Timeless Design: Part I – The Anglepoise Lamp

WHAT IS ‘TIMELESS DESIGN’?

An adjective in-vogue with marketers everywhere, ’timeless’ is a word that is enthusiastically used, but often misattributed. Put simply, to be timeless is to be “unaffected by the passage of time, or changes in fashion” – but how does one design ‘timelessly’? What elements must a design have in order to be considered ‘timeless’? In this series of articles, we examine four iconic products and explore how each exhibits one of the key elements of timeless design: the Anglepoise Lamp, the iPod, the Burberry Trench Coat, and the Mini Cooper. Icon By Design is a company that takes the use of ‘timeless design’ very seriously when referring to our own products. Through studying these key elements, we’ll relate back to our own philosophies, and methods of design.

PART I: THE PRACTICALITY OF THE ANGLEPOISE LAMP

All good design must execute its intended purpose first and foremost, therefore practicality is the very first element we shall focus on. When one thinks of desk lamps, invariably we imagine an Anglepoise; the staple of nearly every student’s desk, and – more recently – personified in the animated introduction to every Pixar movie. It’s beginnings are humble: the Anglepoise Lamp was designed in order to solve a need; to provide an energy-saving, electric light source that could be moved and focused with ease, yet remain balanced when held in position. This was achieved through a revolutionary spring and lever mechanism developed by engineer George Carwardine in the 1930s, which had the ability “to remain in position after being moved in every conceivable direction.”

As is the case with many inventions, the Anglepoise was borne out of adversity. After being made redundant during the worst years of the Great Depression, George made the brave decision to throw his force behind his mechanism, and spent many hours in his garden shed, perfecting the design that would eventually become his legacy. Partnering with manufacturer Herbert Terry & Sons, the first version of the Anglepoise – Model 1208 – was produced in 1934. It proved so popular that the company released a new model a year later – Model 1227 – which exhibited an Art-Deco inspired base and wider shade to appeal to the domestic market. The 1227 is regarded as the “archetypal Anglepoise”, and, although some modifications have been made, the design is still fundamentally the same as it ever was.

L-R: Carwardine’s original blueprint for the Anglepoise Lamp, the original 1227, and the 1227 today.

So what makes this design timeless? The Anglepoise, after all, has been widely copied without hindering its practical uses; many subsequent lamp designs have been able to perform its functions. But none, we argue, have been able to improve upon it. The Anglepoise is held in high regard because it was the first of its kind. The design is iconic – its recognisable form a symbol for hard work and creativity; a reliable companion even in the darkest of hours. So while practicality is always the first point of call for a designer, there are additional elements a product must exhibit to make it truly timeless. As Icon By Design’s product designers will relate, we always start the conversation by asking ourselves: “and to what purpose”? What will our products be used for? How will they be used? And which elements are integral for them to execute their intended functions? It’s only after we are able to answer those questions with confidence, that we are able to apply the next key elements to our products’ designs.

SUMMARY

A product designer’s first objective must be to successfully execute an intended purpose with ease; in the case of the Anglepoise Lamp, this was allowing the user to easily adjust the angle and strength of an artificial light source to their individual needs. What makes a design become iconic, however, is the ability of  a product to capture our imaginations through a clever use of aesthetics. In Part II, we’ll be discussing these clever aesthetics in relation to the iPod – where a simple design, solving a simple problem, became the symbol of a generation.

Sources:
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/timeless
http://designmuseum.org/design/anglepoise