reviewed by Stanley Abercrombie -- Interior Design, 8/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Toothpicks and Logos: Design in Everyday Life
By John Heskett
New York: Oxford University Press, $22
214 pages, 33 black-and-white illustrations
On the dust jacket, Terence Conran—who must have done considerable reading in his field—praises this little book as the "best I have read about the design process." One can see why he thinks so. John Heskett, a professor of industrial design at the Illinois Institute of Technology, doesn't try to define the "design process," however. Rather, he explains how indefinable it is. The very phrase, he says, "suggests a unity that is nonexistent in practice. There are, in fact, many design processes, adaptable to the immense variety of products and contexts in which designers work."
This isn't a book about graphic design or appliance design or interior design. (A chapter titled "Environments" does give a withering description of theme restaurants and themed shopping, though.) It isn't a history of design. It isn't a survey of great designs or great designers. What Heskett offers is a meditation on the interaction between design and cultural traditions, between design and the design professions, between design and business, between design and technology, and—most important—between design and everyday life. A few chapter headings will suggest the book's flavor: "Objects," "Identities," "Systems," "Contexts."
Heskett gets down to essentials in a way that few others do. The major drawback is that those essentials are necessarily abstract. At his most compelling and convincing, he fleshes out his generalities with such examples as Ikea stores, Japanese bathrooms, English phone booths, and Herman Miller's Aeron chair. However, illustrations of several intriguing items—a 1710 Boulle marquetry commode, an 1885 Christopher Dresser jug, a 1936 Oldsmobile—go unmentioned in the text, which could benefit from more specificity.
Heskett closes with important queries about design's future. For example, what degree of attention will be paid to social and environmental issues? "To answer such questions requires that design be understood as a decisive factor shaping all our lives, all the time," he writes. Toothpicks and Logos contributes intelligently to such an understanding.
Glenn Murcutt: A Singular Architectural Practice
By Jackie Cooper and Haig Beck with commentary by Glenn Murcutt
Mulgrave, Australia: Images Group, distributed by Antique Collectors Club, $65
256 pages, 200 illustrations (100 color)
Glenn Murcutt is a perfect candidate for contemporary design hero—brilliant, idiosyncratic, and independent. He works alone, confining his practice to his native Australia, and his designs combine the precision and refinement of Mies van der Rohe with the humility of corrugated iron, natural wood, and exposed bolts, the site sensitivity of aboriginal building, and the forms of Australian farm sheds. Designers all over the world celebrated when he won this year's Pritzker Architecture Prize.
There have been other books about Murcutt, notably Philip Drew's out-of-print Leaves of Iron, but a new effort was badly needed. Fortunately, the current volume is a distinguished one, presenting 20 houses, an educational center, a rehab facility, and a museum with Murcutt's accompanying descriptions and sketches. Inconveniently, however, all projects appear twice, first briefly in the "Practice" section and then in greater detail in "Technique." But the basic information is here, giving us even better grounds for hero worship.