Classic Design
Timeless classics or consumer goods? The problem of classic design

Eero Miettinen

Concerning Terminology
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.

Classic Design
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.

Cultural Background

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.

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Design Management
VIZO Workshop

“Design makes the Difference”
Brussels, Belgium - 29/30 November 2002

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