Significant design

I have a deep love of design history and I feel a lot of empathy towards IP’s recent “confessions of a 30-something designer” thread. I started thinking today, “what are the really significant product designs?” Here’s my current short list, images below:

  1. 1860 Thonet no. 14 bistro chair. It’s significant because of its’ use of material, ubiquity, longevity.

  2. 1959 Princess telephone. It’s significant because of it’s application of user centred design, ergonomics, testing, ubiquity and longevity.

  3. 1949 Lego. Significant because of how it has changed the way children play and it’s longevity.

  4. 1957 Chevrolet Bel-air. I could choose anything from Harley Earl’s GM studio in the 1950’s, but I’ll choose the Bel-air. It’s significant comes from being the height of the power of stling type design’s integration in industry and power to influence consumers.

  5. 1959 Mini. Significant because of influence of the design on the automotive industry. Most importantly, the FWD hatch which would later be refined in the VW Golf, Fiat Panda and Honda Civic.

  6. 2001 Apple iPod. Of all the Apple products of the last 15 years, I think the original iPod has had the greatest cultural impact.

Honorable mention: 1990 Oxo potato peeler. I feel like it was significant for two reasons. First, breaking through as a mainstream ergonomic kitchen gadget. Second, for bringing design to forgotten kitchen gadgets. I think today’s diverse housewares industry owes a lot to Oxo’s first hit.


I was inspired by IP’s post, because assembling this list I realized how incredibly rare a truly significant design is created. It’s quite humbling. I think the chance of any one designer being involved in a project like these is very small.

I don’t know about significant, but I submit the the 28-Corner Eraser:

The story is they worked out that people need the edge to erase properly, so they made 84 edges. I don’t know if it is genius or not (i.e: “we need a faster car, but 6 wheels on it!!, no 8!!”), but I love it. A friend who lives in Japan sent me over 20, and they make great little gifts, and it’s in MOMA:

The 28 edged eraser is a cute idea but I get way more than that with my scalpel :wink:

Off the top of my head and through personal experience , I’d say that the Wacom tablets have revolutionized my design life. Admittedly it can take a little while to recalibrate your eye/hand coordination at first , but applying colour was often an anxious (not to mention expensive) hit and miss affair before these wonderful artistic interfaces turned up!

Loewy’s Coldspot fridge

First applicance sold for it’s appearance. He increased sales 300% during the Depression. Put ID on the ROI map.

how could you not mention the xke?

XKE is the most beautiful car ever, but did it really change anything? Imagine if the Princess phone had not existed. I believe that the history of ID would be completely different, or at least retarded by a couple of decades. If the XKE didn’t exist, we would simply hail some other '60’s sportscar as the most beautiful car made.

I’m not too sharp with my auto history, but wasn’t the XKE the first street legal race car? Seems pretty significant.

I can’t say who was the “first” street legal race car, but they were racing 120s long before the E-Type was a thought in someone’s head.

For signifigance, Brooks Stevens put a window in a washer and dryer. Pretty much put an end to this,

I stand corrected sir. Nonethless, the XKE was a landmark in phallic physique.

OK name a street legal mass market auto in 1961 that had semi stressed skin (just a sub-frame on the front) chassis and looked anything like it.

You mean the same design that is prone to rust and having the car sag in the middle? :wink:

If you are talking cars, then it has to be the Ford Model-T. First car for the masses and it revolutionised transport across the world.

The model T wasn’t really a revolution in design as much as taking the manufacturing process from one industry and putting it into another.

I’d say the Chrysler Airflow is much more impactful design, even though it was an utter sales flop, it changed the way the car was thought of. Previously it had been really a fancy motorized carriage. And while coach builders like Bugatti and Duesenberg had become ever more sophisticated in their stylizations of motor carriages, they were still a collection of individual parts (engine bay, passenger compartment, trunk, wheels with farings). The Airflow was the first real car. It approached the design as an integrated whole, as a singular object. And every road vehicle after that was influenced.

Another very influential vehicle would be the Jeep, or the GP as was the original name. Born from pure function, it inspired a complete genre of vehicles, and a stylistic desire to make things “tough” across multiple product types.

The Airflow and Jeep are definitely in my honorable mention category.