Few designers can ever claim they achieved Nirvana with their work – that state of perfect happiness – the idyllic place where a creation is not only aesthetic, but stands the test of time.
Enter Ferdinand Alexander “Butzi” Porsche, who in 1963 designed the Porsche 911, a testament to true design genius. For more than half a century, this iconic design has evolved and been incrementally refined with every passing year, but it has maintained its origins since its inception. A truly timeless design that has no equal in the automotive world, and is among very few similarly timeless creations in other worlds. Immediate thoughts go to classic “products” such as Eames chairs, Barcelona chairs, Tiffany rings and such. The difference is that furniture is meant to be timeless, cars are not. Wearing in a leather chair or wearing a diamond for a lifetime of marriage is meant to be a long-lasting affair.
Cars on the other hand, are meant to be changed, upgraded, used for a while and then discarded as one moves to a new taste, a new desire, a new functionality. The 911 transcends this idea of constant change for those who can afford fine cars. The shape, interior, engine layout, and overall “style,” while more advanced, more elaborate, more “tech,” is still the same, and exudes the same DNA while eliciting the same passion as 911 number one. I love Ferraris and I love Pininfarina’s design, but for all their amazing cars created together over the past many decades, there is no lasting visual connection that instantly ties the early Ferraris to those of today. My love of the 911, on the other hand, has been constant since I saw my first one as a kid. To be fair, there are many Porsches in today’s model line that I do not like, but the 911 is a constant. For me…and for millions around the world.
As designers, we all want our Porsche 911 moment, but this is very rare air indeed. Perhaps our collective creativity has become too influenced by a disposable society that falls in love with something (read: clothes, shoes, food, cars, art) only to quickly cast it aside. What are the timeless benchmarks that serve as beacons of beauty and elegance, not only now, but 100 years from now? And be assured, you don’t have to own, want to own, or be able to afford a 911, in order to have an interest, an eye, for design.
An Eames Lounge Chair from 1956 still graces design magazine covers. Rolex watches, launched in 1908, adorn the wrists of all manner of watch lovers, design enthusiasts and poseurs alike. These items are still a symbol of status today. Yet not every enduring and elegant design needs to be associated with luxury or expense. Think Melitta coffee makers, along with the much more pedestrian Mr. Coffee design that rolled out in 1972 and is still brewing good java 45 years later. While some designers might take great umbrage at recognizing these products in a discussion of aesthetics, not one doesn’t wish they had designed these items – not simply for the money, but more, for the realization that they had created something iconic. Even the Cozy Coupe – that kid’s car toy that looks like a mix between the Flintstones and Sponge Bob – is not only iconic; it’s actually the largest selling “car” on the planet. A funny, silly, toy, but a design icon, none the less.
We often overlook the intrinsic beauty hidden within the details of what we might otherwise see as tedious objects. Take for example, the ubiquitous nut and bolt. Few would argue the utility and endurance of this “simple” piece of hardware. Indeed, the Romans invented the screw, the 1400s brought the nut, and the Industrial Revolution (circa 1760) perfected it. More than 250 years later, this enduring design has changed little and is recognized around the world, in every language and every application.
Since the early days of Industrial Design, Loewy, Dreyfuss, Teague, and those who followed, the world interest in “design” has never been stronger than it is today, yet human nature dictates that the vast majority of humans overlook design and detail on a daily basis. But for all those people who can find beauty in what others may see as mere utility, there is an emerging renaissance in design, taking that which is enduring and adding aesthetic value. One look at Kickstarter will tell you I’m right.
Timeless design. Paying attention to details. Relishing the beauty in everyday objects. This is just the start. And the Porsche 911 will continue to evolve and still be a thing of beauty whenever the rest of the planet wakes up to design.