I believe that good design springs from a response to the context in which it is created — in other words, it reflects or reacts to the zeitgeist. Conversely, truly great design, and therefore in my opinion timeless design, responds exclusively to the need to solve a problem; whether that is to sit in comfort or to be able to pour tea without drips. And these creative provocateurs are quite different. But to really understand why some things become eternally venerated on the podium of timelessness, and many do not, it helps to consider the opposite fate — built-in obsolescence.
Regrettably, the idea that something could be designed deliberately to fail, seems acutely symptomatic of the fast pace of contemporary life. It is the very essence of a take-make-waste approach; the siren call of the constant upgrade exploiting a perceived need to do everything ever faster or differently in some way. It is a lure to shop based on the notion that what you have already is out-moded, and to stay on-top, if not to stay meaningful, you must immediately switch up to a new and improved latest edition. What tosh!
Of course, some might argue that if you have five years of use from a product, then surely that’s good enough. But we expect our buildings and homes to last a lot longer than half a decade, so why not everything else? Why is it seemingly ‘ok’ to buy anything ‘throwaway’?
Left: The highly collectable Alveston Tea Pot, designed over four years 1961-64.