Great design inspiresPosted: September 1, 2003
Just finished watching a PBS program on Streamliners – America’s Lost Trains. In the midst of the Great Depression, the railroads needed something to engergize the slumping railroad industry. Two railroads, Burlington and Union Pacific, developed streamlined trains to help increase the speed. Areodynamics is no big deal today but in the early 30’s, there were few if any examples. The streamlined Zepher and M-10,000 electrified the public. During the 30’s (in the midst of the depression), rail travel grew by 30%. This success then ushered the era of industrial designers. Design was then used to differentiate products from competitors.
That reminded me a few more examples where even today, companies and organizations try to use design to inspire, attract and differentiate. Case Western Reserve University wanted to attract top students to it’s school of management. So, they hired Prtizker Prize winning architect Frank Gehry to design a new business school (seen here and here) that would send a message to prospective students that it stands for something different than other schools.
Apple Computer is a good example of how great design can inspire. At least half of the graphic design community uses Macintosh’s to do their daily work. Why? Because of great industrial design and a logical easy to use OS ( designed by human factors engineers).
Examples are endless: the new Beettle by VW, Falling Water by Frank Lloyd Wright, furniture by Le Corbusier. So, then the question, why not more great design? Why do we have ugly ass mini malls everywhere?
I have a few theories: 1) us Americans aren’t taught about art in school (generalization). Appreciation for design has to be learned. Few just “have it.” 2) it’s hard and costs money. Sure, Case Western could have designed a very practical building for their school of management and saved millions (it cost $62M). But they wanted something that meant more than just a building to it’s students. Having been educated in the barracks of the University of Washington business school, I can say emphatically that I would have loved to have studied in a Gehry building.