Part 1 of 3: The design of an icon – art or science?

Mar 14, 2016 | Anoushka's Blog, Interior design and decoration

As my blog followers can imagine, I read a lot about design.  There’s more content available than I can possibly keep up with, but every now and then we all look to the iconic for inspiration.

The most succinct way I can describe an icon is: either a person or thing that is revered or idolised.  We often don’t need to see the whole or the detail; key characteristics are enough to ignite connections to the icons in our mind – often a strategy marketers use. Of course, I’m not so much thinking about the immediate now, as endurance as-well-as zeitgeist are often key traits of the iconic.

While studying fine art and design, we were often looking at the greats to try and understand how someone designed or produced an iconic piece.  What were the elements; authenticity; iteration or convergence of the design; techniques; and so on.  And in a recent edition of my favourite periodical, Habitus, they provide great insights into the design and consistencies that surround icons.

For example, what came first; Charles and Ray Eames or their famous chair?  Historically is was them of course but as a design icon: is the brand an icon or is it the product, and who decides what’s iconic anyway!  We’ll all have our own thoughts on what an icon is but love them or loath them, there are some special pieces that we probably all recognise as iconic due to their longevity, absence of trends, innovation, and the blending of old and new; such as, but not limited to:

The Eames Chair, Charles and Ray Eames ,1956


Barcelona Chair, Mies van der Rohe, 1929


Stool 60, Alvar Aalto, 1933


Arco Floor Lamp, Achille and Pier Castiglioni, 1962


Noguchi Coffee Table, Isamu Noguchi, 1947.


As Habitus sums up so eloquently, “Although we can certainly draw some common threads between examples, what defines an icon is something less tangible; a different way of looking at the world, a new and consistent paradigm that resonates with diverse people through time.”  So, can we design an icon…is it art or a science?  I have my opinions, what are yours?

More on icons next week.


(Jan – Mar 2016) Age of an icon. Habitus, #30, 65-73

(Jan – Mar 2016) Iconic Heavyweights. Habitus, #30, 49-54

Pictures included in this post are from: Mark Edwards. “15 Iconic Furniture Designs Every Highsnobiety Reader Should Know.” 08 July 2015.

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