Charlotte and Peter Fiell are two of the world’s leading design writers. For nearly 15 years they were editors-in-charge of design books at Taschen and authored and edited 32 books on architecture and design while they were there. The pair now work as freelance authors, as well as publishing and editorial consultants. With their combined expertise it seemed fitting to ask Charlotte and Peter what takes pride of place on their own bookshelf, with home furnishings and retrospective shows, plus an appearance from vacuum big wig James Dyson, it’s no wonder these two are such an authority on design.
Philadelphia Museum of Art: Design Since 1945
Back in the late 1980s, Design Since 1945 was one of the very few publications available on post-war design, and as young design dealers with a gallery in King’s Road, we scoured its pages and learnt a huge amount from its excellent texts written by a roster of contributors, including Max Bill, Ettore Sottsass, George Nelson, Olivier Mourgue, Dieter Rams, Timo Sarpaneva, Hans Wegner and Jack Lenor Larsen. It had originally been published as a catalogue to an exhibition held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1983, but it had been so well edited by Kathryn Hiesinger and George Marcus (who went on to write another great book on 20th Century design) that it functioned as a credible standalone publication. But apart from its excellent texts and thoughtful entry selection, which have certainly stood the test of time, the graphic design of the book is still exemplary – clean layouts that allow the images to breathe, an easy-to-navigate structure, use of an easy-to-read typeface and a bold yet simple cover.
Tapio Wirkkala: Eye, Hand and Thought
Having researched and written about design extensively, we are often asked who our favourite designer is. Our reply is always Tapio Wirkkala, for we were lucky enough to be in Helsinki when a major retrospective exhibition of his work was held there in 2000. It was the most remarkable design exhibition we have ever seen, and confirmed to us that Wirkkala was, without question, the greatest form-giver of all time. The accompanying catalogue to the show is one of our most prized books, and every time we look through it we are blown away by Wirkkala’s sheer creative breadth, from his glass bowls that looked as though they have been hewn from ice or his cutlery that follows the precise contours of the hand, to his exquisite jewellery pieces with their distinctive tribal quality and his laminated birch free-form carvings that possess a powerful organic sculptural presence. This book is a remarkable window on to the design soul of the one of the world’s great designers, and if you haven’t discovered Wirkkala yet, you definitely need to.
James Dyson: Against the Odds – An Autobiography
One of the best books we’ve ever read on the industry of design, Against the Odds is an inspiring autobiography that unequivocally demonstrates why the adoption of good design practice really does make good business sense. Written by James Dyson in collaboration with Giles Coren, it is a lively read that details how to bring a ground breaking product to market – in this case Dyson’s revolutionary bag-less vacuum. A David and Goliath story of personal struggle, financial risk, dogged tenacity, absolute dedication and sheer bloody mindedness, it was first published in 1997, when Dyson was just at the start of his meteoric rise as Britain’s most successful design entrepreneur. Even today, it is a must-read for any budding designer because Dyson pulls no punches about just what it takes to become a design and manufacturing success.
Eliot F. Noyes: Organic Design in Home Furnishings
This catalogue is a precious and evocative piece of design history – in 1940 the Museum of Modern Art in New York staged a major competition entitled Organic Design in Home Furnishings, and then later published a round-up of the winning entries. A youthful Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen won first prize for their revolutionary seating proposal, and this catalogue is an early document of their remarkable collaboration, which eventually spawned a number of landmark furniture pieces manufactured by Knoll and Herman Miller that would come to define the post-war look. With its clever eye-catching cover designed by Edward McKnight Kauffer, it is a wonderful artefact of mid-century Modern optimism, when life and design were so much simpler than they are today.
Victor Margolin: Design Discourse – History, Theory, Criticism
As design-historians we often have to wade through some pretty academic tomes on design theory, which are often the publishing equivalent of Mogadon. In fact we have spent decades trying to demystify design writing, and through our books have tried to convey often quite complex design ideas in easy to understand language. However, there is one book that falls within the academic design studies realm that we could not recommend more highly, Design Discourse – History, Theory, Criticism. It is a collection of essays penned by some of the most illuminating writers on design, for instance Dieter Rams’ entitled Omit the Unimportant is key reading, while Richard Buchanan’s piece on design rhetoric is possibly one of the best pieces of design writing ever penned and makes you realise that when you get right down to it design is fundamentally a potent form of cultural communication.
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