Timeless Design—An introspective on the idea of timelessness

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To begin with what I hope will end up being a mindful, thought-provoking article on the essence of timelessness in design, I felt it only fitting to start with what gave birth to this idea. As a designer and all around technology consultant, it’s my job to stay up-to-date with current trends and product offerings, which by its very nature is contradictory to the idea of timelessness. I’ve been grappling with this concept for over two years now. A lot of you that follow me on Twitter know that I’m an absolute nut about cars. Up until about 24 months ago my passion lied almost exclusively in late model Teutonic sport cars. While watching TV, I happen to catch a show that was documenting some of the most expensive and most sought after collector cars. Skip to Ferrari’s 1958 250 Testa Rossa.

This car single-handedly defined timelessness (for me). We could argue that this car exudes a certain panache that isn’t available in any modern automobile, but that’s not the point. It’s simply that this car has such a presence and immersive attributes that nearly 55 years of evolution in design and technology could not displace a car that was purposefully built without drawings—it’s absolutely beautiful.

Many of us (myself included) are caught in the moment; the current trend if you will. The notion of creating something that in 10, 20, or even 50 years from now that is still acceptable by the current standards is wildly unimaginable. I would attribute this largely in part due to the blistering pace that 1’s and 0’s change. Fancy software packages that are enablers of efficient, pixel perfect designs can also be a limiting factor that keeps a design constrained to boundaries that are predisposed. Just a thought…

So what, if anything, are parameters that define timelessness in a broad scope of design? Can they be reproduced? Do standards aid or hinder a design (again speaking solely on the topic of timelessness)? And finally, is timelessness a completely subjective category that we group designs and products into based only on our perception? Let’s go ahead and start dissecting these questions.

So what if anything are parameters that define timelessness in a broad scope of design?

There’s without question organic beauty and elegance in certain products that set the tone for a lifetime of admiration. But, is it purely happenstance when something that is created can stand the test of time? To that question, I would be torn right down the middle. Unequivocally, we live in time when the majority of what we look at and what we buy is made for use and consumption in the present. Predisposed product lifecycles set the stage for recurring purchases and an overall disposable mentality. Uniqueness unto its own is especially important on the topic of timelessness. We never see a product or design that’s complacent stand out from the crowd. Be unique in your designing!

Can they be reproduced?

Absolutely not. The shapes, lines, and performance that define one product simply cannot be applied to another and have guaranteed similar results. Timelessness can take on different forms based on the industry of discussion. An auto manufacturer likely would not approach a product design in the same light as a furniture manufacturer. One thing is for certain; timeless design often is handmade with the utmost attention to detail.

Do standards aid or hinder a design (in terms of timelessness)?

Only speaking in terms of timelessness, I personally believe that standards do hinder the opportunity to create something that could be timeless. In no way am I saying that it can’t happen, but often it’s when people and companies break the mold of standard operating procedures that something timeless emerges.

Is timelessness completely a subjective category that we group designs and products into based only on our perception?

Clearly each individual has their own preference when it comes to selecting products. But in terms of timelessness, I believe we all come to an equal playing field. It’s not simply that you are engrossed by the Testa Rossa like I am. It’s more about appreciation, respecting when something has stood the test of time, and paying homage to the designer and their creation. I’d love to know your feelings on timelessness. Go ahead and post any thoughts, feelings, or snide remarks below.

I originally wrote this blog for Fuel Your Creativity. The original copy can be found here.