Unexplored Fields For the Designer

I here are, in the main, five reasons why far-sighted manufacturers are eager to incorporate good design in their products:

Good design offers new advertising opportunities. Good design increases sales appeal in any object. Good design instills a pride of ownership which in­creases the value of the piece. It creates favorable discussion by word-of – mouth advertising (the most valuable kind) that is totally lacking in an object of mediocre design. Good design adds length of life to an object be­cause it takes longer to tire of it. Good design tends towards further simplifi­cation of manufacturing processes and hence to economies in production. Good design improves the merit of the product.

There are many fields offering great opportunities to the merchant and de­signer that are as yet untouched. Consider the chain stores, for instance. Their appeal is to the woman of moderate means and they should be dressed accordingly. No one will deny that in any community where two or more chain stores engage in competition, the store with the more inviting front and interior (factors of merchandise, prices, and service being equal) has the

greater success. Nevertheless, chain stores are fundamentally lacking in appeal. The same is true of some of our largest department stores. Their in­teriors, display systems, show cases, specialty shops, are more valuable in psy­chological selling terms than the daily newspaper space they pay so much for.

Consider other subjects than stores. You have only to visualize present – day electric street cars and interurban cars to realize how old-fashioned they are in every particular. In this field much experimental work is under Way. Mechanical improvements are being studied by competent engineers. But engineers are only farseeing in terms of engineering. The engineering prob­lems are the most obvious and easiest division of the problem to solve. The one important factor that would get people into the cars is being almost com­pletely ignored. Competition between the various transportation systems will undoubtedly bring about a change for the better before long.

Outdoor fields, rich in design possibilities which have scarcely been touched, are too numerous ta mention. Offhand, I think of the following, — bus terminals, gas and oil service stations, amusement parks, race tracks, bath­ing beaches, hotels, and advertising piers such as those at Atlantic City. Even so, I have not included the two fields that have been most conspicuously neglected, — business offices in general, including conference,1,1 executive, sales offices, and the home.

Go into the office of the general manager of any business. Examine his desk. Does it look especially businesslike? If it does, I venture to say it is because he keeps it cleared of papers. Look at the objects on his desk, starting, if you like, with the telephone. Consider the telephone as though you had never seen one before. Every time the telephone company redesigns the instrument they improve on it measurably. Few people are aware of the in­numerable parts of which it is composed. Its problems of design are many. The latest type of desk set is still clumsy. It is certainly not an object of

91 • CONFERENCE ROOM: J. WALTER THOMPSON CO

beauty. In an office this is less important but there are millions of telephones in homes. I predict that five years hence this object which we now accept as it is, will have been replaced by one much better looking.

Similar observations apply to the office inkwell and to all the fancy marbil – ized fountain pen sets now in vogue. The principle of these sets is thoroughly sound, but, translated into terms of visual design, it has lost all individuality. Is there any reason why a fountain pen, or the fixture that holds it, should be made to look like marble? Why not paint the top of your desk the same way? Another object on the desk that needs redesigning from every standpoint is the calendar pad. I have yet to see a business calendar pad of modest size so laid out that it is useful in the way it should be. It does not even serve the purpose of appointments to the extent it should. A few larger sizes do, but they are cumbersome and take up too much room. Lamps, clocks, receptacles for cigarettes, cigars and pipe tobacco, all are mediocre-looking objects of the business man.

Adding machines, calculating machines, time clocks, filing cabinets are examples of business equipment whose appearance has never been considered of importance from their visual viewpoint. The same is true of more special­ized office equipment. The dictating machine is an example. I am a confirmed dictaphonist and I have used the machines for years, in my office, in my bed­room, and when I travel. Nevertheless, I hide my dictating machine. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not ashamed of it. I do not object because it is a piece of machinery. A machine is no disgrace in my office, but it is not a properly designed machine to go on or in a desk. The base, holding the major part of the mechanism, occupies too much room on a desk or directly adjacent to it. Moreover, it is a great dust-catching invention, and the wax dust from the cylinder has a way of floating about. These are defects in de­sign that could easily be remedied, and, if overcome convincingly, old

confirmed users would be on the prospect list for new and better machines.

The elimination of dust-catching surfaces is one of the most important considerations for the designer of office equipment. In this connection the typewriter is a good example. Although the settling of dust upon the keys and other delicate features of the mechanism does not materially affect its operation, dust gives the mechanism an unsightly aspect and one that any neat office worker resents. Cleaning a typewriter thoroughly requires time. Time in any office costs some one money. If it is not cleaned every day or two, the dirt becomes conspicuous. Despite the fact that this could be easily over­come, nothing has been done about it. One or two attempts have been made to improve the appearance of the typewriter, but with negligible results, and the efforts in this direction seem to have been abandoned. In this connection the president of one of the leading office appliance companies in the United States told me an amusing story.

This manufacturer decided to have his machine redesigned. It is one of the oldest and most popular office appliances in the country. After the expendi­ture of considerable money and time, the new machine was ready to put on the market. The publicity department discovered that the man who sold the first machine of this particular make, many years before, was still about. They decided to have a photograph taken of him with the previous model and the new model. This was arranged. The salesman was placed behind i92 • stool: j. Walter Thompson company a table with the old and

DESIGNED BY NO’MAN BEL GEDDES 1928

new models on each side of him. When the photo­graphs were available, they were shown around the ad­vertising departmerlt, and j, the first remark that any

one was heard to make was " Which is the new model? ”

This story illustrates two things. First, how an executive who is very close to his product has difficulty in looking at the problem through any eyes other than those of a fond parent; and may have looked with timidity on the recom­mendations of the surgeon-designer he called in to diagnose and operate. Second, how a de­signer, lacking convictions or courage, or both, must fail to achieve the result that the manu­facturer has a right to expect. In this case the designer had either not shown enough initia­tive or enough force or the executive had mistaken minor improvements for major im­provements. The difference between the old and new models was so slight that the public could not be expected to react enthusiastically and so the job is still to be done.

It is the designer’s fresh viewpoint, his view­point as an outsider in conjunction with his viewpoint as a specialist in the appearance of things, that gives him his great advantage. A survey of the mechanical equipment of the modern home leads to the same conclusion as a survey of the business office. There is a field of great commercial promise for a good-looking portable bookcase. Hundreds of thousands of

dollars are spent annually by tenants who build permanent bookcases in apartments where these bookcases must be left when the tenants move. The radiator in terms of being attractive, both of the free standing and built-in wall type, is being given considerable thought lately, but in terms of results is an untouched field. Think of lighting and plumbing fixtures! In terms of design they are psychologically still in the Victorian era. The same is true with the majority of most hardware equipment, such as door knobs and hinges. Window sash has taken tremendous strides but their hardware is poor. In crockery and utensils of heat-proof glass, above all, in appliances such as carpet sweepers, dish washers, ironers, electric irons, sewing machines, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, sinks and kitchen cabinets, a radical improvement in design is bound to show itself before long. There is on the market a single kitchen unit which includes stove, sink, refrigerator, in­cinerator and cabinet, but it represents a premature version of a problem that will require a great amount of design study.

At Schenectady, the General Electric Company has a laboratory working on future engineering developments. The plan and scope of this work will eventually alter profoundly the trend of our lives generally. This laboratory, its research and experimentation, is the heart of the General Electric Com­pany. Without it the business would settle and ossify. With it there is no limiting its horizon. The same can be said of the General Motors Laboratory and of others. Laboratories make a daily habit of peering over the horizon. The laboratory in any industry, and what the laboratory produces, repre­sents the future development of that business. The forward-seeing designer offers a parallel contribution in this development work that, up to the pres­ent, has appeared as an afterthought. Several of the most interesting prob­lems we are working on in my office are of a laboratory nature and cannot be described here, because they must be treated as confidential until released

to the buying public. A discussion of one interesting problem and its solu­tion may throw light upon the results that may be expected when the design­er, with the full cooperation of his client, enters a field that he has had no experience in and one that has hitherto been practically unexplored from the standpoint of visual design. My subject is a gas stove for the Standard Gas Equipment Corporation.

It should be clearly understood that the utility and conditions of design, production, distribution, and merchandising, determine the design of a gas stove as of any other object. Not only must these conditions be met by the designer but he must meet them in a manner that improves the appearance of the product and without increasing the cost of manufacture. How these problems were solved in this instance can best be understood in the light of conditions faced at the start. 194 – vulcan gas range designed by w. m. crane со. mi

In the early days of the gas stove, the precedent of wood and coal stoves pre­vailed, the problem being treated as one merely of adaptation.”4 No particu­lar thought was given to sanitation or to ease of cleaning. The body was of sheet iron with cast iron trimmings, the cocks and manifold of wrought iron.

The finish was stove black­ing applied to the sheet iron. In the kitchen, the

stove was a hideous thing, unsatisfactory in arrangement and operation, with inaccessible corners and pockets, covered with smoke and grease.

When I undertook to design stoves, only one or two manufacturers had discarded the custom of constructing the gas range, in part at least, of cast iron. This was the result of precedent and the fact that manufacturers had equipment for making cast iron. Old stove lines were, of course, adhered to. One of the great drawbacks of the practice in favor was that pressed steel and cast iron in combination necessitated certain joints, certain lines of design, and certain other practices which worked against both economy and ap­pearance.

A couple of years ago the American Stove Company introduced a new line of gas ranges which they named The Magic Chef.1” In this line they intro­duced a comparatively simplified type of design which immediately caught the eye of the public and within a short time led the market in sales. On look­ing at this stove, the question immediately asked is: should a stove fit, in appearance, with the refrigerator, cabinets, sinks, and the other dominant kitchen features, as harmoniously as possible? Most of these units are white or ivory in finish. White is universally accepted as the most sanitary color. Other colors are more restful to the eye than white, but isn’t white the safest practice until manufacturers adopt a joint policy regarding colors and finishes?

The stoves of practically every manufacturer, including those of my client, contained shelves and interior corners which only the most diligent housekeeper could keep clean. Generally these places collected greases and other deposits from cooking, which eventually caked and spread, until the range was anything but attractive in appearance. In the stove of my client, the open, cook-top construction exposed the greater part of the burner cast­ings to spillage of liquids from utensils on the grates above the burners. To

clean these parts required the removal of the top grates. Drip pans under­neath were intended to catch spillage, and did so, but after deposits had been left on the exposed parts.

Consider what has been accomplished by this new design for the benefit of the consumer. The first s, ov‘ Co"f«>

impression is one of the utmost simplicity.1,4 The stove has no projections or dirt-catching corners, the fewest possible cracks or joints where dirt can ac­cumulate. Burner castings formerly exposed to spill­age are protected by an aeration plate which is as easily cleaned as a china bowl.

In color, the stove is ivory-white enamel with the hardware in chromium plating. It has a china-like surface of vitreous enamel which shines when it is clean, and it is easily kept 195 ‘ MAGIC chef gas stove

1 r DESIGNED BY N. Y. SCHOOL OF FINE & APPLIED ART 1929

clean. Immaculateness was a major consideration in the design. A house­wife would be surprised to see no evidence whatever that this enameled cabinet is a stove. Even the heat control is concealed by a lift cover.1" The doors are flush with the front.

The cooking part of the range is assembled, one unit above the other, into one tier. This arrangement permits convenient transfer of foods from the top of the stove to the oven or vice versa. The oven door opens out to a horizontal position, forming a convenient shelf on which a roast can rest while being inspected.’** The oven shelves lock so that they cannot

be accidentally pulled all the way out.

The utility space is on the left side of the stove.1’6 A shallow drawer for knives, spoons and flat utensils is at the level of the cook­top. Directly beneath is a utility cabinet in which may be stored large cooking uten­sils. Beneath this is another and larger drawer for pot lids and similar utensils.

This drawer is on rollers for ease and quiet­ness in operation. The handles of all the drawers are designed as simply as possible.

They are easy to take hold of, insulated so as never to be hot, and finished in chromium.

In the manner of the modern built-to-the-floor bathtub, the stove has no legs. This eliminates the necessity of cleaning beneath it. The solid base, finished with black enamel, recedes. To some extent this permits getting closer to the cooking surface. If anything is inadvertently spilled on the front of the range and runs down the base, it drops to the linoleum and can be easily removed.

Now let us consider what the design iw has accomplished from the manufactur­ing viewpoint. When work was started on this problem, we discovered that the client was making approximately one hundred different models composed of several hundred different units such as broilers and ovens. One of our aims was to standardize the different parts so that, without alteration, the same part,

the oven for instance, could be used in ail models. Thus, the necessity of making a dozen different sized ovens is eliminated. The same procedure was followed with regard to other parts. A series of blocks were made, painted different colors to represent different classes of units,1” and the various com­binations[4] checked with the client. Eventually, after determining proper sizes, it was found that the equivalent of most of the hundred stoves that the client was then making could be made in four models, using only twelve dif­ferent standardized units in various combinations.202

As already indicated, gas ranges have been, until now, primarily a com­bination of sheet and cast iron. For many reasons this is objectionable. Con­sequently I evolved a method of construction that eliminates cast iron com­pletely. These two results, standardization and sheet-metal construction

DESIGNED BY NORMAN BEL GEDDES 1931

throughout, are illustra­tive of what may follow from the application of a fresh point of view to a manufacturer’s problem.

In _ the design of this stove one of the important items that had to be con­sidered was the extensive loss sustained by the manu­facturer, due to the fragile characteristics of enamel.

The greater proportion of these enamel losses oc­curred when the assembler attempted to bring warped sheets into proper shape by tightening a bolt. Pressure applied to the sheet frequently produced a big fish-scale spall, or a series of radiating cracks.

Once the stove, having escaped injury during assembly, was erected, and crated for shipment, it still was subject to spoilage, owing to the brittleness of the enamel. If dropped while in transit, it sustained a concentration of stress at bolt holes; cracks and spalling were the results.

Extensive losses of this kind, due to conditions indicated, put upon the designer the necessity of evolving a design that would be less susceptible to these particular accidents. In other words, a way had to be found to relieve

enameled sheet steel from the possibility of shocks, warpage and twists. This precluded the use of the finishing material, the outer shell, for structural purposes; since if an enameled piece is used as part of the structure the chances of its being damaged by stress in assembling or by shocks are greatly increased.

The solution of the problem was found in applying the principle of sky­scraper construction. The skyscraper has a steel frame on which the walls and floors are built. The enormous weight of the masonry added as a skin is not carried clear to the ground through itself, but is transmitted to the steel frame. Similar methods are used in the construction of this stove. The skin, or enameled exterior, as well as the interior components of the stove, are attached to an independent steel frame.205 If, in shipping, the stove is dropped, the frame takes the shock. The only shock sustained by the enameled sheet is

203 • S. G.E. GAS STOVE: WORKING DRAWING DESIGNED BY NORMAN BEL GEDDES 1932

that due to its own weight. All exterior enameled parts are connected to the frame by means of hooked clips so arranged that they may be drawn up tight in assembly without subjecting the enamel to strain.

The former method — the bolt method — of assembly required much hand work, was time-wasting and expensive, requiring the insertion and tightening of many bolts and screws. By the skyscraper type of construction and the use of welding, the necessity for a hundred screws and bolts and the danger of spalling has been eliminated.

Superior in design, appearance and appointments, this stove is manufac­tured to sell at the price of an ordinary range, though it excels stoves now selling at a price well above it. A plain out-and-out cooking machine with no trick features, no gadgets, no decoration to dress it up. It does all that any

204 • S. G. E. GAS STOVE WORKING DRAWIN6 DESIGNED BY NORMAN BEL GEDDES 1932

other stove will do as simply and as well, and is the easiest stove to use and keep clean on the market to-day. Its style in appearance is due entirely to its proportion and color. It is a good example of the coordination of mechanical engineering and visual design producing the desired result. As in any under­taking for a client, the confidence and whole hearted support of that client and the complete cooperation of his organization, is essential to the result. In this case the man who gave us his untiring support is W. Frank Roberts, President of the Standard Gas Equipment Corporation, manufacturers of a full line of stoves based upon this design.