Tom West explores the power of design, and what makes it so good.
Born and raised in the West Midlands, Birmingham is my adopted home. After 16 years working in advertising and marketing, growing the businesses in Birmingham and London before doing the same in Sydney and Singapore. I look back on my journey to this point with pride and lots of great memories. I’ve worked for some amazing brands, on challenging projects, and been lucky to meet and work with some wonderful people. Some of those people were Mr and Mrs Clarke, and like a Richard Curtis screenplay, there was an inevitability to everything leading up to this point. I worked with Mr and Mrs Clarke soon after its launch, they then sold my house because I was moving to Singapore, and now our third act is possibly the most exciting of all, and I’ll tell you why.
Since I was a child I have appreciated good design. I have my grandparents to thank for introducing me to the importance of form and function, and how it can positively affect our daily lives.
My grandfather was an artist, designer, and university lecturer in his lifetime, while my grandmother was an artist and potter. They met at the Royal College of Art, just after WW2 and their lifework took them from London to Scotland via Denmark, Holland, and Austria, to Birmingham and Wolverhampton before retirement in Ironbridge, and then St David’s. I remember their home vividly, the art on the walls, the pottery and books in every room along with the elegant contemporary furniture that served them so well over a lifetime. Years later, I recognise these positive experiences as the power of good design.
Later, I discovered designers like Charles and Ray Eames, Arne Jacobson, Florence Knoll and the brands they’re names are associated with: Knoll, Herman Miller, Vitra and so on. I remember as a child I was fascinated by their Braun electronics, my grandfather’s shaver – I now have one of my own. Their orange KF 20 Aromaster coffee machine and TP1 Portable Radio, all led me to Dieter Rams, who was Braun’s head of design from 1961 to 1995. He also importantly, for me at least, designed the iconic and wonderful 606 Universal Shelving System for Vitsoe, which I coveted from the moment I set eyes on it. A near 10-year obsession with Vitsoe and Rams finally resulted in adding the shelving to our home. During that period, I read and learned more about Rams’ design philosophy.
By the late 1970’s Rams, self-aware of his own contribution to design, and its impact on the world, asked himself the question: Is my design good design? His answer was the ten principles of good design, which can be found in full here.
On reflection, and in no particular order these are principles that my grandparents lived by, and I try to adopt when choosing what to consume, what to add or replace at home, and how to think and approach change.
- Good design is long-lasting, it avoids being fashionable and thus is never antiquated. It’s honest, it does not attempt to make promises that cannot be kept. Good design emphasises the usefulness of a product. Good design has an aesthetic quality, integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and wellbeing.
- Good design makes a product understandable, it clarifies, and talks to you, at best it’s self-explanatory. Good design is unobtrusive, fulfilling a purpose, leaving room for a user’s self-expression. Good design is environmentally friendly, making a contribution to preserving the environment, conserving resources, and minimising pollution. It is thorough down to the last detail, nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect for the consumer.
- Good design is innovative, technological development offers new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design should develop in tandem with technology and not for its own sake. Good design is as little design as possible, it concentrates on the essential aspects, it’s not burdened with non-essentials.
It’s pure and simple. Less, but better.
…As a final thought, it’s a great analogy for what makes a Mr and Mrs Clarke home different to any other house. It is a matter of principles.