The terms ‘design classic’ or ‘iconic design’ are banded about all too often in our opinion. Exactly what is a design classic? Is it something which is timeless aesthetically, or pure in appearance? Is it as desirable now as it was when it was conceived? Is it as practical today as it was, or does it not need to be practical at all? Surely all of us have a different set of parameters when it comes to deciding what qualifies?
For us, a design classic has to tick a great deal of boxes. It must be simple and pure aesthetically. It must be useful as well as beautiful and function to the best of it’s abilities. It should have a recorded history of invention – not just a whimsical piece from the mind of a designer – and it should be as relevant to the issues of society today as it was when created.
Lastly, it should be instantly recognisable. Some may not know who the designer is/was, but for a design to be truly a ‘classic’ we think almost everyone should be able to identify the product, whatever it may be.
So, if this is our personal tick list for what makes up a ‘design classic’, what would we choose for the top of the list? For us, there is one answer. The Mini.
Developed in 1959 by engineer Sir Alec Issigonis, the Mini was revolutionary in that 80% of the floorplan was used for passengers and luggage, making it incredibly efficient for the space it took up as well as being wonderfully fuel efficient. The engine was mounted transversely with the radiator to the side to save space and the car was front wheel drive – something very different for the time, but a pattern which has cropped up in small car design since.
The interior was also very innovative – the door pockets were deep to contain (supposedly) a Gordon’s Gin bottle – made possible by fitting sliding windows. Four people could comfortably sit in the tiny interior space with their luggage sitting in the small boot behind, which was hinged at the bottom to allow large pieces to be supported from the opened lid.
Simply put, at it’s inception, the Mini was designed at a time of fuel shortages, for growing families, in a tiny space to allow it be easily parked and driven about. Efficient in fuel and space, the Mini quickly grew to be an extremely popular car with families and fashionistas alike, with later incarnations featuring period colours and detailing. There is a Mary Quant Mini, a Paul Smith Mini and do not forget the iconic John Cooper Minis.
It even became the star of it’s own film – The Italian Job.
Speak to many people and they will have a story about their first Mini, or their Mum’s Mini, or how many people they fitted into their friend’s Mini when at college. They are fond memories of a car which has personality, style and a special place in our hearts.
So much of a special place that the efficient design barely changed from the 1959 ‘orange box’ to the last issue of the Rover Cooper Minis in 2000. They always remained a Mini, even with small changes to colours, details and wheel sizes. But with the release of the new MINI, in our opinion, the design classic was lost.
But is the classic Mini as relevant now as it was in 1959? We think they are. With increasing fuel prices, the small engines are very economical to run (only £18 or so to fill my tank thank you), they are easy to maintain (yep – you can change your own spark plugs!), parts are cheap and readily available (erm, £6 for a new indicator anyone?), a doddle to park and lovely to look at as well. No need to sit on the waiting list for a new Italian tiny car when you can have a British made design classic for a fraction of the price which still looks the same as it did on the pages of Sir Alec’s sketchbook. For us, there is no competition. But even the new MINI, is just not a Mini.
Bring back the proper Mini – one of our best British made design classics and a true design icon.
(images via wikipedia)
(This is my entry into Little Greene’s 20th Century Design competition. Find out more at:http://www.littlegreene.com/retro)