Sunday, November 1, 2009

Art Deco & Industrial Design: The Industrial Designer

The profession known as industrial design emerged during the Great Depression of the 1930s (Meikle p.105). Many of the early industrial designers started out in the advertising business and dealt a lot with stage and set designs for theaters. An industrial designer is neither just an artist, nor simply an engineer, nor a market researcher but rather a combination of all three (Sparke p. 94). What did these industrial designers do? As Fortune magazine of 1934 explained: “Now it was the turn of the washing machines, furnaces, switchboards, and locomotives. Who was to design them?” (Spark p. 96) And the answer to that question is the industrial designer. The industrial designer was now in charge of coming up with all different kinds of machines for the new modern era. The problem with this was that the designers struggled to find a machine aesthetic both intellectually defensible and commercially viable (Meikle p. 113). They wanted to create a style that was an honest expression of the technology of this new modern life. The style they developed was called streamlining. Streamlining was based on the new science of aerodynamics and borrowed from the emerging technology of aviation where it was both functional and organic (Meikle p. 113). Streamlining allowed a vehicle to travel much faster by eliminating the wind resistance.

Some of the industrial designers that were very prominent at the time were Walter Dorwin Teague, Norman Bel Geddes, Raymond Loewy, Henry Dreyfuss and Henry Ford. Henry Ford is one of the first industrial designers. The automobile was the most significant technology of the 20th century, transforming the way almost all people lived, worked, and identified themselves (Meikle p. 102). Henry Ford’s mass production using the assembly line helped the automobile become so popular. The Model T transformed popular fantasy into universal reality (Meikle p. 102). By 1928, there were more than 20 million automobiles registered, one for every six people (Meikle p. 102). This changed the world forever. Another industrial designer was Walter Dorwin Teague first worked as an advertising agent before he designed industrial products. Many of his designs were informed by a desire for simplicity and unity as well as a belief in the ability to design to improve the quality of life by promoting an awareness of taste and discrimination (Raizman p. 215). One of Teague’s most well known developments are the redesigning of several cameras for Kodak. Norman Bel Geddes was very influential with the streamlining of the automobile. He came up with several prototypes for a streamlined automobile but unfortunately they were never put into production. He did however serve as a consultant to the Chrysler Corporation for the 1934 Airflow, which adapted a more unified approach to the construction of the grill, hood, and windshield (Raizman p. 216). The Airflow contributed to a streamlining fad among the public and convinced GM and Ford to use it throughout their automotive lines (Meikle p. 118). Streamlining also started having an impact on the railroads, such as with the Zephyr. Raymond Loewry first worked in illustration, window dressing, and advertising before he founded his own industrial design firm in 1929 (Gorman p. 155). His office designed trains, Greyhound buses, Coke bottles, International Harvestor farm machines, the Skylab, and many other products for the world’s largest companies over the next 50 years (Gorman p. 155). His desire was to naturally give the pubic the most advanced product that research can develop and technology to produce (Gorman p. 155). He also served as the in-house “art director” for Westinghouse radio cabinets from 1929 to 1931 before becoming an independent consultant and designing car bodies for Hupmobile (Meikle p. 109-110). One of his major contributions was the Coldspot refrigerator. Lowery emphasized its verticality by using long, slender hinges and running three parallel ribs up the middle from bottom to top (Meikle p. 110). Another industrial designer of the time was Henry Dreyfuss. Dreyfuss started out as a set designer working with Geddes. Sears, Roebuck hired Dreyfuss to design a washing machine with the supplier’s engineers (Meikle p. 109). His washing machine was named Toperator and showed a careful blend of functional and psychological considerations. Dreyfuss was very concerned with the functional fit of a product to the person using it. All of these industrial designers became public heroes, filling the pages of popular magazines, which even described what they even had for breakfast (Sparke p. 98). They soon became symbols of the modern age, pointing to the future at a time when economic situation was less than optimistic (Sparke p. 98).

Without the invention of industrial designers where do you think we would be today? Who would have made those products that the industrial designers made? How large of an impact do you think industrial designers has had on the world today?


caitlyn said...

Honestly, I can’t imagine our society without the products made my the industrial designers of the early 20th century. Everything is designed. Our washing machines, dish washers, cars... our lives revolve around the new technologies given to us. Because of all the products made by industrial designers over the last century I think it is impossible to grasp the idea of a world without the products they have made. I think that some type of engineer or artist would have begun developing a similar product out of necessity but it may not have been as refined or aesthetically pleasing as the products that are used today. If Henry Ford had never invented the model T would we be walking everywhere? Probably not. Someone, somewhere would have had some idea for a more leisurely mode of transportation. I think the importance of the industrial designer is really immeasurable because we cant grasp how many overlooked , everyday products have been designed because we are surrounded by them everyday.

Melissa Long said...

I feel like industrial design is a profession that is often over looked by both people in engineering and design. While engineers strive to make processes efficient and designers strive to make them visually appealing industrial design combines aspects of both. As Kaitlyn mentioned, with the start of the Industrial Revolution new products were demanded that had to be both efficient and designed to serve their function. This demand lead way to the creation of the industrial designer, who both engineers and designers depend upon every day.

Asking what life would be like without the industrial designer is like asking what life would be like without technology. Advocates of the Arts and Crafts movement or Amish people may be able to envision how life would be different today, but for me it is too big to comprehend. Industrial designers have an impact on any product that we ever use. From the key board I am typing on, to my cell phone, to the coke can I’m drinking out of. The shape is designed to be efficient and meet the needs of the user.
The industrial designer could only be extinct if the Industrial Revolution was extent. If the creation of technology like the steam engine or the cotton picker had never been invented products wouldn’t exist that need to be designed efficiently.

Consequently, today there wouldn’t be any of the product what we depend upon and no one would need to replace the industrial designer. Products would still be hand crafted and unique from one product to the next. More than likely individuals would serve as the industrial designer by specifying what type and design of product they need from the craftsman.

Overall, I believe industrial designers serve has a key link in society’s functions. They make products more efficient, available and affordable for American people. We interact with their work daily and often take for granted their subtle yet innovative designs.

Mark Leavens said...

The industrial designer is such an important person that gets overlooked far to often. They are responsible for making the machines that help produce our material culture. The problems that they overcame helped give the modern movement an edge. They took science and combined it with design and mechanics.
As Melissa said, it is like asking what life would be without technology. Products wouldn't be what they are today, the invention of the assembly line and the Model T car were just the start of the world of industrial design.

So to the Industrial Designers, I say thank you for helping shape the world, coming up with new ideas and keeping our world running. Today, we rarely think about who designed the refrigerator or the washing machine but we use them all the time.

Abby said...

In our Raizman text it says that, "it is not surprising the large-scale industries for the mechanized mass production of consumer goods and appliances were reluctant to embrace design as a conscious element in their product development and marketing until later in the 1920s." Can you imagine if this mindset had stayed with us until today? The feeling that machines and technology should simply look like machines because that's what they are, is terrible. We would never reach the stage we are currently enjoying: the era of the iPod and other such sleekly designed technologies.
Today we have absolutely beautiful pieces of technology and machines that we interact with everyday. They are such a large part of the household today that it would be a shame if industrial designers did not exist. Our interiors and surroundings in general would suffer greatly from this lack of consideration. Today many people focus on how to make technology more aesthetically pleasing, as well as improving the interface between humans and technology. These jobs are becoming more and more important as we make developments in technology every month.
Being a visual person (as I'm sure you can all relate), more than half of what interests me in a product is how it looks. Mass production industries have realized this, and with the expertise of industrial designers the mp3 players and laptops of today are sleek, modern, beautiful, and they don't weigh 20lbs each.

Abby said...
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Robin said...

When I read the post I kept thinking of my great Aunt E.V. who always says to my mother, "Bev'ly, you're so streamlined!"

She is complimenting my mother's figure, of course, but I think for Aunt E.V. "streamlined" is about the ultimate compliment to give or receive.

Aunt E.V. just celebrated her 99th birthday last month, which means she grew up in a time when industrial design was making a huge impact in the world, especially for women. She knew what it was to wash clothes on a board, to haul the milk up from a keep-cool container in the the well, and to battle the Georgia heat with a hand fan (from the funeral home, of course). That "streamlined" washing machine, the fridge with the slender hinges, and those curvy electric fans changed everything. And, oh, they looked good, too. Kind of like my mother.

I think the industrial revolution made the emergence of industrial design inevitable, primarily because its scientific and technological advances created consumers along with its new kinds (and amounts) of production.

But that doesn't mean things had to look good.

To me it's interesting that so much good-looking functional design emerged despite the duress created by the world wars (well WWI anyway) and the Great Depression.

I agree it is hard to imagine what life would be like without industrial design. But I do have Aunt E.V. along with my grandparents and their parents, all of whom I knew, who lived through this massive change and talked about it. A lot.

Sometimes I have ambivalence about it. I do love this period of design. It is so cool. And people in my family, especially the women, felt very liberated by these inventions. Partly because of the real functionality these machines brought to their lives - a washing machine truly is a labor-saving device. But also because the look of these more modern designs (and the important fact that you could get some of them for yourself - with green stamps or from the filling station when you bought your gas) - suggested that things could be different, even better. I think for Aunt E.V. "streamlining" is curvy and functional. And it's modern and socially kind of free, much less oppressed (and I mean oppressed, not oppressive) than all those implications of the Victorianism that linger on in her region.

But like I said, I'm a little ambivalent. Not that I'd go back even if we could. I don't want to wash my clothes in the creek! Among other things.

And early 20th century industrial design is pretty fabulous. But I also love the hand-made, the organic, and some of the relationships that happen in a more hands-on and personal economy, and I don't want to see them wiped out by the same processes that brought us the electric fan!

Eunyoung An said...

I agree with Caitlyn. I can't think about the world now without the inventions that industrial designers made. All the products that we use everyday in our life, such as washing machine, car, and camera were made by industrial designers. I think its amazing. The industrial designers not only design products as an art, but also they design very practical products for living by using technology and machine. I think it is very nice combination of art and engineering.
I think the impact of the industrial designers on the world today is very huge because the products which are made by industrial designers change our life a lot. For example, if we do not have cars in our life, we have to spend lots of times for going somewhere. it could change everything. people may stay home and work at home rather than going to work. Travel may not working. so maybe i can not come to here to study. haha.
i think industrial design has a huge impact on the world. And this is also one of the example that how design influence to the society.

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