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6 Stunning Classics Of British Design

A book from the V&A surveys 30 years of outstanding (and largely understated) examples of British products. Here’s just a sample.

In most respects, British product design is what you’d expect it to be: proper, with nary a detail that would attract an untoward eye. One need only glance at the work of Jasper Morrison and Sam Hecht to get a feel for the dominant no-frills aesthetic. (Tom Dixon also fits in this camp while offering a certain groovy edge.) And judging by Award Winning British Design, 1957–1988, a new book published by the V&A, today’s best-known British designers exist on a continuum defined by simple forms and high function.

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From 1957 to 1988, the U.K.’s Council of Industrial Design (later the Design Council) awarded annual awards to manufacturers for outstanding products, everything from cutlery and galoshes to streetlights and headphones. Despite changing its name four times during its existence, the council, writes Lily Crowther in the book’s introduction, “remained committed to two goals: to encourage industry to recognize the commercial potential of good design, and to educate the consumer by identifying examples of well-designed products.” Elevating the status of British design first became a priority in 1944, when the CoID was first established and the government recognized the need to promote its wares to consumers at home and abroad.

At first, the CoID focused on the home retail market but gradually expanded its scope to include street furniture, auditorium seating, and even road signs; and later, engineering and capital goods, including such things as scientific instruments and industrial machinery. With lovely gorgeous photos and a crystal-clear layout (by Peter & Paul), Award-Winning British Design presents a snapshot of 30 years of design that included canonical items such as Robin Day’s polypropylene stacking chairs and tech innovation failures like Sinclair Microvision’s pocket TV. To see some of our favorites, check out the above slideshow.

The book is available for purchase here for about $15; an accompanying exhibition, , runs through August 12.

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About the author

A former editor at such publications as WIRED, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Fast Company, Belinda Lanks has also written for The New York Times Magazine, The New York Observer, Interior Design, and ARTnews.

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