The Art of the Everyday

"Design is the process of taking something from its existing state and moving it to a preferred state" (Simon, Herbert A. "The sciences of the artificial.")

Since the advent of mass production, industrial design has become an integral piece of the branding puzzle. More than one iconic household item, or car, or piece of furniture, is as recognizable by its shape as it is by its name or content. In our Modern Art & Design Auction, we are offering the Polaroid Lamp designed by Walter Dorwin Teague, a pioneer in the field of industrial design during the middle of the 20th century, when everyday objects went from being purely utilitarian to being an aesthetic statement.
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Walter Dorwin Teague, Polaroid Lamp

Industrial design is the place where creative problem solving is applied to both aesthetics and function, and the results are often landmarks of their cultural moment. Take the Mini Cooper, for instance, which was designed to be a small solution to a very large economic issue. In July of 1956 the president of Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal Company, sending trade in the area into turmoil and igniting a war with England. Stiff restrictions were subsequently placed on fuel in England, making it much more expensive to drive the large European cars that dominated the auto market. Enter the Mini Cooper - tiny, efficient, and enduringly cool.
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The Coca Cola contour bottle, which cuts another unmistakable profile, is the perfect example of a design that dominated an entire category. It was commissioned by the company in 1919 to distinguish Coca Cola from other bottled drink competitors, even in the dark or if the bottle was broken. Its designer was instructed to take inspiration for the bottle from the ingredients of the drink, and so based its shape on the ridges of a cocoa pod. The bottle became the first commercial product ever featured on the cover of Time Magazine in 1950.
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And, of course, the industrial design coup that will define our current era is the iPhone. In just eleven short years its shape has come to be shorthand for how entire populations engage with the world. The revolution that is both its form and function are inextricably intertwined.
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Suffice it to say that design makes a difference in the way we perceive, experience and remember a product. Walter Dorwin Teague recognized this as early as 1926, when he founded his industrial design consultancy after years as a graphic designer in advertising. Teague's mission was to beautify mass-produced items, to give them the same artistic value as their handmade counterparts. He wrote extensively on design, in both magazines and books, writing at one point of his industry, "We have not the slightest doubt that we are adding something of positive value to the American way of life. We are even augmenting the sum of total beauty in our world, and extending the appreciation of beauty into those realms where it is most vitally effective —the home, the factory, the shop and the street."

Polaroid was one of Teague's very earliest clients. He designed the Polaroid Lamp for the company before they were even making cameras. Cameras would, however, become a cornerstone of Teague's portfolio. He designed the first iteration of the Polaroid Land camera - Polaroid's groundbreaking camera with self-developing film - and he had a long working relationship with Kodak, for whom he designed a number of different cameras, including the Bantam Special, an Art Deco masterpiece and one of the most popular cameras ever made.bantam-kodak-camera-1
Teague, Walter Dorwin Teague's eponymous firm, is still operating today, and is responsible for such well-known designs as the Pringles can, the UPS truck, the interior of every Boeing airplane ever produced, and many, many more. Teague's legacy was to help the world understand the importance of the shape of things, and in doing so he gave shape to an entire discipline.

Content produced by the Leland Little editorial team