using a wheeled table to bring key equipment and work surfaces as close to the homemakeras possible. In her diagram, the homemaker can easily reach most of the equipment needed for simplified coffee cake making, minimising motions by half and steps by five-sixths.

Gilbreth’s re-envisioning of women’s household labour went beyond kitchen planning. She had no patience with women wearing themselves out to meet impossible standards of cleanliness and maintained that if tasks that could be ‘handed over’ to outside help or businesses, they should be. Useless chores like ironing sheets should be eliminated altogether; any remaining should be simplified and done cooperatively by all family members including the husband according to aptitude. The time and energy saved would allow the homemaker time for self-cultivation or even a career.

Gilbreth’s consistent belief in the human need to work meant she was increasingly concerned by what happened when people were unable to do so due to age or infirmity. During the war, she worked on rehabilitation projects for the US Navy, and collaborated on a 1944 book Normal Lives for the Disabled. After the war, she turned to disabled homemakers, who had been ignored in vocational rehabilitation. Gilbreth believed this was a mistake: paid or not, homemaking was productive work without which the well-being of the household, community and nation would suffer…

Reimagining both women’s household labor and the home environment, Lillian Gilbreth sought an efficient and body-centred kitchen, from Barbara Penner in @ArchReview.

* Joan Rivers

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As we put the heart in home, we might spare a thought for John Landis Mason; he died on this date in 1902. A tinsmith, he patented the metal screw-on lids for fruit jars that have come to be known as Mason jars (many of which were printed with the line “Mason’s Patent Nov 30th 1858”).

That same year he invented the screw top salt shaker.

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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that”*…

 

light switch

 

The inventor of the light switch, John Henry Holmes, was a Quaker, member of a doctrine generally united by a fundamental belief in the ability of each person to access “the light within”. The light switch, of course, enables each person to access the light without, and has been doing so, solidly, since 1884.

At least until the emergence of the voice- or presence-activated smart home version of lights, brave solution to an unspecified problem. Unlike contemporary design patterns, Holmes’s switch is a simple design that has lasted for centuries. Still, entering an old house, we brush our fingertips over the wall in the gloom, tracing spatial memories, caressing plaster or brick or wood before your hand brushes against an early plastic, or even Bakelite. The switch itself still tends to be firm, the ever-so-slight sensation of rolling as it moves to form a circuit, one of the most pleasingly robust ‘actions’ that an industrial designer could imagine.

It means the resilient light switch, like the door handle, reveals the accumulated touch of all those gone before, a patina of presence. Juhani Pallasmaa said that the doorhandle is the handshake of the building; is the light switch the equivalent for the room? It is the most universal of everyday objects…

If we always replace touch with voice activation, or simply by our presence entering a room, we are barely thinking or understanding, placing things out of mind. While data about those interactions exist, it is elsewhere, perceptible only to the eyes of the algorithm. We lose another element of our physicality, leaving no mark, literally. No sense of patina develops, except in invisible lines of code, datapoints feeding imperceptible learning systems of unknown provenance. As is often the case with unthinking smart systems, it is a highly individualising interface, revealing no trace of others…

From dark living rooms to dark ecology– a meditation on the humble, but crucial light switch: “Let there be light switches.”

* Dr. Martin Luther King

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As we shine on, we might recall that on this date in 1824 Beethoven’s Ninth (and final) Symphony, Chorale, premiered in Vienna, with “lyrics” by Frederich Schiller (part of his “Ode to Joy”); Beethoven’s chorus concludes:

Be embraced, ye millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, beyond the star-canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Be embraced,
This kiss for the whole world!
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods!

Facsimile of Beethoven’s manuscript for “The Ode to Joy”

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 7, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Less, but better”*…

 

Lange-Dieter-Rams_01

Dieter Rams is a giant among modern industrial designers; his clean, “functionalist” work inspired legions of modern designers– perhaps most visibly his work for Braun, which clearly shaped the thinking of Steve Jobs, Jony Ive (and before him, the folks at Frog Design)– perhaps most noticeably in the design of the iPod…

rams ipod

Rams’ 1958 portable radio for Braun, alongside the iPod

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But have we, in fact, learned the lessons that Rams worked so hard to teach?

Is it perfect timing or merely perverse to release a documentary promoting the design philosophy “Less, but better” during the holiday season? The opening moments of Gary Hustwit’s “Rams,” about Dieter Rams, is more likely to have you revising your gift list than tossing it out. As the camera pauses on the details of the eighty-six-year-old design legend’s single-story home, built in 1971 in Kronberg, Germany, you may find yourself wondering if you, too, need to buy a wall-mounted stereo (the Audio 2/3, designed by Rams for Braun, in 1962-1963) or a boxy leather swivel chair (the 620 armchair, designed by Rams for Vitsoe, in 1962), or to take up the art of bonsai, which Rams practices in his compact, Japanese-inspired garden.

After this montage, the sound of birds chirping is replaced by the sound of typing, and we see Rams seated in front of the rare object in his home that’s not of his own design: the red Valentine typewriter, designed by Ettore Sottsass and Perry King for Olivetti, in 1968. (Rams doesn’t own a computer.)

If you listen to Rams… rather than just look at the elements of his edited world, you will appreciate how his aesthetic and his ethic align. “Less, but better,” the title of his 1995 book, is, Rams says, “not a constraint, it is an advantage which allows us more space for our real life.”…

Ive has always acknowledged his debt to Rams (he contributed a foreword to Sophie Lovell’s book “Dieter Rams: As Little Design as Possible”) but, as the Philadelphia exhibition text suggests, Ive, embedded within Apple’s upgrade cycle, may have missed the point: “the rapid obsolescence and environmental impact of these devices sits uneasily against Rams’s advocacy of long-lasting, durable design.”

The minute design twitches of each year’s Apple launch are a far cry from the revolutionary change that the click wheel ushered in. Newfangled ports, rose-gold backs, the elimination of the home button—these don’t change our relationships to our phones, except to annoy…

The provocative story in full: “What we learned from Dieter Rams, and what we’ve ignored.”

Rams’ “Ten Principles of Design.”

* Dieter Rams

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As we savor simplicity, we might send well-designed birthday greetings to Walter Dorwin Teague; he was born on this date in 1883.  An  industrial designer, architect, illustrator, graphic designer, writer, and entrepreneur, he is often called the “Dean of Industrial Design,” a field that he pioneered as a profession in the US, along with Norman Bel Geddes, Raymond Loewy, and Henry Dreyfuss.  He is widely known for his exhibition designs during the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair (including the Ford Building), and for his iconic product and package designs, from Eastman Kodak’s Bantam Special to the steel-legged Steinway piano.

Walter_Dorwin_Teague source

 

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 18, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Personality is everything in art and poetry”*…

 

Marcel Proust

From parlor game to psychological staple, the strange story of the Proust Questionnaire…

In 1886, Antoinette Faure, the daughter of the future French President Félix Faure, asked her childhood friend Marcel Proust to fill out a questionnaire in a book titled “Confessions. An Album to Record Thoughts, Feelings, & c.” A fashionable parlor game originating among the Victorian literate classes, the “confession album,” as it was known, presented a formulaic set of queries on each page—“What is your distinguishing characteristic,” for instance, or “What virtue do you most esteem?” The album’s owner would pass the volume around among her friends, collecting their comments as a kind of souvenir, not unlike the notes that high-school students leave in one another’s yearbooks. Though Proust was only fourteen years old when he filled out Faure’s album, he responded to the questionnaire in precociously Proustian style. Beside the prompt “Your favorite virtue?,” he wrote, “All those that are not specific to any one sect; the universal ones.” To the rather pedestrian question “Where would you like to live?,” he answered, “In the realm of the ideal, or rather my ideal.” His “idea of misery,” true to form, was “to be separated from Maman.” And when asked, “For what fault have you most toleration?,” he replied, “For the private lives of geniuses.”

The young Proust wrote his answers in French, though Faure’s album, a British import, was printed in English. In his early twenties, Proust would fill out a second questionnaire, in a French album titled “Les Confidences de Salon.” He was far from the only significant cultural figure to participate in this ritual. In 1865, Karl Marx confessed that he considered his chief characteristic “singleness of purpose,” and that his favorite occupation was “bookworming.” Five years later, Oscar Wilde wrote in an album called “Mental Photographs, an Album for Confessions of Tastes, Habits, and Convictions” that his distinguishing feature was “inordinate self-esteem.” Arthur Conan Doyle, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Paul Cézanne all filled out similar forms. But while these other confessions are curios of their era, remembered only by historians, Proust’s questionnaires have had a far-reaching influence that their young author could scarcely have foreseen, becoming, over time, the template for one of the most widely administered personality quizzes in history.

This peculiar afterlife began in 1924, two years after Proust’s death, when Antoinette Faure’s son, the psychoanalyst André Berge, discovered his mother’s confession album in a pile of old volumes among her effects…

More at “How the Proust Questionnaire went from literary curio to prestige personality quiz.”

* Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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As we answer authentically, we might spare a thought for Raymond Loewy; he died on this date in 1986.  A pioneering industrial designer, he shaped landscape of manufactured goods in the U.S., from the Coca-Cola bottle and vending machine, through the automobile (e.g., the Studebaker 1947 Starlight Coupe, the 1953 Starliner Coupe,  the 1961 Avanti, and the Greyhound Scenicruiser bus) and appliances (the 1947 line of Hallicrafter radio receivers that conveyed a crisp precision far ahead of their time; the 1929 Gestetner duplicating machine, the 1934 Sears Coldspot Refrigerator), to the heavy industrial (the Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 and S-1 locomotives); and he created logos for companies including Shell, Exxon, TWA, and the former BP. (A more complete list of his work, here.)  For all of this, he earned the epithets The Man Who Shaped America, The Father of Streamlining, and The Father of Industrial Design.

Loewy standing on one of his designs, the Pennsylvania Railroad’s S1 steam locomotive

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 14, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Ninety-nine percent of who you are is invisible and untouchable”*…

 

Everything looks cooler when you blast it with X-rays. The photography of Roy Livingston makes electromagnetic radiation his muse; in his colorful series, X-Ray Visions, the skins of alarm clocks, toy robots, old Crosley radios, and more bubble away to reveal their candy-colored X-Ray cross-sections.

Based in Louisville, Kentucky, Livingston… didn’t always take such colorful X-ray photographs, but after experimenting with digitally adding color to his work as part of a study called “36 Robots,” “the flood gates opened.” Each of his photos begins on the analogue side by taking an X-ray and developing it. He then scans it into his computer in ultra high-resolution, manually cleaning the image as he goes. After cleaning, he creates hundreds of color variations in Photoshop—”I learned about saving large documents in Photoshop the hard way,” Livingston notes—then, after giving the project a few weeks to simmer, goes back to figure out which color paths he likes best.

When it comes to deciding what to X-ray, Livingston says its all about design. “I’m a big fan of all kinds of industrial design whether it’s new or old,” Livingston tells me. “It’s incredible when you see the thinking, craftsmanship and machining that goes into creating some of these objects. They are works of art by themselves.” If there’s anything he’s trying to get across with his work, Livingston says, “it’s that the simplest things can be beautiful.”…

More at “Colorful X-Ray Photos Illuminate The Beauty Of Vintage Industrial Design.”

[Special summertime bonus:  The Best Water Guns of All Time and The History of the Squirt Gun…]

* Buckminster Fuller (the inspiration for the title of Roman Mars’ wonderful design podcast, 99% Invisible)

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As we delight in design, we might recall that it was on this date in 1617 that the first one-way streets were established in London. An Act of Common Council was passed to regulate the “disorder and rude behaviour of Carmen, Draymen and others using Cartes,” specifying seventeen narrow and congested lanes running into Thames Street, including Pudding Lane (where the Great Fire of London began in 1667).

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 23, 2015 at 1:01 am

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