Studying the classics

Matthew Valentine takes a look at a new series of books on design icons and learns, to his surprise, that his kettle has an impressive design pedigree.

That design can be fun is an important, and often overlooked, aspect of the industry. Usefully launched in time for Christmas, this new series of books could go some way to redress the balance. Design Icons is a set of inexpensive and, more importantly, enthusiastic appreciations. Each is dedicated to a particular object – the first four in the series examine chairs, telephones, kettles and radios.

Pitched at an accessible level by a selection of writers, each of the books features clear and evocative photography by Guy Ryecart and concise information on its chosen design icons.

And, in a simple touch, the captions are made fun by draping them around the shape of the artefact they illustrate, or attaching them in some other relevant way.

At such a small size (31 pages, 165mm x 165mm) the books cannot pretend to provide a definitive history of their subjects. They do, however, provide a broad history of popular tastes in the 36 iconic designs they each feature.

Some readers will recognise the radios now acknowledged as classics from their own experience. But only if they are of a certain age. Recent design graduates who receive the books in their Christmas stockings may feel their generation has been sadly neglected by its precursors when it comes to providing icons – there is some inconsistency in the periods covered by each book. If there were any interesting radios produced between 1970 and 1996, for example, they are not to be found in David Attwood’s book. And the award-winning BayGen wind-up radio, although alluded to in the foreword, is not mentioned again, despite capturing the public imagination like few other products of this decade.

Telephones, however, are rather better covered throughout the Eighties in the book by Paul Clark. Kettles and chairs are also well represented through the yuppie era.

Kettles are covered in perhaps more up-to-date fashion than the other subjects in their volume by Jonathan M Woodham, and this raises the interesting question of just how quickly a mainstream design can achieve iconic status. This writer, for example, was surprised to find his kettle, picked up from John Lewis at the end of last year, is the now iconic Kenwood kettle designed by Kenneth Grange.

Design Icons are published by Aurum Press, priced 5.99 each.

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