Timeless designs

During our meeting in Müllheim last week we wandered down into town and came across this Citroen DS…

What struck me is how striking the design of the vehicle remains to this day. Designed in the 50s by Flaminio Bertoni and André Lefèbvre, it was way ahead of its time with features such as a hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension, front power disc brakes and variable ground clearance.

Do not worry, this post is not necessarily about me geeking out about cars, rather it is about not being afraid of treading new ground. I love the result of a design process where obviously the people working on it took a big step back from it, right at the beginning, and asked themselves questions like: what are we actually trying to achieve, what boxes are we trying to tick, what is it possible to produce and what technologies do we have available that we can use to achieve those aims.

This need not even necessarily mean a super high-tech solution (although of course it can be), but rather a vision of what you are trying to achieve by means of a different, novel approach. Often this will be accompanied by clean, uncluttered design. The DS reflects that to my mind.

Thinking to our tree climbing world and tools we use every day, my first candidate as an example for such a product would certainly be the ring to ring cambium saver.

This design, that dates back to a concept brought forth by François Dusenne, first produced by Knut Foppe and Peter Styrnol with Hightree Tech in the 1993, whilst being superficially simple, brought great benefits with it, such as reduced damage to the cambium of the tree, reduced wear on the rope, reduced friction at the anchor point and retrievability. All this achieved by means of two humble aluminium rings (actually originally a figure of eight descendercut in half) and a webbing sling.

Visiting Petzl in Crolles, when you enter their reception area, there is an exhibition area there with a range of their products though the decades on display. Many of these designs are iconic, such as the PO5 Fixe, the Stop, the P50, the original Ascension or the Basic. I am not saying that they were the be all and end all, but these were certainly important designs that had a significant impact and influence on all that came after. Nowadays the emphasis when considering design seems to have shifted more towards form, with function following (and fitting in with the brand image and all of that jazz), rather than the other way round, which would be form following function – which in many ways to me would seem more logical.

Which brings me back to the DS in Müllheim, which was parked right next to a VW Amarok.

I thought that was such a striking comparison.

Obviously there is stuff added into the Amarok that probably makes sense, all sorts of safety features and whatnot. But primarily it shows how our perception of vehicles, in this example, and what we consider to be the norm can shift over a period of time. Today we surround ourselves with all sorts of electronic gadgetry and extra mass that one can question the benefits of.

Or to put it differently: the degree of refinement is incremental, it is not a step change to what went before, not radically daring and novel, really ground-breaking stuff.

But then now and again, something really new and exciting comes along….

Probably not this though 😉