The Design Book

The Design Book, newly published by Phaidon, is the latest attempt to document the world’s most important designs.

Rolodex Rotary Card File (1952), Arnhold Neustadter (1910–96); Rolodex 1952 to present

Source: Rolodex

Rolodex Rotary Card File (1952), Arnhold Neustadter (1910–96); Rolodex 1952 to present

This time the concept is that the book showcases the 500 ‘most innovative, beautiful and influential’ designs from the past 500 years that are still in production.

This is an interesting take and means, in theory, that the book could be used as an accessible buyer’s guide to iconic design. The downside is that there is a heavy late-20th century focus, although the story of the earliest exhibit – the Zhang Xiaoquan scissors from China in 1663 – is an intriguing one: the company still produces 40 per cent of the scissors sold in China today.

Phaidon assembled a formidable panel of designers, writers and critics to make the 500 selections, including Daniel Charny, Daljit Singh, Ilse Crawford and Max Fraser, while the project was led by editor Joe Pickard.

Living Tower (1968), Verner Panton (1926-98); Herman Miller 1969 to 1970; Fritz Hansen 1970 to 1975; Stega 1997; Vitra Design Museum 1999 to present

Source: WFHR photo by Andreas Sütterlin / Vitra

Living Tower (1968), Verner Panton (1926-98); Herman Miller 1969 to 1970; Fritz Hansen 1970 to 1975; Stega 1997; Vitra Design Museum 1999 to present

Pickard says, ‘We wanted to make the objects featured more attainable, so there are no yachts or planes in the book.’

Instead, the more everyday selection includes the Rolodex Rotary Card file from 1952, the Moulton bicycle (1962) and Philippe Starck’s 1990 Alessi citrus squeezer, which is probably in far more homes than it justifiably ought to be…

Juicy Salif (1990), Phillippe Starck (1949-); Alessi 1990 to present

Source: WFHR

Juicy Salif (1990), Phillippe Starck (1949-); Alessi 1990 to present

Some more recent Apple-heavy selections – the iPod, iMac and iPhone are all represented – bring the book up to date.

With 500 products crammed into a reasonably small book, you might expect the treatment of the objects to be quite light, but there’s a real depth to the descriptions, which are full of detail and often opinionated.

iPhone Mobile Phone (2007) Apple Design Team Apple Inc. 2007 to present

Source: Apple

iPhone Mobile Phone (2007) Apple Design Team Apple Inc. 2007 to present

As with all these books, there will be disputes over items left out, or products given too much prominence, but Phaidon seems to have pulled off the rare trick of creating something accessible and wide-ranging, but genuinely interesting and informative too.

The Design Book is published by Phaidon priced at £12.95.

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