The Genius of Design
Documentary series exploring the history of design
The Genius of Design examines the history of design, focusing on inventions – such as the ring pull and the fitted kitchen – that have transformed modern life. It tells the story of design from the Industrial Revolution through 20s modernism, the swinging 60s, the designer 80s and up to the present day. Features interviews with star designers like Philippe Starck and creatives from Apple and Ford; as well as design fans like Stephen Fry. This five-part series charts the story invention and innovation from the Industrial Revolution up to modern day.
Episode 1: Ghosts in the Machine
The story of the birth of industrial design, from celebrated names to the work of anonymous designers responsible for prosaic but classic designs.
Episode 2: Designs for Living
In the 1920s and 30s, with the world at the tipping point between two global wars, design suggested dramatically different ideas about the shape of things to come.
Episode 3: Blueprints for War
A look at the rival war machines designed and built during World War II, and how definitions of good design shift dramatically when national survival is at stake.
Episode 4: Better Living Through Chemistry
In the 1950s and 60s, plastic, combined with the miracles of electronic miniaturisation, allowed designers to offer consumers more freedom.
Episode 5: Objects of Desire
The story of design. After the drab days of the late 70s, an explosion of wild creativity defined the ‘designer decades’ of the 80s and early 90s.
The first episode of this new series tells the fascinating story of the birth of industrial design. Alongside the celebrated names, from Wedgwood to William Morris, it also explores the work of the anonymous designers responsible for prosaic but classic designs for cast-iron cooking pots to sheep shears – harbingers of a breed of industrially produced objects culminating in the Model T Ford. Includes interviews with legendary designer Dieter Rams and J Mays, Ford Motors’ global head of design.
In the crisis-stricken decades of the 1920s and 1930s, with the world at the tipping point between two global wars, design suggested dramatically different ideas about the shape of things to come, from the radical futurism of the Bauhaus to the British love affair with mock-Tudor architecture and the three-piece suite.
In Europe, the ‘modern movement’ promoted the virtues of the machine and the machine-made with theories and products like open-plan living, the fitted kitchen and tubular steel furniture which have become absorbed into the mainstream of the designed world. In the USA, designers like Raymond Loewy and Henry Dreyfuss explored and exploited the dreams and desires of American consumers to develop a market-based approach to design which has become one of the bedrocks of the modern consumer society.
The Genius of Design examines the Second World War through the prism of the rival war machines designed and built in Germany, Britain, the USSR and the USA, with each casting a fascinating sidelight on the ideological priorities of the nations and regimes which produced them.
From the desperate improvisation of the Sten gun, turned out in huge numbers by British toy-makers, to the deadly elegance of the all-wood Mosquito fighter-bomber, described as ‘the finest piece of furniture ever made’, the stories behind these products reveal how definitions of good design shift dramatically when national survival is at stake.
The story of design enters the 50s and 60s, when a revolutionary new material called plastic combined with the miracles of electronic miniaturisation to allow designers to offer post-war consumers something new: liberation.
Designer Verner Panton pursued the seemingly impossible dream of a chair made from a seamless piece of plastic while Joe Colombo proposed the Austin Powers-style ‘cabriolet bed’, complete with built-in cigarette lighter and stereo. Meanwhile in Japan, designers at Sony were shrinking radios from pocket-size to palm-size, paving the way for the ultimate in portable lifestyle-the Walkman. But the optimism of the era came to an abrupt end when concerns about the environmental impact of plastic came to the fore.
Picking up the story of design from the drab days of the late 70s, the final episode tracks the explosion of wild creativity that defined the ‘designer decades’ of the 80s and early 90s. By addressing wants rather than needs and allying themselves to the blatant consumerism of ‘retail culture’ designers emerged from the backrooms to claim a starring role in the shaping of modern life.
Designers also played a decisive role in making the world-changing power of computer and digital technology available to the masses through the design of keyboards, the mouse and the ‘desktop’. And now, with concerns growing daily about our insatiable appetite for ‘stuff’, designers are also offering new ideas about sustainable consumption for the future.