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#85 Glassy design
Fragile manners and cocoa pods
Design Lobster #85 has a perfectly clear theme. From 15th century goblets to Coca-Cola bottles, we’re examining designs that have used glass in clever and surprising ways. 🪟
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Question: Can glass improve your manners?
The island of Murano in the Venetian lagoon became, rather unexpectedly, a trailblazer in glass manufacture during the 15th century. There, the glassmaker Angelo Barovier devised a special chemical mixture that produced glass of an unparalleled transparency. Known as Cristallo, the secret of its mix was so closely guarded that those who divulged it could be punished by death.
During the same period, a revolution in social manners was underway that celebrated delicacy and elegance. European noblemen and women realised that the lightness and fragility of Murano glass was the perfect mechanism for ensuring the gentility of their social gatherings. Being so easy to break, Murano goblets enforced a lightness of touch that also coaxed other other civilised qualities to the fore.
Words like hard-wearing, durable and sustainable are everywhere nowadays in design discourse so I find stories of designs that are deliberately intended to be breakable inherently intriguing. Even more fascinating for me is the connection between the physical properties of these goblets and the social order they were part of. It’s a great example of the way that design can shape behaviour.
Design takeaway: What kind of manners does your design encourage?
🤌 I highly recommend this history of manners from The School of Life.
Object: Original Coca-Cola Bottle
In the early years of the 20th century, the wild popularity of Coca-Cola in America had lead to a flood of copycat drinks. Legal action was proving too slow to be effective and despite attempts to use a distinctive diamond-shaped label featuring the signature lettering, the Coca-Cola company realised it could not protect its brand. In desperation the company and its bottling partners agreed to fund a competition for a new bottle design that would be harder to imitate. The brief they wrote has to be one of my favourite: “a bottle so distinct that you would recognise it by feel in the dark or lying broken on the ground.”
Rescue came in the form of The Root Glass Company from Terre Haute, Indiana. Their designers came up with a ribbed curvaceous form inspired by the shape of a cocoa pod – apparently from the mistaken assumption that Coca-Cola contained cocoa in it. Nevertheless, the tactility of the design and its unusual profile won it the competition and a place in design history. Industrial designer Raymond Loewy once called it the “perfect liquid wrapper” and though its design has straightened out somewhat over the decades it still engages the hand more than any other mass-produced bottle. Indeed the bottle shape was formally awarded trademark status in 1961, one of the only times this has ever happened.
Design takeaway: How could you make your design so distinctive it would be recognised even when broken?
🥃 I give you a 1987 BBC documentary about the Coca-Cola bottle.
Quote: “ If the world was designed purely for utility, then you may end up with transparent doors on dishwashers, which would let you see when the wash is finished — but when you think about it, a lot of the value in a dishwasher is that it gives you somewhere hidden to temporarily store dirty dishes.”
– Peter Ramsey, Built for Mars
This quote made me laugh when I first read it and I thought it fitted in nicely with this week’s transparent theme. The value that design brings into our lives can sometimes be unexpected, and we should stay alert for benefits that we might not have originally intended.
Have a great week,
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