1. Bantam Jeep

by Karl Probst 1940

JEEP is not an acronym for Just Enough Essential Parts. However, it’s easy to see why the myth is so easily accepted as fact. Commissioned by the US government, the Bantam jeep was the product of the most stringent of briefs: the delivery of a working four-wheel reconnaissance vehicle, fit for the rigours of war, in 49 days. A response to the need for a new type, the result was a vehicle consisting only of exactly what was required, and of parts that could be replaced with the minimum of fuss, and by anyone. It was and remains a design marvel.

2. Radiohead – No Surprises (Video)

by Grant Gee 1998

When filmmaker Grant Gee was first commissioned by Radiohead to write a treatment for OK Computer’s No Surprises, he laboured over ‘something dreadful.’ A year of working on a documentary of the OK Computer tour, and of staring at an image from Space Odyssey 2001 over his desk, his second attempt took seconds. The result is the most unpop video you are ever likely to see. Made in just a day, using one fixed shot, with very little post-production, and no special effects, it’s a breathtakingly quick and brave piece of filmmaking. A man’s helmet fills with water. Lyrics rise illegibly up the visor. Lights reflect on the helmet. Thom Yorke’s performance is a suffering. It’s terrifyingly beautiful.

3. Ishinomaki Stool

by Keiji Ashizawa 2011

Ishinomaki was visited in the aftermath of the 2011 Tohuku earthquake and tsunami by Japanese architect Keiji Ashizawa, who saw immediately that unless given the tools, training and material to help themselves, people would be waiting months - perhaps years – for their houses to be rebuilt. So was born the Ishinomaki Laboratory, a public workshop (and now label) dedicated to the production of easily assembled cedar wood furniture, one of which is Ashizawa’s Ishinomaki Stool. Both seat and step, used in and outdoors, it stands as an excellent example of a design grounded in absolute need. There’s no waste, no fluff. The material used is both available and affordable. It’s beautiful and it’s honest. ‘After working,’ says Ashizawa,’ on this kind of furniture, I know it’s enough.’

4. Pocket Operator

by Teenage Engineering 2015

The perfect example of design working to the most ridiculously ambitious of briefs, the Pocket Operator is the third child of Sweden-based electronics designers Teenage Engineering. It’s a high-quality synthesiser that fits in your pocket, and in deciding that it should retail for less than £50, Jesper Kuouthoofd and company manage something quite remarkable: a form informed entirely by its function. The Pocket Operator looks like a circuit board because it is a circuit board. With vital and vulnerable components hidden behind the screen, it’s a solution so extraordinary as to baffle peers at NAMM, who initially mistook the finished article for a prototype. Small wonder: the inside is also the outside, the interface the engine, the unfinished the finish. It’s a new type.

5. Shrooms on Shrooms

by Doug McMaster 2016

On a menu in a restaurant called Cub there’s dish made with just one ingredient: king oyster mushroom. Invented by chef Doug McMaster, prepared in the smallest kitchen in London, Shroom on shrooms demonstrates beautifully the virtues of working with the most reduced of palettes. Consisting of roasted mushrooms on a duxelle and topped with a mushroom jus and slices of raw mushroom, the story here is not just about the versatility of a single ingredient bent to the will of the most exacting of chefs. It is also a strict lesson in super sustainable eating. A dish made with an ingredient that could just as easily be grown in the restaurant’s backyard is a dish that costs nothing by way of waste and miles. It’s a design for the future good.

6. Victory

by Shigeo Fukuda 1971

If Victory is one of Japanese artist Shigeo Fukuda’s most well-known works, it is also one of his best. As a form of communication, it is unfailingly direct. Leaving intact almost everything – image, words, colour – that would normally characterise a pro-war propaganda poster, Fukuda makes a single change, and in so doing confounds all expectations. It’s witty, sly, even cartoonish, and it makes us smile. However, its real power emanates from the sheer economy of effort with which Fukuda subverts the message. It’s quick and it’s sure and so efficient as to leave us in no doubt as to the terrible irony of a war won. There is nothing here that could ever have been made differently. Design-wise, it’s an evolutionary endpoint. It’s perfect.


by Droog 2008

Their tongue-in-cheek ambition to tile the world, DTILE has written a whole new rulebook for what was ostensibly understood as the endpoint of a given design. Until their idea and the factory made to make it happen, the tile as object could be changed in one of two ways: its shape and how it’s decorated. Otherwise, it was what it always was, flat. The world, of course, is not made of neat, flat surfaces, and in creating a tile that curves, and that builds what would previously be understood as separate functions – hooks, butchers rail, cup – into the design, DTILE made way not just for covering surfaces once impossible to tile, but also for a third functionary space. A brilliant, modular system, it’s a standard vernacular turned on its head.

8. Sheila Hicks – Weaving as a Metaphor

by Irma Boom 2006

The story of the making of artist Sheila Hick’s book Weaving as Metaphor sees the book reinvented as a work of information-art. Designed by Irma Boom, it is a book made to be seen and held, its form a physical incantation of the beauty it seeks to transmit. It took four years to make, and required that Boom resist anyone or anything that threatened to compromise her vision for a book that does more than simply represent its subject. Everything – the quality of the binding, the paper, the etched edges, the unexpected front cover, the layout of the introductory essay – is designed to bring us face-to-face with an artist renowned for the restrained and tactile beauty of her work. Hold it and we inhabit the world of Sheila Hicks. The book is the message.

9. Red Cross Emblem

by The Geneva International Conference 1863

The red cross emblem bestows protection on – and signifies the neutrality of – those who work under the sign and the people they care for. It has done so since 1863, and has been so effective that it has become one of the world’s most instantly recognisable symbols.* It owes its success to the simplicity of a design that can be made using whatever materials one has at hand, and to strict legal rules which govern its display. Adaptable and incorruptible, it has endured the last 150-odd years without a single change to its design. The significance of its presence on the battlefield is understood in an instant: ‘Don’t shoot me – I’m not in the fight.’ Additionally, for the victims of armed conflict or disasters, the emblem has become a powerful symbol that help is on the way.

*Since 1876, the red crescent emblem has been used as a protective sign by some Muslim-majority countries. However, neither the red cross, nor the red crescent were originally intended to be religious symbols. In 2005 an additional symbol, the red crystal, was accepted by some countries as an emblem which could be used in situations where it might be problematic to display the red cross or red crescent. All three emblems have exactly the same meaning under international law.

10. Is Still Searching

by WassinkLundgren 1997

While you wouldn’t know from its title, WassinkLundgren’s Is Still Searching is, in fact, its photographer-creator’s answer to the problem of how best to edit a given portfolio, given the dual constraints of time and money. Publish first, edit second, it begins as a booklet or ‘tearbook’ containing all work, which can then be edited to suit a particular audience. Cheap, easily reproduced, an endlessly modifiable utility, it saves time, disrupts the logic of a largely unquestioned process, and allows for a much more rapid and intuitively creative approach to the editing process. Design at its most irreverent.