The 10 best and 10 worst: industrial designs.
Chief Executive's decision to spotlight the 10 best and worst industrial designs speaks volumes about the changing relationship of business to design. From determining the typeface on a business card; to building corporate headquarters; to planning and furnishing the workplace; to developing new products, superior design is now perceived as essential, because it impacts both businesses for whom it is created and the public at large. While there may be a fine distinction between a design-driven corporation (such as Knoll or Olivetti) and a corporate executive who sees design as a powerful asset (such as Stanley Gault of Goodyear Tire & Rubber or Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia), there can be no doubt that design is among the most significant ways to pursue competitive advantage. In the Information Age, when CEOs are rethinking their communications strategies, design is a major force, destined to play a leading role in the success or failure of business goals. Informed corporate clients who appreciate and apply creativity and innovation not only elevate design quality but enable American companies to compete more successfully in the global marketplace.
When we think about successful products, we are struck by the lucidity of their conception and design. Many products today are created without any visual style, or are so banally packaged that they are overlooked. At the other extreme, some products are so indulgent of style that their function can be deciphered only by consulting the owner's manual. By contrast, excellence in industrial design combines sculptural elegance with functional purpose. Well-designed products consistently go beyond consumers' expectations, communicating with them and producing a strong, emotional bond. Such products convey vital information that says as much about the character and culture of a corporation as a skillfully orchestrated identity program. They act as magnets, engaging consumers and getting them to see an organization as synonymous with intelligent, passionate thinking--an indispensable perception that endows a product with an intangible value above and beyond its profitability. At its best, design is an epiphany, a momentary reprieve from the daily grind that can solve problems, save time, and enrich our surroundings. In fact, some products are such miracles of technology, precision, and sophistication that we take them for granted, with a kind of unthinking acceptance that might well stand as the ultimate compliment.
Most CEOs recognize product creation as a corporation's raison d'etre, its greatest and most complex challenge. Unfortunately, many do not view design strategically. It is frivolous and expendable, they say, not a powerful weapon capable of capturing market share and establishing a leadership position.
This perception is nothing new, and it is perfectly understandable. The short shrift design is given by some CEOs stems from a lack of communication between the business and design communities. It's not that executives are impervious to design considerations, but rather that they don't give them the same weight as other value-added strategies, such as total quality management, staff training, or just-in-time manufacturing. (One reason is that design is not taught in business schools.) But whatever else it may be, design is a competitive tool, not a decorative distraction for hiding a product's flaws. To be effectively managed and cohesively applied, it needs the attention and accumulated experience that only the CEO can provide.
One of the most important things a CEO can do is to determine the organization's design goals and standards--and to communicate them to executives, managers, and staff. In addition, we recommend that businesses appoint a senior executive as an image director to articulate the CEO's vision. If the design process is managed by more than one person--particularly if members of this group are more concerned with their own advancement than that of the company--communications inevitably are fragmented. The fruits of this process may be products that are geared to capitalize on temporary opportunities and shortterm prosperity that cannot be sustained.
On the success side of the ledger, consider Gillette's Series line of men's grooming products, particularly the Sensor razor. From blade to handle, the product provides consumers with both quality and value. Thus over time, Sensor will bolster Gillette's image and fill its corporate coffers.
Unlike advertising, which can be changed every six months, product design and packaging stick around for a long time. And once a product hits the marketplace, it's difficult, if not impossible, to get it back. Design is only as good as the commitment behind it. If you make a quick and dirty product, most likely it will have a quick and dirty life. That's why it's advantageous for a CEO to retain at least some control over the design process. Typically, a chief executive has a longer-term focus than most brand managers.
Still, the relationship between business and design has brightened considerably in recent years. To be sure, some designers have created strong reputations by putting their ideas ahead of the company they are working for or the customer with whom they should be communicating. This is often the case in more style-driven industries, such as fashion. A good example might be the Chanel line of fragrances, designed by Karl Lagerfeld. But overall, CEOs are coming to realize that design professionals bring more than creative skills to the businesses with which they work. Designers also are competent facilitators, comfortable mediating between a corporation's objectives and the needs of end users. Their independent perspective can help executives to target and modify outmoded communications practices. Designers pay close attention to trends and can visualize at the earliest conceptual level how a product will be received by the consumer. Such foresight may eliminate the need for expensive changes later on. At Cato Gobe, we sometimes meet with our clients to brief them about trends, even though they may not be actively seeking such information. We help them to understand what colors and shapes mean, what design periods are experiencing a revival, and how this is going to affect the perception of their product. Such as proactive approach is good business.
The most critical business strategy right now involves placing the customer, rather than the product, at the center of the design process. Customers have many emotions--both positive and negative--about the products they buy. As a consultant, I study these emotions to help businesses conceive successful design strategies. In a cutthroat competitive climate, both the designer and the client have to be right: politically right, design right, product right, and solution right. Consumers judge a company partly on its ability to stay in touch with modern thinking. In the '90s, for example, you wouldn't use the Taj Mahal as the model for your corporate headquarters even if it were the most functional and appealing design. Such a choice would be viewed as an ego trip and perhaps a reminder of the '80s. Today, you would build something more ecologically and socially sensitive.
There are two prerequisites for establishing an image of corporate innovation and leadership. First, the CEO must have a firm grasp of the highest design standards. The firmer the grasp, the better his or her ability to differentiate between what appears to be well-designed and what is meretricious. A product's physical presence, and how well it performs, can only be transmitted in a one-to-one relationship. The principles of design excellence--function, appearance, innovation, appropriateness, and benefits to users and clients--are the benchmarks of corporate commitment to product excellence. Together, they distinguish your products from those of your competitor.
The other leadership prerequisite is a clear corporate identity. It isn't easy to combine seamlessly the elements of successful design. Nor is it easy to fuse commercial vision and leadership in a single individual. As role models and leaders, however, executives have the power to influence design and to raise its quality. This requires exceptionally high standards and the courage to pursue innovation relentlessly, even when past ideas failed to survive. The chief executive must scrutinize his product as if he were the customer. That's what Colman Mockler Jr. did with Gillette's Series line. But Gillette also took an extra step: The company designed each product to meet the preferences and exacting requirements of both long-time Gillette users and average consumers.
Historically speaking, both design imperatives and business parameters have changed. At the turn of the century, many ventures were launched by inventors, entrepreneurs who bet everything on little more than an idea. Henry Ford, trained as an engineer, designed his own cars; in 1903, he began to manufacture them. A decade later, he revolutionized factory production with assembly-line methods that turned out cars cheaply, quickly, and in quantity. Ultimately, this led to increased sales and the motorization of America.
But there are few visionaries left. A modern example might be Steve Jobs, who dreamed up the Apple PC and then designed a package for it. By contrast, the majority of CEOs today are marketers, not inventors. Take current Apple Computer Chief John Sculley, who manages the design and dispersion of thousands of products and other "communications" each year. Like Sculley, most corporate executives today manage ideas rather than give form to their visions. Fostering partnerships between business and design may require loosening the boundaries of both areas, but along the way an entirely new dimension may be discovered that brings added value to both.
As we approach the 21st century, American business faces increased competition from foreign markets. Our overseas competitors have demonstrated that design is a major ingredient in business success, yet we have been slow to heed their example. Technology, once a source of product enhancement, is now so commonplace that it is no longer compelling simply to repackage a product. Opportunities to educate the customer about the advantages of your product or service are more limited. In a design-literate market, consumer standards are higher. As a result, a corporate design is more important, not less.
For all these reasons, design management must be at the core of an organization. It must be compatible with and help to determine a company's broader strategic goals. Successful design can add value to products, build and maintain market share, and increase a company's public appeal. Such appeal is a tangible business asset. It is as good as money in the bank.
Invited by CE to pick the "best" and "worst" designed products or services in 10 commercial categories of my choice, I have sought in this article to identify cases where design, innovation, and function are active elements in the value added to (or subtracted from) the product.
AMERICAN MOTORS HUMMER
In any era or culture, there are those who go their own way with undeniable conviction, a flair for the dramatic, and fearless individuality. The American Motors Hummer is one such vehicle: It is most likely the toughest off-highway vehicle on Earth.
The Hummer was developed to replace the Jeep, which was developed to replace the military motorcycle. Designed by the AM General Corporation to meet the Army's highest standards in a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, the Hummer gained attention during the Gulf War as a tactical troop carrier, weapons platform, and ambulance. Though the civilian model has the added amenity of a leather-covered steering wheel, the Hummer personifies Spartan functionalism. Giant 130-inch tires, a 16-inch ground clearance, and an aluminum body convey the ruggedness and industrial strength of a military runabout.
These elements also serve practical purposes. The Hummer's runflat assembly allows it to keep cruising with flat tires for up to 30 miles. The tire pressure can be adjusted according to terrain. Wide-stance wheels negotiate deep water, desert, and arctic conditions like a moon rover.
To be sure, the purchase of a two-passenger, 4X4, all-terrain vehicle priced at $46,550 isn't nearly as pressing to the average parent as a car to get the kids to school safely or to take a client comfortably to lunch. But the Hummer, which is capable of maneuvering through 60 inches of water, shutting down, then restarting and driving away, has certain advantages. American-designed, American-engineered, and American-built, the Hummer might provide defense contractors with new applications for existing products and a chance to invest in the automobile industry.
CHEVROLET LUMINA APV
"The future of family transportation" is Chevrolet's description of the slant-nosed, wedge-shaped Lumina APV minivan. The buildup leads only to disappointment.
Rather than marking a true conceptual departure from earlier box-shaped vans, the Lumina's aerodynamic engineering seems like an afterthought. Besides, it hampers forward and side visibility in all kinds of weather.
The Lumina idles at the crossroads between the first and second generations of American minivans, and perhaps for this reason it is efficient but drab. Interior highlights include a modular seven-passenger seating arrangement that allows each seat to be easily removed to accommodate passengers or cargo. But where do you store them when they're not in use?
The van's 19 1/2-square-foot heat-reflecting windshield--which angles forward until it converges with the instrument panel somewhere near the horizon--is an expression of streamlined minivan vogue. But curiously, for all this emphasis on contour, the nose is the most problematic element, sloping several feet beyond the end of the dashboard, out of sight of the driver. This extension puts an expanse of wasted space between the driver and the windshield and makes parking an ordeal.
SEISMIC ISOLATION BEARINGS
Dynamic isolation systems enable a structure to roll with the Earth's punches rather than take them full force. To be sure, seismic isolation technology, a DIS spin-off, increases the survival odds of cities such as San Francisco, Tokyo, and Mexico City, the urban histories of which can be read along their geological fault lines. There are now 67 SI buildings and 20 SI bridges in Japan. More than 40 SI bridges have been designed in North America.
Like an automobile suspension system, in which springs and shock absorbers cushion the ride, SI technology decouples or "isolates" a building from the ground. The system is particularly effective in ameliorating the effects of horizontal ground movement. For example: An SI building hit by an 8.0 Richter earthquake will sustain the damage of a 5.5 tremor.
Seismic Isolation Bearings are an idea whose time has been long in coming. It took years to complete the first isolation projects and a decade before design codes were published.
Here's a simple reminder that there's much to be said for going with the flow.
PULP PLYWOOD PRODUCTS
As architects know, wood is a beautiful, durable, natural material. Increasingly, though, wood means panel compositions or plywood: thin sheets of veneer, or plies, arranged in layers to form a panel.
Let's air our main gripe up front: In plywood manufacturing, a log is turned on a lathe, and a long blade peels the veneer. Next, the veneers are stacked in cross-laminated layers. Adhesive is then applied to the veneers, which are put in a hot press to be bonded into panels. The adhesive--a nasty glue product known as euriaformaldehyde--is the key to this toxic fabrication.
Experts have questioned the substance's durability and safety. Particle panels are flimsy, and they lack design integrity. They are a facsimile--a corruption--in appearance, in smell, and to the touch. They buckle when it's hot and humid; they crack when it's dry.
GILLETTE SENSOR RAZOR
Introduced in 1989, and rolled out in 1990 after 10 years of development and a $200 million investment, the Sensor is as good as a razor can get in nearly every way. It is so advanced, it already has been granted 18 patents. But its most significant breakthroughs are its spring-mounted, twin-blade technology, and the sleek, chrome and black ergonomic handle. The combination allows the $3.75 razor to respond to the unique curves and contours of a man's face. But in creating a product strong enough to convince the users of disposable razors--even Gillette's own--to switch to a higher-margin shaving "system," Gillette followed the demands of its consumers. Men traditionally have formed an intimate emotional bond with their personal-care products--particularly with their razors. But the Sensor's phenomenal success has carried this "relationship" factor to another level.
With the introduction this year of the Series line of men's grooming products, the $4.6 billion company has created a megabrand. By 1996, Gillette expects to be shipping more than 200 million Gillete Series units with net sales in excess of $500 million and fat profit margins of more than 20 percent. By combining a dynamic look with state-of-the-art technology, the Sensor demonstrates that design sells.
A lemon squeezer's job is to get the juice out, leaving behind the pits and rind. No object seems more ill-suited to this task than Philippe Starck's Juicy Salif (1988).
Created at the request of the exemplary Italian product manufacturer, Alessi, its unifunctional design offers little or no advantage over traditional squeezers. What the Juicy Salif does offer is a unique appearance at a less-than-competitive price ($75). It reflects both architectural and entomological influences: The product's shape has its roots in Middle Eastern mosques, while the weight of its furrowed body is evenly distributed among three spindly legs.
A design icon of the late 1980s, the Juicy Salif gives tangible form to the era's passion for high-consumerism. The product smacks of the "bad form" tenets of postmodernism. But there are ergonomic problems, as well. The Juicy Salif's cast-aluminum shape stands a majestic 12 inches high--a bit too tall on the average countertop to comfortably grip and compress a lemon. In addition, the grooves in the press are difficult to clean. God forbid you try to disassemble the thing for storage.
If we needed any confirmation that the days of steam engines and conductors' whistles are over, the French Train de Grand Vitesse (TGV) is it. The TGV travels at an average speed of 186 mph and tops out at a breakneck 300 mph. Powered by electricity, rather than fossil fuel, and aerodynamically engineered, it is both functionally and environmentally correct.
TGV designer, former automotive designer Jacques Cooper, worked with the French National Railroad Company and the engineering firm Alsthom to create a linear, orange-and-silver, wedge-shaped exterior that exudes sleek sophistication and raw power. Inside, the ride is quiet and smooth. Parts of some of the cars are designated children's play areas, and the traditional dining car has been transformed into a stand-up lunch counter a l'americain.
Commuter rail travel--with the TGV as a pacesetter--will play an important part in shrinking the European continent and in regional integration. The TGV has been running successfully from Paris to Lyon and other points south for nearly a decade. This year, the Atlantique TGV will do Paris-Bordeaux in three hours and the Spanish border in a shade over five hours. Rest assured the passengers on these jaunts will be traveling in comfort and style.
Like the mystique that surrounds it, the Concorde is a complex, intriguing, paradoxical machine. To witness its striking silhouette is to gaze back into the mists of time when Leonardo da Vinci folded parchment into gliders as he pondered the possibility of flight. The jetliner has been alternately described as "strangely beautiful," "the last romantic airplane," and "a fuel-guzzling white elephant."
The aircraft that evokes such poetic and prickly descriptions was designed by Gordon Strang and Lucian Servanty in a collaboration between British Aerospace Corp. and Sud Aviation. The Concorde came into being in 1969, but when it debuted commercially seven years later it was, plainly put, a flop. Conceived in an era when oil was plentiful and cheap, it is a needle-nosed anachronism. Even today, despite the allure of its aerodynamic shape, majestic lift-off, and unmistakable cachet, the 203-foot-long Concorde gulps twice the amount of fuel of its counterparts, creates a shock wave that is heard on the ground as a sonic boom, and doesn't fly a single mile beyond its exclusive transatlantic route.
Once, the Concorde stood for the future of aviation. Even today, no other jetliner has quite the same elan or the ability to carry 100 people so far, so fast. But with one-way tickets priced at roughly $3,500, and development costs for more efficient versions at $10 billion, designers everywhere are reshaping past views of conquest and profit toward a concern for economics and the environment.
SL48 SOLAR LANTERN
"Discontent is the first necessity of progress," Thomas Edison once said. A new generation of discontented souls was satisfied with the invention of the SL48 Solar Lantern.
A self-contained, rechargeable light source that acts as an energy collector in the light and an energy source in the dark, the product balances technological achievement with ecological concerns. An internal battery is charged through solar cells that emit a 40-watt light for up to four hours. This makes the SL48 ideal for use in rural health clinics, on camping expeditions and safaris, and for other leisure and recreational activities. Inspired by a request from field workers in Africa for a solar-powered lantern that was tough, safe, and reliable, its clear, injection-molded, fire-retardant exterior is streamlined and attractive. Its manufacturers maintain the unit will operate maintenance-free for a minimum of five years.
The SL48 illustrates that as technology advances in leaps and bounds, so does its packaging and design. It was created for Britain's BP Solar International by industrial designer Hedda Beese and mechanical engineer Charles Ash--both of London-based Moggridge Associates.
URBAN STREET LAMP
Perhaps we should stop agonizing over budget deficits and acknowledge the truth: We all want the security of well-lit streets, we want it nightly, and when we are concerned about crime we don't want politicians to suggest turning off every other street lamp to save money. One of the design challenges of this century was to develop an efficient, durable lamppost that withstands the test of time. In New York, that challenge was met by Donald Deskey. With a smooth sweep, the fluted main shaft of Deskey's creation extends into a gracefully curving arm that reaches out over curbs, intersections, and boulevards to cast a ghastly incandescent, mercury-vapor, or fluorescent light. Perhaps most innovative was his adaptation of the lamppost's design to existing transformers.
But whatever the lamppost's original merits, times have changed, and energy costs have skyrocketed. Just as Deskey in the 1950s recommended upgrading city street lighting, in today's high-technology, more ecologically conscious era, industrial designers might proffer the same counsel. One possible solution: Why not switch to solar-paneled street lamps that generate a larger arc of light, therefore requiring fewer lights to illuminate the same area?
In most cities, which can barely repair their potholes, the cost of replacing street lamps would be astronomical. But that shouldn't stop designers from dreaming, thereby laying the groundwork for future product innovation.
INTEGRIS C X-RAY IMAGING SYSTEM
Technology continually is unlocking the mysteries of the human body. But very few diagnostic innovations are as aesthetically designed or as easy to use as the Integris C X-Ray Imaging System.
On a component monitor, the Integris displays blood vessels for diagnosis as well as surgical procedures. Patients remain conscious during procedures, so maneuverability of the product's "front end"--the C-shaped arc that houses the X-ray source, the image intensifier, and the supporting joint--is critical for medical staffers, who at times must work under emergency conditions. Rather than a cold probe, the Integris' arc suggests a soft embrace.
Created in-house by Philips Corporate Industrial Design for Philips Medical Systems--under the direction of managing director Robert Blaich and industrial designer Gijs Ockeloen--the Integris goes beyond sculpted surfaces and effective accents to send a powerful message about successful product innovation. Its designers looked at British and Italian motorcycle engines in considering how to balance a combination of distinctive shapes and parts. Overall, the Integris is a testament to Philips' medical and engineering capabilities.
For all women--and a few empathetic men--examination by speculum is a dispiriting prospect. A surgical instrument for dilating the orifices of the body, the speculum's horrific design demonstrates the need to challenge conventional assumptions.
Made of the "highest quality German stainless steel," the speculum resembles an instrument of torture or a prop from a Hitchcock film. With its mechanical connections, conspicuous blades, and complicated assemblage of parts, the standard model intimidates even the most stalwart patients.
To build a better speculum, medical products specialists might begin with an anthropomorphic shape that more readily contours itself to the human form. A design that visually conveys the therapeutic quality of water or warm air would soothe many an anxious patient. New colors or materials also could be explored.
The product must be able to withstand repeated disinfecting, you say? Why not make it disposable? Simplifying the number of parts and their assembly would reduce price and production time. Surely a product designed to probe one's most intimate body parts deserves the care and attention of our best industrial designers.
Despite its name, Apple Computer's latest blockbuster product is less about power than proportion and mobility. Designed to satisfy consumers who wanted more than just a miniaturized version of desktop machines, the gunmetal gray PowerBook is easy to carry (it fits inside a briefcase), lightweight (6.8 pounds), and comes loaded with a user-friendly design language (System 7.0).
Only a few hundred years ago, the non-verbal transmission of words was the sole property of parchment and quill. In a decade primed for the 21st century, the PowerBook is neither space-age nor cyberpunk. It is merely ideal: simple, comfortable, and efficient. The joint brainchild of consultants and in-house designers, the PowerBook has become one of the fastest-selling notebook systems on the market since its October 1991 launch. In 1992, Apple racked up $1 billion in PowerBook sales.
Like the best sort of muse, the PowerBook is faithful and inspiring. Its power allows users to make quick work of complicated computing tasks such as desktop publishing and financial analysis. The innovative center track-ball makes the system easy to use even on the run.
Switched on, it is a glowing reminder that you really can take it with you when you go.
"Artifacts in general are not just to accomplish human tasks but to make human beings feel good ... luxurious, rejuvenated, chic," John Updike wrote. Computers, however, often put a low premium on style, unless efficiency is a kind of beauty. That is, until the arrival of the Next computer. Shiny, black, and sexy, the Next was to the computer what Chanel is to couture.
Inside the shell, however, loom some major problems.
The Next workstation was introduced in 1988 by Steve Jobs, who founded Next after leaving Apple Computer in 1985. When the first magnesium cube was rolled out, Jobs was preaching "Unix for the masses." The cube--and the NextStep Development environment--aimed to give users an unprecedented ability to develop applications. Unencumbered by outdated architecture, Next planned on whisking customers into the newest and best commercial workstation. Amenities included CD-quality sound, an "Oxford Dictionary of Quotations," and "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare." But how many PC buyers deemed those features critical? Customers judged the beautiful but complex machine to be expensive, slow, and drab.
Next banked on the premise that more is more, realizing too late that the possibilities for malfunction increased with each technical flourish. Marketed to draw attention away from more simple systems, the computer spotlighted only its own inadequacies.
A postmortem: Next recently decided to leave the hardware business and shift to making strictly software.
WALT DISNEY WORLD
More than any other public attraction, Walt Disney World is a complete culture. Located in Lake Buena Vista, FL, outside Orlando, Walt Disney World is actually three theme parks: Disney World (1971), Epcot Center (1982), and Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park (1989). Combined, the trio draws 13.3 million people a year.
Entering Walt Disney World is less a physical act than a shift in consciousness. Here, design is creativity as fantasy, a force without which we lose our potential to dream. But the land of Mickey and Minnie, would be little--at least in terms of corporate profits--without the lodgings around it. These are based on CEO Michael Eisner's conviction that serious architecture can speak through a popular style.
"It costs the same to do well as badly," Eisner claims. "It's exactly the same price if you build 1,200 ugly rooms." His roster of commissioned architects is long and impressive, including Robert Stern, Michael Graves, Arata Isozaki, Frank Gehry, Charles Gwathmey, and Robert Siegel. He closely monitors the design process, signing off at five different levels on each project. "Movies go away, but buildings stand as monuments to your bad taste," Eisner says.
The CEO strikes a chord with architects everywhere who seek to broaden their relationship with corporate America. Rather than decorating 60-story symbols of power, they want to respond to the forces shaping society, among them, technology and entertainment. Eisner's witty, whimsical structures are America's equivalent of Vatican City. "And to think," an American Express ad campaign reminds us, "it all started with a mouse."
When faced with environmental disasters, what else to do but dream of escape? Lacking the option of interplanetary travel, Texas zillionaire Edward Bass opted to create a pristine paradise known as Biosphere 2.
The self-contained structure is visually stunning. Its glass-and-steel-enclosed 3.15 acres contain 3,800 plant and animal species within five different ecosystems: desert, savanna, rain forest, marsh, and ocean complete with coral reef. The objective of the $150 million experiment is to create closed biospheric systems for ecological research and life habitats for space. On September 26, 1991, eight researchers sealed the airlock on Biosphere 2 from the inside; at the time, the plan called for them to tend crops and livestock for two years without outside assistance, but so far, that condition has been difficult to maintain. Supplies already have been brought in, and additional oxygen has been pumped into the bubble.
Experts from NASA's enclosed-systems research team suggest the project is not well-designed. For one thing, knowledge of the Earth's ecosystems is still so limited that it is folly to attempt to duplicate one environment, let alone five. Since Biosphere 2 is so much smaller than Earth--up to now, enclosed ecosystems have not been larger than a baseball--global processes occur faster. While this has made it easier to trace the movements of elements in the system, with the diverse ecological communities so close together, the needs of the plants and animals may conflict. For example, despite the glass roof and desert location, plant life may not be getting enough sunlight to photosynthesize quickly enough to remove the carbon dioxide exhaled by the researchers.
Design flaws aside, the venture is hypocritical. There is a gift shop in a converted test module, a $9.95 visitor's tour, and plans for an ecologically sensitive RV park and golf course. While plans to cash in are no crime, what about the early self-righteous posturing from the project organizers about commercialism destroying the planet?
Henri Bendel, who knew elegance when he saw it, erected a monument to the quintessential grande dame when in 1912 he opened Bendel's on West 57th St., near Fifth Avenue. For the effort and the result, we may all utter an appreciative "merci."
From this soignee magician's box of chic little boutiques under one roof came the new Henri Bendel flagship store on Fifth Avenue. Behind the townhouse facade, clad in Rene Lalique's 1912 cast glass windows, rises a four-story atrium that eloquently transports customers back to the Paris of the 1920s and 1930s. Consumers owe Leslie H. Wexner, chairman of The Limited, an air-grazing kiss on each cheek for providing an open-ended budget to top design talent to carry out this vision: the luxurious swathing and quilting of boutique walls, the streaming white-and-gold mosaic trim of the beauty spa, the whimsical chandeliers bursting with flowery hat-boxes or dripping with silver tableware, and the irreverent collection of teapots in the salon de the for a moment of calm in a chaotic world.
But what distinguishes Henri Bendel from its copycat cousins is that for all its French flair, its roots are in American ingenuity. The store is a collective work of the imagination executed by Francophiles who had the vision to assemble a team of remarkably talented Americans and true Parisians. A relentless attention to detail, displays that don't overwhelm the merchandise but spotlight it, a dedication to service that enhances the experience of shopping, and an infusion of true savoir faire make Bendel's a model of retail design.
From Paris to Pittsburgh, department stores have worked to create the perfect blend of merchandise, environment, and service. Unfortunately, the result has been a formula-prone, cookie-cutter approach to design, under which stores in any of a thousand cities look relatively the same. Hence, the disappointment surrounding Galeries Lafayette's first U.S. entry. The essence of Parisian ambiance somehow never made it through customs.
Unlike the Paris flagship store, the retailer's executives determined that the New York branch would convey an elegant, modern French atmosphere appropriate to the American market. The designers set out to communicate Galeries Lafayette's famed fashion reputation while incorporating top American presentation and planning techniques. Simple architectural forms and a muted, yet striking, range of textures were carried throughout gray terrazzo flooring, frosted glass, walnut wood and terracotta plaster panels. The retailer wanted to stand out from the competition, but in the midst of so much understatement, he seems to have receded into the background.
Sometimes, the hardest thing is to move from behind the shadow of one's predecessor and to confound expectations. The original Galeries Lafayette conveys a special charisma and unique identity that speaks to the hearts of consumers everywhere. Ambiance sells. Somehow, though, those most illusive French traits--irreverence, romance, and flair--were lost in the translation.
With technology advancing at warp speed, most of us are numb to new developments. But one scientific frontier still has a firm grip on popular fancy: space travel. (Who isn't moved by images of the Earth floating like a nacreous blue orb in a deep void of velvety black?) That's why even though man first walked on the moon a generation ago, the notion of ferrying between Earth and the cosmos with the ease of an airliner on a short hop remains compelling.
Thus our fascination with the Space Shuttle, developed by The National Aeronautics and Space Administration and first launched in 1981. The 184-foot-high shuttle ranks among the most elaborate scientific efforts ever. Its three main engines, which battle gravity as they hurtle through the stratosphere, pack a punch equivalent to 23 Hoover Dams.
There are some drawbacks. For example, reusable shuttles require a team of more than 30,000 specialists to keep them flight-ready. Nonetheless, the spacecraft is a technological marvel. Information gathered during missions will keep scientists and engineers busy for years pondering the mysteries of the universe.
Here's a product that marks a transition as profound as that "from buggy to car and from radio to television," according to its manufacturer. Maybe, that is, if you're a casting agent or a doting grandparent. We'll concede that the AT&T Videophone 2500 has a smattering of ingenuity: It is user-friendly, adaptable, and fun. But at $999, it's hardly a bargain. And it is one of a small club of contemporary items that promises to make life more complicated.
For example, pressing the blue "video" button activates a modem connection between phones, but it also interrupts any conversation in progress. To boot, no other telephone or modem can use the phone line simultaneously. The video connection also may disconnect if another person picks up an extension phone to join the conversation.
When AT&T introduced the Trimline phone in 1965, it was straightforward, sensible, and timeless. As a mass-market product that improved communications, it was a resounding commercial success and a genuine design innovation. But it's doubtful people will pay top dollar for this latest state-of-the-art contraption.
We'd be the last to argue the design merits of the U.S. Postal Service. But at 29 cents, it's a steal.
March Gobe is president, chief executive, and creative director of Cato Gobe & Associates, a member of the Desgrippes Cato Gobe Group, with offices in New York, Paris, London, and Tokyo. He oversees the company's corporate image, retail, industrial design, packaging, and print activities. Mr. Gobe has been awarded several Clios; he is a former professor of the Ecole Superior of Design in Paris, and a current director of the Package Design Council.
Recognizing the importance of industrial design in both the manufacturing and services industries, Chief Executive spotlights in this feature not just product design, but also that of retail stores and "planned environments," such as Disney World, this year's No. 1 selection. But perhaps most important, we examine what CEOs can do to raise design standards and how they can integrate design with a company's broader strategic goals. Amid tough economic times and cutthroat competition, we believe design can help to provide a true competitive advantage.
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|Title Annotation:||Industrial Design|
|Publication:||Chief Executive (U.S.)|
|Date:||Jun 1, 1993|
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