A recurring illustrated series highlighting icons from design history.
Concept, art direction, research, and writing for Design*Sponge.
Illustrated by Libby VanderPloeg.
Full category page here.
Design: Wonder Bread
Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: Taggart Baking Company
Background: You know the phrase “the best thing since sliced bread?” Well, as it so happens, the exact date of this world-changing invention is in relatively recent history. Introduced by Wonder Bread in 1929, the concept of pre-sliced bread encapsulated many of the ideals of the time. The late 20s and early 30s saw the introduction of Modernism to America, largely through the over-the-top ornamentalism of the Art Deco and Moderne movements—it wasn’t so much about functionality, but the novel and the superficially futuristic. Scientific and industrial advances had captured the nation’s imagination, something that created a thirst for products that embodied these ideas—even if that product was bread, pre-sliced. Since then, Wonder Bread has become part of the the American canon, the embodiment of the American impulse for wild innovation and an icon of our Atomic Age. In 1939, Wonder Bread took part in New York City’s World’s Fair, an event that showcased similarly futuristic productions, from advances in agricultural technology to the latest and greatest in automobiles. Although it may not seem this way today—indeed, we have long-since abandoned the fluffy white goodness of Wonder Bread for healthier options—Wonder Bread (and its mythology) fit in perfectly.
Design: Carlton Cabinet
Designer: Ettore Sottsass
Country of Origin: Italy
Materials & Construction: Wood, plastic laminate
Background: While the garish colors, irregular forms, and shamelessly commonplace materials featured in this cabinet might come off as distasteful and ostentatious to some, this was in many ways the whole point. Ettore Sottsass, the object’s designer, was the founder and primary maker of the Italy-based Memphis Design Group, a collective that adopted many of the Postmodernist impulses of the early 1980s. Eschewing the perceived banality and false objectivity of Modernism, the Memphis group sought to dismantle the notion that design should be (or even could be) purely functional. In stark opposition to the “less is more” and “form follows function” dictums of Modernism, Sottsass and his cohorts subscribed much more to architect Robert Venturi’s notion that “less is a bore,” giving priority to emotion, humor, and symbolism rather than any utopian ideal. Although many designers and critics found Memphis design ugly and overly novel, others saw its blatant disregard for rules as liberating—a welcome breath of fresh air in a design world that had for too long been dominated by rigidity and precision.