Self-taught designer and early plastics pioneer, Neal Small (b. 1937) was known as the “Prince of Plastics” in his Chelsea neighbor where he opened up shop in the 1960s.
Before he left plastic industrial design to concentrate on a quiet life in the woods of Maine, Small created a number of innovative and iconic designs, including the “Origami” magazine holder and the Model 5031 acrylic coffee table. The 5031 coffee table, crafted from a single sheet of acrylic, was lauded as one of the purest modern forms of the time. Small still resides in Maine, and if you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of him driving around town in his black Subaru…that just happens to be adorned with black rats. Plastic ones, of course.
“Sensations of the ordinary” – Naoto Fukasawa and Jasper Morrison
In 1967, Olof Bäckström designed the iconic orange-handled scissors for Fiskars of Finland. Called “sensations of the ordinary” by industrial designers Naoto Fukasawa and Jasper Morrison, the “cutting edge” plastic ergonomic handles enabled the user to cut with ease and precision. Far better than the heavy steel scissors that were typically available. Using plastic also reduced the cost of manufacture thereby making scissors more accessible to all.
Originally meant to be produced in black, green and red, the first batch of scissors were produced in orange, as a plant employee chose to use some leftover orange plastic so as not to waste the material. When the Fiskars employees voted for favorite color, orange won the majority vote. So, it is a coincidence that created the iconic orange handles. Fiskars trademarked “Fiskars orange” in Finland in 2003. And before a pair of Fiskars leaves the factory, professional “listeners” ensure the blades make that distinctive “snip” before they are packaged and shipped around the world. Fiskars scissors celebrated their 50th birthday in 2017. To date, the most widely-spread Finnish product has sold over 1 billion units.
Dieter Rams (b. 1932) is a functionalist German industrial designer known for his work with Braun and Vitsoe.
In 1947, having recognized Dieter’s talent his father enrolled his 15-year-old son in Wiesbaden School of Art to study architecture and interior design. After two years, Rams left the school to take a three-year carpentry apprenticeship after which he returned to the school and completed his degree with honors in 1953.
During his absence, the school took a decided turn toward modernism. It was then that Rams was introduced to German modernism and the Ulm School of Design. After graduating, he worked with Otto Apel’s architecture firm and was further exposed to modernism through the firm’s association with modernist colleagues in America. These brushes with modernism would prove fateful two years later when Rams accepted an in-house architect and interior design position with Braun to design new office space for the company.
Rams went to work planning a new space that included a wall-mounted shelving system. With this design, his collaboration with Vitsoe was born. With the approval of Edwin Braun, Rams took the idea to Vitsoe. One year later, the Vitsoe 606 Universal Shelving System was launched.
In the early 1960s, Rams used his architecture background and began work on a planned community in Kronberg for Braun employees. “Roter Hang” is a community of grouped and terraced bungalows that line a sloped hillside. There can be found his only fully-realized architectural design;his L-shaped dopplebungalow. Although Braun delayed the project, it was eventually completed by Rudolf Kramer in 1974. The community, as well as Dieter Rams’s personal home, which is a testament to his personal credo of “less for more,” due to its modest footprint and sparse decoration, have been granted protected status and designated a cultural monument.
Rams is known for his “10 Principles of Good Design,” one of which is “environmentally friendly.” In a 1976 speech, Rams said, “there is an increasing and irreversible shortage of natural resources.” He has long believed we must “move away from the throwaway habit” and “[that] it will be less important to have many things and more important to exercise care about where and how we live.” Dieter Rams products fully embody his 10th principle – simplicity and purity.
Dieter Rams retired from Braun in 1995, but continues to work for Vitsoe. He and his wife still live in the Roter Hang bungalow in Kronberg.
“Question everything generally thought to be obvious.”
― Dieter Rams