You’d have thought, wouldn’t you, that I’d know a bit about design by now. After all these years of writing about it, meeting the people, judging its competitions, going to its shows, drinking its wine, sitting on its chairs… But I don’t. I know nothing about design. Design and I are strangers. And what has opened my eyes to this fact is my rubbish bin.
It is a good bin – a tall, well-balanced, capacious piece of moulded, translucent blue plastic. Its base is circular, its top rectangular. This geometric shift – so easy to achieve in injection moulding – is satisfyingly architectural, like the pendentive to a dome. Near the top on one side is a nice oval, hand-sized aperture, so you can pick the bin up and carry it to a bigger bin to empty it. You can kick it or hurl it downstairs and it just flexes slightly and springs back into shape.
All this, and it was cheap. I think I bought it somewhere like the Conran Shop.
By now, all the designer groupies out there will be laughing and pointing. “What? Doesn’t he know? From his description, this can be no other than the Square bin by Konstantin Grcic, made by Authentics – a modern classic if ever there was one.
“And he calls himself a design critic?”
Not any more, friends. No, I did not know. I was wholly unaware that I had a Grcic object in my office until this morning, when I went to the Authentics website to see if Matthew Hilton’s new Wait chair was featured (it wasn’t, so update that site, boys). I was idly scrolling down the page of products and there, at the bottom, was my bin. “Well, blow me down,” I thought. “I have a Grcic bin and I didn’t know it. There’ll be hell to pay if this gets out.”
I picked up the bin, emptied it on the floor and stared at the moulded legend on its base: “Copyright 1994. Made in Italy. Authentics. Design: K Grcic.”
There was no excuse. True, the lettering is small, but I must have looked at those words without reading them a hundred times as I up-ended the bin. Strange, though, that “K Grcic”. Couldn’t they have spelled out his first name? It’s not as if “Grcic” takes up much space – it looks like shorthand, anyway.
Of course, I don’t know who designed the casings of my computer, scanner, phones, fax or cameras. I don’t know who designed my second-hand filing cabinet or my wonderful soft Chinese briefcase, which clips vertically on the back of my bike. I don’t know who designed the bike, since it is a rebuild and, anyway, it’s just a bike – a vernacular object. I don’t know who designed my Toyota Previa. Some insane sci-fi buff, presumably. As for my washing machine, dishwasher, oven, telly and video, I confess guilt-free design ignorance of all of them. They’re OK. They work. They are not visually offensive.
I could look up the names of the designers of my office shelves and tables, if I could be bothered, because they’re in the Ikea catalogue. Someone from the Geffrye Museum might be able to help me with the provenance of my Wood’s Ware Beryl cups and saucers, as found in 90 per cent of village halls but, sadly, no longer in production.
But the bin is a different matter. It’s by Grcic. He’s a famous name – to be found at every Cologne show, every Milan fair. I should have recognised the object. I’ve seen those bins all over the place and never previously made the connection.
But hang on – isn’t that a good thing, both for Grcic and for me? From my point of view, I bought a famous-name designed object in ignorance, simply because I appreciated the design. That’s not so bad, is it? How many people can distinguish a top claret from an Australian blend in a blind tasting, after all? Better, surely, than to buy a cruddy object because of the name attached – like numerous chairs I could mention by people who should be ashamed of themselves?
Grcic also comes out of the situation pretty well. He has created a demotic object – something that is functional, good-looking, long-lasting, low-cost and beyond fashion.
If there was a Grcic bin under every desk in every office in the world, the world would be a better place. It is absolutely to his credit that people buy his bins in their thousands without ever stopping to wonder who, exactly, designed them. It is wonderful that people regard the Grcic bin as an anonymous industrial product.
So all hail, K Grcic! May your bins proliferate! As for me – whoops – I’ve just noticed that my supremely elegant elliptical tea tray is in exactly the same grade of polypropylene, and exactly the same hue, as the bin. It came from John Lewis. On the base it says only: “Dishwasher proof.” And do you know what? I don’t care who the **** designed it.