1. British Design
There is no hard and fast rule about what British Design is; since post-war Britain hosted the Olympic games after 1948, British Design has shifted for over 60 years, responding to economic, political, and cultural aspects that changed the fundamentals of how the British live.
In this essay, I will be sharing about three major phases of British Design, it’s characteristics and how it has paved the way for contemporary British Design.
2. Characteristics and movements of British Design
2.1 National Characteristics (1950s)
After the impact of the second world war, reconstruction became the purpose of design in Britain. It had to be modern, and give people a sense of hope for the country’s future.
One of the characteristics in British design is that it is designed with lateral thinking. This means that the design is seen as a whole, taking multiple design problems while injecting a sense of humour and play into design.
An example of this was the exhibition in the 1951 Festival of Britain, which showcased a progressive view of the future. This included interior design, for example Lucienne Day designs.
As living spaces in Britain were smaller and minimal due to the reconstruction, there was a focus on filling homes with essentials and keeping things simple.
In the above picture, it is a showcase of the designer style, with furniture and textiles decorated with geometric patterns, with the iconic bright colours of lime, olive green, yellow, and browns that would later be adopted in British households everywhere.
The design has a playful element about them, with irregular organic shapes and patterns. From here, we can see that their approach towards design during the period needed to solve multiple design problems as they were trying to reconstruct the British economy, through people’s way of life, incorporating playful designs around the interior of the house.
2.2 Subversive Impulsion (1960s)
For the children who were born in the 1950s, they grew up to challenge their parent’s values. As such, this lead to the transformation of the function of design from reconstruction to revolution. All aspects of design were enjoyed as a “truthful prominence of expression, identity, and radical intent.”
An interesting example of this is Brutalist Architecture. Here, there had been a shift in attitudes towards the once dismissed ugly buildings that were just slabs of concrete put together.
An example of this is the Pimlico School, which looks fortress-like is rugged, not caring about looking comfortable or pleasing for people. Instead, the architectural style was about being truthful to the materials, and challenged the traditional motives of what a building should look like.
With this, it gives the sense that the building was designed with the focus of what goes on inside the building, and the outside being just something that covers it up. As such, Brutalism is popular in rebuilding government buildings, schools, and providing social housing in the period of social solidarity following the second world war.
As for interior design, people were still affected by the recession and a high unemployment rate. As such, it was a less “flamboyant” period of design, for instance the use of hand me downs. There was a “back to nature” movement, where there was a lot of use of wood, rattan, rustic kitchenelia, and macramé handicrafts.
2.3 Global Influence (1980s)
British Design had always stood at the forefront of new ideas, especially in industrial design. For example, during the industrial revolution, the Spinning Jenny was a prominent invention that kept people wanting more of British Design.
During this period of 1980s, British Design moved away from traditional manufacturing, to something more capitalistic this was caused by the impacts of commodification, globalisation, and consumption, which changed the way design was being created with a new function, due to supply and demand.
An example of this was the Crown Chair by Tom Dicon, 1998. It is a fine line between art and design, sculpture and furniture. The chair fulfilled the function of a seat, but it is not comfortable seat to sit on.
There are also traces of an art deco revival as there are art deco characteristics, such as the clean line shapes, paired together with modern curves. This lead to the coining of the term 80s deco.
3. Contemporary British Design
From the different phases of British Design for the past 60 years, contemporary British Design is more postmodern, building a reputation of innovation and style. Contemporary British Design is bold and has become one of the most iconic forms of design across the world.
An example of this is Norman Foster’s 30 St Mary Axe (or better known as The Gherkin), 2003. the shape is unconventional, like a pickled cucumber, yet is still fulfils the task of being a building, with the additional incorporation of curves to reduce wind deflection.
Another example are apple products, designed by Jonathan Ive, the chief design officer of Spple. It is simple and fun through the attention to detail, in creative grooves and curves. Even though the design is simple, it still looks unique, fun, and friendly without sacrificing the functionality.
As such, we can see that contemporary British Design is focused on the functionality of the product, but also not sacrifice the overall look of the end product, ensuring that it is still user friendly.
British Design is ever changing, but it has always been the leader of design, inspiring the future generation of designers of their own country and to others worldwide.