Of all the many iconic designs out there, I tend to be more frequently drawn to the ones where function takes precedence over form. I appreciate the honesty of such items, their functional appearances being untroubled by the whims and ever changing fashions of the design world.
Don’t get me wrong, I do love design but it can often lead to a lack substance. Take Juicy Salif, the world’s most recognised and rather marvellous lemon squeezer. Designed by the French eccentric Philippe Starck it is known the world over – a true and most definitive design classic. Yet functionally it is useless. Starck himself freely and without shame admits that Juicy Salif “is not meant to squeeze lemons; it is meant to start conversations“. That’s great, it really is. It’s great to see design being employed as a means of starting debate, of making us ask questions and challenging perceptions. But sometimes, just sometimes, you do just need to squeeze a lemon.
So it is refreshing when there are out there items which take a hold on the design world and become icons while not really trying. Products which satisfy the aesthetically sensitive eye of the designer but also the sensibilities of those by whom design is dismissed as ‘flowery wank’. Items which don’t allow style to get in the way of their raw function. There are a few such designs that meet this criteria but I wish to focus on perhaps my favourite of them all.
I love the Anglepoise light, it’s hard not to. The ungainly appearance, exposed mechanism, ugly springs and odd angles should conspire to create ugliness. The compositional awkwardness, uneven appearance and Meccano construction should be visually unpleasant. But such is the honesty with which Anglepoise displays its function, and such is the unique and infinitely practical quality of that function, one can’t help but admire it.
Interestingly the design was the result of a happy accident. George Carwardine was an automotive engineer working on suspension designs when he realised that his newly developed ‘constant tension’ system, based on that of the human arm, would be the perfect solution for providing an efficient, focussed and effortlessly adjustable spot of light onto the drawing board and machine station of every designer and engineer across the land. With the patent recieved, production began and a design icon was born.
When you look back at the first designs, it’s amazing how little has changed. Yes, there have been some nice stylistic tweaks, the most notable being at the hand of design legend and all-round awesome hero of epic wonderfulness Kenneth Grange. But the mechanism, that very specific and unique configuration of rods, lever and springs looks today as it always has. That practicality, that sheer and uncompromised function is as valid today as it was when first imagined in 1932. And while our desktop landscapes may have changed, drawing boards and cutting mats replaced by beige plastic replaced by brushed aluminium, the light cast from above by the ever reliable, endlessly faithful and effortlessly capable Anglepoise remains. A constant friend weathering with us all the relentless march of technology, a friend who’s particular style rises above the whims of the passing generations.
That such style can be merely incidental to its function is what makes Anglepoise one of those true legends amongst design icons; those that do it without even trying.