Design Council Slide Collection: an online guide to the resource

Dr Simon Ford and John Davis - Manchester Metropolitan University

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The Annual Award Scheme

The system introduced by Gordon Russell to publicly acknowledge and promote examples of 'good design' was developed still further in 1957 with the introduction of an annual award scheme.

The scheme was based on selecting the best products that had been displayed in the Design Centre each year. The number of products chosen for awards varied from year to year, as did the panel of judges. In 1957 certificates were awarded to the manufacturers of 12 products (out of a possible 3500) that were designated as 'Designs of the Year'. The selection panel was made up of members of the Faculty of Royal Designers for Industry, and the winners were chosen because of their 'good appearance, sound workmanship, and suitability for the purpose and the particular market for which the article was designed'. They included two designs by Robin Day - a convertible bed settee for S. Hille & Co and a television set for Pye Ltd.

Convertible bed/setee designed by Robin Day for S.Hille & Co, 1957(ca)Convertible bed/setee designed by Robin Day for S.Hille & Co, 1957(ca)

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17-inch television set (model C517) by Pye Radio Ltd, 1957(ca)17-inch television set (model C517) by Pye Radio Ltd, 1957(ca)

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'Hamilton' sideboard designed by Robert Heritage for Archie Shine Ltd, 1958(ca)'Hamilton' sideboard designed by Robert Heritage for Archie Shine Ltd, 1958(ca)

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In 1958 awards were made to twenty products selected by members of the CoID's own Design Index selection committee. Winners included Robert Heritage's 'Hamilton' sideboard and a chair designed by Jack Stafford that was praised by the judges for its 'elegant economy of means'. A new, additional award called the Duke of Edinburgh's Prize for Elegant Design was introduced in 1959. The first winner was the 'Packaway' refrigerator designed by C.W.F. Longman and Edward G.M. Wilkes for the Prestcold Division of Pressed Steel Company Ltd. The scheme was renamed the Design Centre Awards in 1960. Each year the awards were reported extensively in Design magazine and the winners were featured in a special exhibition at the Design Centre. In 1962 the British Poster Design Awards were introduced, and these were run as an entirely separate scheme in parallel to the CoID's main awards for product design.

The 'Taperback' occasional chair designed by Jack Stafford, 1958The 'Taperback' occasional chair designed by Jack Stafford, 1958

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Prestcold 'Packaway' D301 refrigerator by C.W.F. Longman and E.G.M. Wilkes, 1959(ca)Prestcold 'Packaway' D301 refrigerator by C.W.F. Longman and E.G.M. Wilkes, 1959(ca)

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The 'Swoe' garden tool manufactured by Wilkinson Sword Ltd, 1957The 'Swoe' garden tool manufactured by Wilkinson Sword Ltd, 1957

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At the end of 1959 Gordon Russell retired and Paul Reilly, Head of the Information Division, took over as Director. During Reilly's twelve-year period as Director (1960-72) the CoID gradually re-defined itself in response to the profound economic, social and demographic changes that were taking place in Britain. From the late 1950s the UK entered a period of sustained economic growth. The country experienced full employment and wages rose at a faster rate than prices. Many families also benefited from a second income, as more and more married women entered paid employment (by 1961, over 50% of married women were in paid jobs compared to 33% in 1957 and only 18% in 1947). Credit (in the form of 'hire purchase') also became more freely available. These economic conditions resulted in increased levels of affluence and a huge surge in consumption. In particular, the working class and the young of the post-war 'baby boom' enjoyed unprecedented levels of disposable income. As a result, these groups were able to participate in the market for consumer goods to a far greater extent than ever before. This 'mass consumerism' and the effects of educational reforms led to a blurring of class distinctions and, within this context, the uses of design became transformed. In conjunction with new advertising and marketing techniques, design was used increasingly as a means of targeting products at different groups of consumers. In particular, the potential of design to invest products with meanings began to be recognised and exploited commercially, enabling personal lifestyles, aspirations, individuality and identity to be expressed (or constructed) through the consumption of goods. The rapid growth in the ownership of television sets and the introduction of commercial television in 1955 were key factors in this process (two-thirds of households in the UK had a TV set by 1961).

Five 'Fiesta' melamine plates by Ronald E. Brookes, 1960(ca)Five 'Fiesta' melamine plates by Ronald E. Brookes, 1960(ca)

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'Royal Gobelin' Axminster carpet designed by Graham Tutton, 1960(ca)'Royal Gobelin' Axminster carpet designed by Graham Tutton, 1960(ca)

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'Rio' TR70 portable transistor radio designed by Eric Marshall, 1961(ca)'Rio' TR70 portable transistor radio designed by Eric Marshall, 1961(ca)

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The emergence of Pop design in the early 1960s was an important manifestation of this new mass media, mass consumption society. Aimed at the young, Pop design was characterised by cheap, brightly coloured, gimmicky and often deliberately ephemeral products that showed little respect for received notions of taste. It challenged the CoID's modernist conception of 'good design' and, by extension, undermined its legitimacy as an official source of advice and guidance on what the public should buy. In an attempt to come to terms with the implications of Pop design the CoID began to adopt a more liberal and relativist approach to the way in which it assessed products. In an article entitled 'The Challenge of Pop' published in the Architectural Review in 1967, Paul Reilly acknowledged that the CoID could no longer view 'good design' as a matter of absolute objective fact that was derived from 'permanent universal values'. He did, however, remain committed to the principle of selection:

"We are shifting perhaps from attachment to permanent universal values to acceptance that a design may be valid at a given time for a given purpose to a given group of people in a given set of circumstances, but that outside those limits it may not be valid at all; and conversely there may be contemporaneous but quite dissimilar solutions that can still be equally defensible for different groups - mini-skirt for a teenager, something less divulging for the matron; painted paper furniture for the young, teak and rosewood for the ageing - and all equally of their times and all equally susceptible of evaluation by a selection committee."

'Vacco de luxe' vacuum flask, designed by L. Leslie-Smith, 1961'Vacco de luxe' vacuum flask, designed by L. Leslie-Smith, 1961

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'Brownie Vecta' camera made by Kodak Ltd, 1963(ca)'Brownie Vecta' camera made by Kodak Ltd, 1963(ca)

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Moultan 'Standard' bicycle designed by Alex Moulton, 1964(ca)Moultan 'Standard' bicycle designed by Alex Moulton, 1964(ca)

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Despite Reilly's apparent confidence in the continuing ability of the CoID to uphold a particular set of aesthetic standards, the criteria that it should use to evaluate products were becoming far less clear cut. Moreover, the CoID's authority as an arbiter of 'good design' appeared increasingly less tenable as a result of the development of consumer protection in the UK. The Consumers' Association, which was formed in 1957 in response to the growth of the mass market, was concerned more with the performance and durability of goods than with their visual qualities. It subjected products to rigorous testing and published its findings in its magazine Which? Some of the CoID's award winners did not fare well in these tests, and this too called into question the bases on which they had been selected as outstanding examples of 'good design'.

Directional traffic signs, 1961-1967Directional traffic signs, 1961-1967

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'Complex' printed cotton furnishing fabric designed by Barbara Brown, 1967(ca)'Complex' printed cotton furnishing fabric designed by Barbara Brown, 1967(ca)

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'Mascot 1600' centre lathe, 1967(ca)'Mascot 1600' centre lathe, 1967(ca)

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Faced with these pressures, Reilly gradually broadened the scope and outlook of the CoID. Slowly, it began to embrace a conception of design that encompassed engineering and technical innovation as much as aesthetic considerations. This shift in emphasis was evident in the annual award scheme which, from 1967, was renamed The Council of Industrial Design Awards and divided into separate categories for 'consumer goods' and 'capital goods'. Whereas, in general, previous awards had been made for products associated with the domestic environment (such as tableware, furniture, textiles and appliances), the definition of 'consumer goods' was broadened to such an extent that, in 1967, it included items such as small boats and road signs. Furthermore, within the first few years of its introduction the new 'capital goods' category included office equipment, computers, scientific instruments, machine tools, engineering components and even heavy industrial plant. The size and nature of many of these items meant that the awards could no longer be restricted to those products that had been displayed in the Design Centre each year.

'Kaldo' steel furnace, 1968(ca)'Kaldo' steel furnace, 1968(ca)

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Linear accelerator for the treatment of cancers by external radiation, 1977(ca)Linear accelerator for the treatment of cancers by external radiation, 1977(ca)

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'Cosmopolitan' prosthetic dentures, designed by AD International Ltd, 1976(ca)'Cosmopolitan' prosthetic dentures, designed by AD International Ltd, 1976(ca)

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This re-orientation of the CoID was also a strategic response to growing concerns about the state of design in relation to engineering within British industry. In the 1960s a number of official reports had examined this problem and various forms of government intervention were proposed. It was in this context that in 1972 the decision was made to formally extend the remit of the CoID to encompass engineering design, and to rename and re-launch the organisation as the Design Council.

View of displays in the 1960 Design Centre Awards exhibition at the Design Centre, 1960View of displays in the 1960 Design Centre Awards exhibition at the Design Centre, 1960

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View of displays in the 'ColD design awards' exhibition in the Design Centre, 1970View of displays in the 'ColD design awards' exhibition in the Design Centre, 1970

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View of Design Coucil Awards exhibition at the Design Centre, 1978View of Design Coucil Awards exhibition at the Design Centre, 1978

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A new post of Head of Engineering Design was created and Engineering Field Officers were employed to provide advice to companies. In 1973 the Council also acquired Engineering magazine, which it published alongside Design. The award scheme was retitled the Design Council Awards and was reconfigured into two main categories - one covering Engineering Products and Components and the other for Contract and Consumer Goods. Further categories, for example for Medical Equipment and the British Motor Industry, were added in subsequent years.

 

 

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