Timeless design?

I would like to start a discussion on the legitimacy of “timeless design”

What are designers perceptions of this concept?

What are consumers perceptions of this concept?

Is this idea real?

I ask because although it seems that clean and simple designs are “timeless” they may not be.

Is it possible that in the paleolithic era designers thought there products were clean, simple and effective and would always look like that?

In the future we imagine everything looking “futuristic” and “space-agey” but in reality maybe products will be grown.

This might be bizarre forecasting but will we run out of petroleum and metals?

I diverge and would like to again ask the first questions.

I don’t believe any one style can / will ever be timeless, it simply isn’t possible.

Even products that we see a timeless today still have a life span, just much, much longer than the average product.

Classic Amercian attitude there! Ha ha, a Texan at that!

Bizarre forecasting!!!???

This might be bizarre forecasting but will we run out of petroleum


energy is in abundance we are in a transition point, remember that at one time the chief fule for lamps was whale oil when that got scares some smart guy went “hey what about that junk in the ground”. Pebblebed fission, Helium 3 Fusion, Solar, Tidal, Wind, Geneticly modified corn stalks, lots of sources out there. Metals, we have huge resouces here on old mom, but out there in space its raining soup as far as both metals and energy. Timeless design, there is only one in my book, a beautiful woman.

zippy 30 years in harness

It’s a good line of thought. Maybe this example will give you some more to think about.

Greek and Roman stone columns often have flutes because when they made the columns out of wood, they where easier to craft that way, they kept the flutes even though they went from woodworking to stone working to support larger structures, and it must have been more difficult to flute those columns which where made in segments… today, “luxury” homes often still have fluted columns even though they might be hollow roto-molded monstrosities… or be back in wood again, but are now entirely decorative. Your talking about an architectural detail lasting over 3 thousand years. Materials played only a role in the initial aesthetic. Henry Ford was making plastics out of soy bi-products in the 1920’s, so I’m sure there will be solutions to our material problems.

Going to the example of kitchen products, since it was brought up in another thread yesterday, a toaster might last 10 years, a good one will last 20 years. I doubt there will be any big breakthroughs in toasting technologies that will compel masses of consumers to buy new toaster before their current one dies, so the product category lends itself to clean, functional designs that are easy to use, easy to clean, and look nice in a simple way.

Other products are not like this. Since I graduate college 10 years ago, I’ve had 7 computers. 2 towers, 1 iMac, 4 laptops. In the past 6 years I’ve had 5 cell phones. In the last 6 years I’ve had 3 mp3 players (1 Rio, 2 iPods)… While the average consumer might not churn through these as fast as I do, I think the turn over rate makes it possible for these products to be more trendy, it just so happens that at the moment the trend is toward a retro Bauhaus minimalism.

thanks all for the great feedback.

it seems that zippyflounder may have inadvertely hit on a very profound statement in reference to a beautiful woman being his sense of timeless design.

I thoroughly agree and would like to also add the male of this species as well.

These two simultaneously simple and complex organic machines can be perfectly harmonious with each other and then manifest differences that produce fascinating results.

I also would like to respond to yo.
Your cultural references bring up some other points.

It is funny how “modern” architecture is gaining a ressurgent popularity as if it were something new when in reality it was originated in the middle of the 20th century.

Check out the new Phaidon 999 “Design Classics” for a better idea of what people consider timeless. http://www.phaidon.com/designclassics/

Recently ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ has proven false, cognitive science has proven that we’re born with similar aesthetic sensibilities.

I think designs that endure are those that score highly in one or more dimensions related to human behavior or psychology. In ‘Emotional Design’ Don Norman puts things in three categories: Visceral, Reflective and Behavioral. Score highly in one or more of those categories plus LONGEVITY and I think you’ve got a ‘timeless design.’

I also think that ‘iconic’ designs are a subset of ‘timeless’ or ‘classic’ designs, since there is one icon in any given category. So iconic = timeless but has additional CATEGORY meaning.

nothing inadvertant about it, a beautiful woman is the only timeless design everything else is transitory.

When I think of timeless design, ancient ceramics comes to mind. In today’s design nothing really seem to last, unless it’s well maintained.

this question has been asked before in a forum and I think in terms of having anything timeless is none. But to say that there is no timeless design seems harsh and hard hearted. I would have thought anythig that has a soul and a heart put into desigining something is timeless in itself. but technically speaking I can see there is no timeless design ---- not even my suggestion of the egg fits in as a timeless design.

I suppose there is timeless love but no timeless design.

Makes me wonder what products are too…

what about discarded products and garbage.

we have things we make, get used and then thrown away; yet they still survive in lanfills.

I have heard that garbage sites are an essential find for archaeologists to understand a discovered site.

I posted this response to a similar question on another forum:

I’ll be the anti-designer here. Maybe there are no timeless designs. I can remember talking to architecture students a few years ago who hated FLW’s work. I remember going to design school and thinking that all of those beige boxy designs of the '80s were hideous. Now, paint alot of them white, and you would have a iPod-like, trendy design. Meanwhile, the translucent and post-modern looking designs of the '90’s couldn’t look more out dated and ugly (to me anyways). To be honest, already I’m very tired of 2:1 rectangular boxes with circles on the front of them, whether in white or pink. I’ve been digging art nouveau again. I just love popping out of the Montréal Métro at station Square-Victoria…it features an old Paris Métro entrance by Guimard, kinda like this one:

On the other hand, some designs seem to last longer than others. People have mentioned the VW beetle and Porsche 911 (ironically, designed by grand-father, Ferdinand and grand-son, Butzi). Maybe one reason for this is the long production runs of 50+ years for the Beetle and 30 years for the original 911. Both designs ignored most of the trends occurring around them. Both designs always have stood out from the market place. Maybe the reason they seem timeless is only because how long we’ve seen them, and not anything inherent in the design.

Finally, I’ll always remember what my favorite professor told me when we had a project to redesign an ugly old product. He pointed to the garrish yellow and beige '70’s home appliance and said, “At some point in time, someone thought that was a hot design”.


It seems like we are etching out a trend here.

Is it perhaps not in the form and more in the story of the item.

Dare I say the function; how the function informs the form.

The question is little vague. Do you mean design that can be done over and over, in terms of appearance? Or something functional. To dig a hole in the sand there is no substitute to a shovel.

You know what is a timeless design?

Nail clippers.

They’re simple, they work, and they haven’t changed since the invention of the wheel.[/img]

the last few responses are beginning to get it right describing ‘timeless design’.

It is hard to imagine a corporate or branded item of timeless design. But utilatarian items of profound function do describe timelessness through that function.

The pencil.

I think it brings up some questions:

Can you design something to be timeless?

The paper clip
Eames fiberglass chairs
The Chuck Taylor Allstar (produces continually since the 1920’s with very few changes)
The Webber charcoal grill

Were these designs intended to be timeless? Or did they solve problems so simply that consumers continually adopt them, generation to generation?

Do corporations want us to create timeless designs? Or would they rather us engineer obsolesce… like the iPod, perhaps timeless looking (time will tell) but every 4 months it gets more features in part perhaps to keep the sales coming… or is that the modern turnover rate?

In the rush to bring things to market have we stopped fully solving the problems at hand in exchange for incremental advances that get people to buy more? Or are we putting in the time to find what people will really love (nintendo Wii)?

Our proffession and moden industrial econ’s in general are built on turnover, this keys into the emotional reaction to BUYING something. The buying is far different than sastifaction (long term) so the turn over contiunes. I drive a 25 year old car and a 18 year old car, both very very nice and I am sastified with both (to replace either with new of equal type would set me back over 100k). We in this field should understand that lots of what people buy, is just for the Jazz they get from the purchase, not the item.