I am a big believer in the importance of good design in our lives. A few weeks ago I wrote about the man who was perhaps the greatest industrial designer of all time, Raymond Loewy. But not all well-designed things are the product of someone famous or prolific. Sometimes someone very ordinary gave us a great gift. Others were “one hit wonders.” And still other well designed parts of our lives are credited to “anonymous.”
Some design books focus on the best of advanced Scandinavian or Italian – or American – design. But there are many things in daily life that we never give a thought to, that never win any awards, which in some way make our lives easier, more enjoyable, or more beautiful.
So I was delighted to discover the book Humble Masterpieces: Everyday Marvels of Design by Paolo Antonelli (ReganBooks/HarperCollins 2005). She is the Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which held an exhibit of the same name. But not everything in this compact little book is modern. Each of the 100 cool things gets a one-page photo and one page on its history and design.
As a sample of its brilliant diversity, Humble Masterpieces includes the zipper and the safety pin, the sugar cube and the tea bag, the Frisbee and the Bic Pen, the domino and the brown paper grocery bag, the ping pong paddle and the Duracell battery, and the spark plug and the ice cream cone.
Flipping through this book was not only a lesson in good design; it was a lesson in observation and in entrepreneurial creativity. How did these things come about? What motivated their designers and inventors?
Some things are much older than I thought – like dice – while others are surprisingly recent. No era is ignored by Ms. Antonelli. Humble Masterpieces is also a tour of the world, with contributions from Asia, Europe, and America.
Nicely produced, and packaged in a well-designed (no shock there) plastic slip-cover, this book is a treat for all ages and a great broad-based introduction to product design. The right minds will find it an inspiration to do great things.