Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Day 258, on which John salivates over Helvetica (part 50 billion) [15.9.10]

Dag to hunrede otteoghalvtreds. Yeesh, today was tiring. After two days of school trips (the only two I'll have this year, no doubt) it sure sucked to be back into normal school lessons. Ah well. Now I just have to go through that entire day over and over again until the end of term. Which, annoyingly enough, my school has decided will be on the 22nd December. Seriously?!

Woot, here's a brief Helvetica interlude to my slow trawling through Dieter Rams' design principles. As you know, Helvetica is the best font ever ever ever full stop the end. No doubt. No exceptions. It's near-perfect (true perfection is impossible), and yet created over 50 years ago. By the Dutch type foundry Haas.

So, due to me experimenting with Adobe Illustrator, I ended up putting a Dieter Rams quote in Helvetica and making it look all neat. Sweet. I'd have done a Jacobsen quote, complete with the Egg chair in the background, but all of Jacobsen's quotes are rubbish. The best I found was 'people buy chairs, and they do not really care who designs them'. The phrasing is all off, and the actual point of the quote kinda defeats the point of Jacobsen completely. Ah well.

A4 size, too. Go print it out, you know you want to. The background of the words is from a photo of one of Rams' few chairs.

Rams' 10 principles of 'good design' cont'd

7. Good design is longlasting

This seventh principle is a bit of a moot point. It simply means, if you think about it in a functional way, that the product should physically last as long as possible. ie. the materials don't rot or degrade. It stays how it is for as long as possible. But what's the timecap on that? Considering the oldest furniture we can still use in everyday life is from the early 20th century, I'd conclude for it to be about 100 years. One century. One century for the original copies of your design to float around houses and auctions and shops until they become too antique to sit on. That's it.

But what's the timecap if you're making copies of your chairs? If they're to be produced again and again? Well, that doesn't mean the design will last much longer at all. Still, the cap is 100 years. Mainly because after 100 years, your design will be so out-of-date that no one will want it any more. It won't be in style. Well, why would you fund the production of 1000 copies of a chair first made in 1910? It's too old. You could probably get a chair produced off-and-on for 70 years, tops. That's based on how long Eames and Jacobsen furniture will keep being made, or how long I predict.

That may mean that, adding the two timescales together, your design could last until it stops being made (70 years on), then on until it stops being safe to sit on (100 years). Sadly, that's not true. The cap is still 100 years. No matter whether your design is in good condition, it'll be old fashioned by then. Only the museums will want it. If it's not being used in everyday life, the design is useless. And yes, I wrote useless in italics. Because I mean it. Having your design in a museum is bloody pointless! No interaction whatsoever!

But what about the sentiments and details of the design? The stylings? The production techniques? Well, they could go on forever. Even now, in the 21st century, we're seeing a plethora of designs based on details from Edwardian architecture, or Victorian furniture. They don't bring nostalgia; they're too old for that. They bring a sense of formality, and intricacy. Saying 'this product is posh, it's proper. We respect our past. Don't forget it'. Perhaps 200 years in the future, we'll see Jacobsen's curves of the Egg and the Swan and the metalwork on the legs of the Eames' DSR chair appear in furniture? Or virtual furniture, perhaps?

No matter what the future brings, it's definite that whole designs don't last long. They fade, and lots of details are lost forever, but they all help fashion develop and evolve. No matter how quickly the materials rot, the designs themselves are building blocks for the next generation.


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