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Great British Design Icons - Diggers, Jets and Dysons

The Drum takes a look at twelve great British design icons, as chosen by creative and design directors around the country. From the Routemaster bus to the Penguin Classic, and perhaps more surprising iconic designs such as the scalpel blade, the UK’s design heritage is one to be celebrated.

With the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics just around the corner, and all things British permeating creativity in 2012, we felt it appropriate, in this special British issue of The Drum, to take a look at the iconic British designs which have come to form part of the fabric of everyday life and society.But what gives an icon its iconic status? Is it down to creative genius, nostalgia or symbolism? Does it have to be aesthetically pleasing? Aren’t all of these just elements of essentially one thing – good design?When we asked twelve creative directors to name their favourite British design icons, we found that their responses spanned all areas of design, enunciating respect and admiration for the iconic examples of design – from graphic to product – which have impacted on life in the UK and internationally since the mid 20th century.It’s not just about classic icons though; we also asked our contributors to name the piece of design, or the designer, they felt would go on to achieve iconic status in the future. And from Thomas Heatherwick’s new Routemaster bus to Barber Osgerby’s Olympic Torch, it looks like British design is set to continue to innovate and inspire in the coming years.

Battersea Power Station - Richard Scholey, creative director, The Chase

“I am a firm believer that all the best brand design work gives you a feel for the company or product’s function and personality before you are told anything about what it does or how it behaves. When a brand achieves this across all its various platforms, it’s fantastic – when a building achieves it, then it is remarkable. If the brief was to communicate strength and power, Battersea Power Station would win every design award going. It looks like it could power the whole country and in the face of a nuclear attack I am sure it would be the only place left standing. And yet, despite its ‘bring it on’ attitude it is still a stunning building to look at. In terms of the next design icon, I loved Thomas Heatherwick’s UK pavilion for the 2010 Shanghai Expo.”

London Underground Identity - Simon Elliot, partner, Rose Design

“I have a nostalgic soft spot for a lot of classic British design icons. Routemaster buses; the mini and E-Type Jag; the anglepoise lamp; red telephone boxes – they’re all brilliant and enduring pieces of design. But as a graphic designer, if I had to single one out, it would probably be the London Underground identity. Not just the roundel, but the Johnston typeface too. Timeless design which still looks great and works well. I’m perhaps a little biased, as TFL is a client, and we’ve had the privilege of working with its brand assets on numerous projects over the past few years. But they feel so familiar and have such a strong sense of place, they’re become an intrinsic part of London’s visual language.As for predicting a future British design icon - you can take your pick from Jonathan Ive’s or James Dyson’s outstanding portfolios.”

The Pe nguin Classic - Andrew Lawrence, creative director, Elmwood

“The Penguin Classic was originally born in 1934, created by publisher Allen Lane. At the time, if you wanted a good book you either needed to earn a lot of money or have a library card. There were paperbacks available, but they were really poor quality. After visiting Agatha Christie in Devon and an unfruitful visit to a Station bookshop, his idea took shape.The design was to fall under the artistic direction of Swiss typographer Jan Tschichold, based in London at the time, and was colour coded into genres.I have chosen this as the design has endured the years and become an iconic symbol of popular culture. The titles through the years have reflected changes in our attitudes, but the original design has stood fast, and only in recent years has it become a canvas for the talents of new designers.More recently we have seen the vintage editions used on mugs, posters, notebooks etc, proving the nations love of this iconic symbol and its appeal beyond the original paperbacks.All this raises a bigger question for the future of book design. Given the use of e-readers such as Kindle, the opportunity for cover designs are becoming more fluid and the trend of personalisation could become really interesting. People are already able to customise their covers. It will be interesting to see where this goes in the future as people seek a more personal experience from their bedtime reading.”

Jaguar E-type - Malcolm Stewart, creative director, Tayburn

“The Jaguar E-type combines looks, speed, style, engineering and was, among its peer group at the time, relatively affordable. Mechanically durable (look how many are still running around – even if they do rarely go out in the rain) and for sheer, mind-blowing beauty it has never been surpassed – even Enzo Ferrari said so.And as for the next design icon - I think it might be a person. You’ll have to go a long way to beat the

Ordnance Survey maps - John Benson, design director, Stocks Taylor Benson

“Whilst the London Underground Map is frequently cited as a design icon – and it truly is a beautiful piece of art – I’m afraid I still find it frustrating that the stations bear little relationship to their geographical location. Maybe I’m being picky, but to my mind, for a truly iconic British piece of design you cannot beat the Ordnance Survey Maps of Great Britain.The classic one inch to the mile, now (unfortunately) usurped by the 1:50,000 scale map, rules the world for clarity of message and simply beautiful information graphics. Granted, they are not much to look at when closed, and they are bit of a kerfuffle to open, but once inside they offer a panoramic vista of loveliness. I’m not looking for a new design icon for the future, I just want the OS maps to stay with us forever. Every line, symbol, shade and tone is honed to perfection - Ordnance Survey’s cartographers, I salute you.”

Concorde - Matt Tidnam, associate design director, Seymourpowell

“I think it’s remarkable that the unique delta winged silhouette has not dated in over forty years. Even now permanently grounded, this plane is without doubt an aviation design icon as well as an engineering marvel.It’s this incredible mix of design and engineering which, as a product designer, I find so compelling. The articulated nose to aid take off, taxiing and landing as well as the Thunderbird-like square air intakes which enclose the air slowing intake ramps are just two of the many ingenious solutions which get over the challenges unique to Concorde.Barber Osgerby’s Torch is not only a current but also a future British design icon. It will without doubt be used as a reference in Torch design for games to come.”

The Scalpel Blade - John Gilbert, senior art director, Michon

“An overlooked icon of our industry is the humble scalpel blade. Taken for granted and yet used in their millions in studios and operating theatres throughout the world, its simple, secure fi tting is still made in Sheffield, England. The future may be that laser cutters will become everyday objects in design studios. So we might lose our dexterity, but hopefully we’ll keep our fingertips. Long live Swann Morton.”

The British Traffic Light - Chris Conlan, managing director of Love

“My design icon is a fairly humble one. It is a design that is functional and timeless, having remained virtually unchanged since it launched in 1965. You’ve never given it a thought, have you? Well, next time you’re stuck at one, have a look. Like many great pieces of design, it just works, and it goes about its business in a more refi ned and understated way than any of its foreign cousins.It’s not so much that I’m in love with the design of something as ubiquitous as the traffi c light, but I admire the foresight the Department of the Environment had to commission silversmith David Mellor to design it. By investing in a designer at the top of his game, they got results that half a century later do not look dated, and a design which will be frustrating commuters for years to come.”

Dyson - John Ramskill, deputy creative director, BrandOpus

“Over the past 19 years since the Dyson DC01 launched, its alien yellow and grey form has shaken up the world of cleaning and product design for the home. I have observed with fascination the evolution of the iconic vacuum cleaner, but for me the Dyson story culminates with the DC24 and its Ball technology. To look at it is bizarre, and yet it completes the circle of James Dyson’s career, from the Ballbarrow launched in the 1970s, through to its present day incarnation. It may have moved out of the garden shed and into the house, but the concept is as relevant and useful as ever, because it is a design that solves a problem.Beyond the humble vacuum cleaner, James Dyson is a design icon in his own right, for living his career with the passion and ambition that most designers would dream to have the freedom to work with, by thinking “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” and then persevering to near breaking point - in Dyson’s case to near bankruptcy - in order to fulfi l a vision. Dyson is not the only one with an enviable portfolio.Recently, on my way home through Angel Islington, I glimpsed the new Routemaster bus. The logistics and viability of the Routemaster divides opinion and the jury is still out as to whether it will live up to the longevity of the original vehicle, but the result is an undeniably striking fusion of the classic silhouette of the original design, with a modern, functional twist that manages to make public transport look futuristic again.Intrigued, a little Google research revealed Thomas Heatherwick to be the man behind the design. Just like Dyson, Heatherwick’s portfolio is like a stream of consciousness; you can see the ideas interweaving between the different designs. Take the organic curves and fl owing lines of the Routemaster staircase, and the contours of an interior architecture project that Heatherwick Studio undertook for Longchamp in its New York store: the shared theme is undeniable.”

The Parker 25 - Nigel Clifton, head of creative, EHS 4D

“Designed by Kenneth Grange, although I did not realise that when I received my fountain pen and propelling pencil as a gift from my parents. I still have them both, and they work as well as they always have. Beautifully simple, balanced and functionally cool, they are with me every day.As a prediction of future icons, I would have to say, reluctantly, the Dyson Airblade. It has clearly rewritten the hand dryer handbook. Why reluctance on my part? Well, it is so forceful that the skin visibly fl aps below my fi ngers in its turbulence.Maybe I am just getting a little old.”

Routemaster Bus - Jonathan Bragg, senior creative, Stocks Taylor Benson

Designed by A.A.M. Durrant in 1954, the Routemaster bus became a symbol of Britain’s capital to Londoners and tourists alike. Its classic curves, functional design and open rear ‘hop on hop off’ doorway made it an unsung hero of British transport for many years.Future design icon: the new Routemaster Bus designed by Thomas Heatherwick – a futuristic version of the aforementioned classic...Watch this space!”

JCB - Charlie Barr, director of StudioMB

“One could go on and on about how successful design must be unique, bold, ground breaking. But to be iconic, it needs to have a far deeper and broader reach, transcending its own market mainstream, and engage with the memories of the masses. To achieve this, it helps if the ‘romance’ behind the design has a compelling and nostalgic narrative that captures our imaginations while continuing to inspire, inform and involve in new and relevant ways.For me, JCB is one of these very rare breeds. Many JCB machines have set new benchmarks which other manufacturers have tried to follow. The instantly recognisable yellow digger is truly a British icon.As much part of our popular culture as a red telephone box and so deep rooted in consciousness that three simple letters now appear as a noun in the English dictionary meaning mechanical excavator.”

Sir John Hegarty - founder of BBH

Renowned creative Sir John Hegarty has been working in advertising since joining Benton and Bowles in 1965, before being fired not two years later. This led him to joined John Collings & Partners, and then Cramer and Saatchi in 1967, before the agency rebranded to the more recognisable moniker Saatchi & Saatchi, where he became a founding shareholder. He would go on to co-found TBWA in 1973, and then Bartle Bogle Hegarty nine years later. Hegarty has won numerous industry awards, as well as receiving the D&AD President Award for outstanding achievement; however the recognition by Her Majesty, the Queen will obviously be his proudest moment, awarded in 2007 in recognition to his services to the advertising and creative industries.

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