Timeless classics or consumer goods? The
problem of classic design
Classic has been a word used to describe aesthetic values that stand the test
of time, both in good and bad.
What then is good or bad is naturally in the eye of the beholder, so standards
for defining classics have been and still are various. Any objects over a hundred
year old may be antiques but not necessarily classics.
Classical is something predefined as styles to be executed in accordance with
defined guidelines or rules, i.e., classical music or furniture. Classical may
also be related to the heritage of European visual culture beginning with Greek
and Roman mythology and culture.
In relation to design, classic takes on a wider meaning. Both old and new designs
can be intended to be classics and in some cases may even attain the value and
dignity of one.
And still almost more by chance, objects that were designed to be classics never
become such, and some objects are born classics.
Every designer naturally wants to design a classic or several, whether they
admit it or not. It is the way to get one’s name into the history of design.
Designers can’t be immortal, but designs can.
Time is one of the most essential features of classics. To live long is a credit
to any design, to become timeless is the ultimate goal, yet it all can happen
in an instant.
Success, commercial or artistic (hopefully both), are other essential features.
What is commercially successful is not, however, classic as such, although they
tend to be related.
What is the relation between cultural background, heritage and design? As every
designer’s vocation is to design something never seen before, then how
much is the tradition entitled to be visible? And are we seeing examples in
which traditions have been diminished or even totally abandoned? (Fig. 5) We
may admire the ancient handicraft tradition of Japan, elements simplified to
the essence, but we can’t see the relationship with modern Japanese consumer
goods and their design. To the Japanese these are obvious. (Fig. 6)
Why does an object become a global classic, because of its global features,
or because the local speciality that addresses everybody.