The Best Designs come during Tough Economic Times

Image from BusinessWeek, original camera image comes from Ralph London of the London Collection.
Check out this interesting article on on how Bill Buxton, a Microsoft Researcher has complimented Jony Ive and how Jony has learn from the success of Kodak’s Vest Pocket camera line.

In a letter published by, Microsoft Research’s Principal Scientist (Bill Buxtom) suggests it’s no mistake that the golden era of American industrial design happened between 1927 and 1929, on the verge of the Great Depression. Tough economic times, he says, have a habit of bringing out the best designs from the most talented individuals: “Firms employed these folks because they brought real value. It was about survival, not visual lollipops.

Amused, I went to BusinessWeek for more details.

Did Apple steal the idea from Kodak? Not at all. Was Apple aware of the Vanity Kodak, and the what and the how of Teague’s contribution? Without a doubt: Jonathan Ive is an outstanding designer, and the Vanity Kodak is one of the classic examples in the history of industrial design. What Apple did was learn from history, and adopt, adapt, and assimilate past success to current context. That is simply good, intelligent design in action. It is also a very good lesson: an obsession with the new and original, without a deep literacy and appreciation for the past, leads to a path of missed opportunities.

All right, I’m not sure if Bill’s claim about Apple being inspired by historic designs are true, but I fully agree on his observations about how the best Industrial Design come during times of trouble and greatest need, just as the article describes during the verge of the Great Depression in 1927-1929.
Very similar to the economic crisis we are all facing today, much of what we do in design will go into rounds of consolidations, and hard decisions will have to be made. As the businesses focus on the important things, we get an opportunity to really look at our design contribution, especially in areas where it can add value and/or make a difference for the consumer. I encourage all of you to grab this opportunity and push your design’s contribution within your organization to the next level.
If you have not already, check out my recent article on “10 Useful Cost Saving Design Strategies for these Troubled Times” to get you going!

1 Comment
  • jonny morrison

    December 11, 2008 at 4:36 pm Reply

    great blog, I totally agree with the link between tough times and better designs, a very interesting post, thanks

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