As little design as possible

We found a bit of time this weekend to catch up on the BBC’s Genius of Design series, which is available on theĀ iPlayer for just a few more days.

The first show took a look at the birth of the design industry at around the time of the industrial revolution, and we were particularly taken with the No.10 Double Bow Drummer Boy sheep shears, which they picked out as an exemplary piece of design.

The steel shears are made by Sheffield firmĀ Burgon and Ball, and have been hand-made in more or less the same way since 1730. They’re designed to be used single handed, so that the shearer’s other hand can hang onto the sheep. As they point out in the show, they have been stripped back to their absolute essence – two single pieces of steel, shaped and sharpened, part rigid cutting blade, part flexible handle. A truly beautiful instance of form following function, fitting well with Dieter Rams’ Ten Principles for Good Design (which feature earlier in the programme):

1. Good Design is innovative

2. Good Design makes a product useful

3. Good Design is aesthetic

4. Good Design helps a product be understood

5. Good Design is unobtrusive

6. Good Design is honest

7. Good Design is durable

8. Good Design is thorough to the last detail

9. Good Design is concerned with environment

10. Good Design is as little design as possible

We’ve been musing on the idea that products can evolve into a perfect form, much as an animal might, given a stable environment.

We’d love a shop that sold only those distilled, pure products; the ones that exemplified the form. Somewhere where you could get the most perfectly evolved mug, glass, watch, chair…

Lovely stuff.

  • I watched the first episode this weekend and was also taken with the simple beauty of those shears.
    With some products, the push to make us replace perfectly good designs with new ones is downright shameless (for example, the ludicrous new ‘features’ that get added to the humble toothbrush every year), so it’s good to see that a product that has reached perfection is still in production a couple of hundred years later.
    Looking forward to watching the rest of the series before it falls off iPlayer.