Last week I went to a Pentagram event at the Design Museum where I was privileged to hear Kenneth Grange take us through the exhibition and talk about his work. It was wonderful.
Kenneth Grange (in case you didn't know) is a designer, an industrial designer, responsible for a ridiculous amount of things in British life. The Inter City 125 train, the latest version of the Black Cab, the Kodak instamatic camera, parking meters, Wilkinson Sword razors, Parker pens, Kenwood food mixers... so much it's hard to list here.
In fact it's hard to describe unless you go and see the exhibiton, then you'll wonder round pointing and thinking, "Oh yeah, I remember that and that and that and, oh, did he do that?". It's an incredible body of work. Incredible because there's so much of it, incredible because it's so broad (from a razor to a train) and incredible because it stands the test of time so well.
Grange is 82 and has an eneregy and wit that would leave younger designers in his wake. To hear him talk about his work was a fantastic experience. And you're reminded, as you often are at these things, what a different world it was then. It was all bumping into Managing Directors at Trade Shows and it was all - do you think you can do better, have a go and we'll call you back in a year.
In fact, I actually took some notes.
The Kodak instamatic, which came about because Grange mentioned to the Sales Director that they would sell more cameras if they looked better, sold 20 million worldwide.
In 1975 he was asked to design a coat hook by a former employee. The family firm had no money so they asked if he would take a royalty deal, "The story of my life I only ever say yes". That royalty only stopped last year.
Grange, of course, started Pentagram with four others and he talked a little about that. Interestingly he said Pentagram had no ideology in terms of design, but an ideology in terms of behaviour.
There was an incredible work ethic that came through, and actually comes through in the work. He mentioned how he was once "unemployed for a week or so and I really got desperate" so he took a job painting film sets.
I visited the exhibition earlier in the month and bought the book. I've started reading it, it's that very rare thing - a design book you can actually read. It's really good, full of stories like the ones above.
A wonderful evening, he really is Britain's Dieter Rams, except Grange got more stuff made across a broader range of briefs.
Sadly the exhibition closed last weekend.
Small footnote. This is his coffin bookshelf. He said he buried his mother and he didn't want his wife to have to go through the process of choosing a coffin, so he designed (and got made) this one. While he's alive it serves as a book shelf, but when he's gone, take the books out, put Grange in, unhitch the lid from the back and put it on the front and then send it underground. Fantastic stuff.
More pics here.