Two things to learn from this video: 1) No matter how fascinating the subject, nearly all videos benefit from a voiceover narrative and an appropriate soundtrack, both lacking here. 2) Although the term “industrial design” did not emerge until the 20th century, the design and engineering skills to produce incredible objects that utilized the principles of applied science and engineering existed long before then. Centuries before CAD systems and 3-D modeling devices, Abraham Roentgen (1711-1793) and his son, David (1743-1807), made ingeniously engineered and mechanically complex cabinetry that incorporated drawers that opened automatically at the touch of a button, hidden compartments, and drop-down writing surfaces – all behind elegantly decorated panels. This walnut-veneered masterpiece was commissioned by King Frederick William II of Prussia in the late 18th century and is housed today in the Kunstgewerbe museum in Berlin.
Today design trends ricochet around the globe instantaneously, thanks to the Internet. But a look at these posters, advertisements and magazine covers produced in Japan in the 1920s and 1930s show the integration of art movements from European cultures, including Constructivism, Surrealism and Cubism. The graphic works — which appeared in “Modernism on Paper: Japanese Graphic Design of the 1920s-30s” by Naomichi Kawabata – represent a period when communication design was emerging in Japan. The posters and ads from this period are sometimes referred to as “city art,” because merchants wanted to appeal to urban consumers by departing from traditional pictorial naturalism and embracing message-driven avant-garde visuals that implied that they were keeping pace with styles from the West. The aesthetics and composition communicated this awareness of the larger world and established many of the principles of early graphic design in Japan.