The 15 Best Product Designs

Craig Vogel and Jonathan Cagan offer their list of the top-15 best-designed consumer products of the past 100 years. What's on your list?

After reading Jonathan Cagan and Craig Vogel's advice for designing the perfect product in the July 2002 issue of Fast Company, we asked them for more, an encore presentation, if you will. Specifically, we wanted a top-10 list of the best-designed consumer products of the past 100 years.

Cagan and Vogel happily complied with our request for such a countdown, albeit with a slight tweak: "We have highlighted 15 (because we couldn't get it down to 10)." No problem.

They based their list on products "that have been designed with thoughtful, integrated style and technology." In addition, to find a spot on Cagan and Vogel's list, products had to be affordable, accessible, and something that "significantly affected" a person's lifestyle.

Without further ado, here is Cagan and Vogel's roster of the best consumer-product designs of the past 100 years.

1. Automobile

  • The Model T, for bringing the automobile to the masses.
  • The Jeep, whose success in World War II eventually led to its becoming the basis for the modern SUV.
  • The VW Beetle, a car with a diverse history and reincarnation and one of the most provocative designs of the 20th century.
  • The Mazda Miata, the first car to successfully "go back to the future" and make the sports-car experience accessible to everyone.
  • The Dodge Caravan, the first vehicle to fulfill the lifestyle needs of the modern American family.

2. Harley-Davidson

The Harley-Davidson motorcycle and related lifestyle products (the Harley culture responds to the alter-ego in all of us).

3. Seating

  • The Charles and Ray Eames lounge chair, because of its integration of aesthetics, ergonomics, and manufacturing and its role as the prototype of the modern chair.
  • Aeron Chair, with its redefined aesthetics and ergonomics for the postmodern era.

4. OXO's Good Grips Swivel Peeler

Good Grips redefined the housewares industry and created a product that transcends the "design for the disabled" label.

5. StarTAC

The first cell phone to appropriately integrate technology, interaction, style, and size.

6. The Palm Pilot

The PDA that set the standard for how people interact with technology — and each other — on a handheld scale.

7. iMac

Made computing friendly and accessible for the masses by integrating human interaction, aesthetics, and ergonomics with technology.

8. Sears Coldspot

One of the first products for the home that demonstrated adding good aesthetic and ergonomic design to core technology pays off in sales. And it integrated the refrigerator into the kitchen environment.

9. Gillette Safety Razor

This design made it easy for people to shave every day and met modern society's emerging hygiene demands.

10. Polaroid Camera

The concept of instant photography fulfilled people's need for instant gratification.

11. The Model 302 Telephone for AT&T by Henry Dreyfuss

The iMac of telephonesset the standard for ergonomics and aesthetics in 20th-century handheld products.

12. Starbucks

For redefining the way that people consume, experience, and think about drinking coffee.

13. Disney World

For creating the first clear statement of "form and function must fulfill fantasy."

14. Beverage Packaging

  • Coke glass bottle: The Coca-Cola bottle is often recognized as the most successful brand identity of the 20th century. Its shape is also comfortable to hold and still drives Coke's identity today.
  • Aluminum cans with built-in flip tops: One of the most useful and usable packages ever designed and the most efficient to recycle.

15. Swiss Army Knife

The mechanical PDA — everyone owns this compact and amazingly useful product at some point.

Craig Vogel and Jonathan Cagan are professors at Carnegie Mellon University. Their most recent book is Creating Breakthrough Products: Innovation from Product Planning to Program Approval (Prentice Hall, 2002).

Sound Off: Tell us what's on your list!

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1 Comments

  • Michael J. Volpe

    Re: Eames Lounge Chair -Slouchers Rejoice -Although aesthetically appealing I found my chair lacking in conventional seated comfort. Specifically one must "slouch" to accommodate appropriate back support and prolonged comfort.