Our Top 5 Product Designers

Product design takes a rare set of skills: The balance of artistic insight with pragmatism, and a deft hand which blends form and function seamlessly together while conveying an overarching sense of meaning.

While the 20th century was truly the renaissance of product design, yielding numerous skilled designers, the following five famous product designers are our personal favourites for the way they have consistently embodied all of the aforementioned qualities whilst also displaying a striking capacity for innovation.

5. Phillippe Starck

Whilst Starck’s pieces may be a bit whimsical and eclectic at times, there is no denying his impact on the world of design. Sometimes called the “rock star of contemporary design” for his irreverent and abstract style, this high school dropout first came to widespread attention in the 1980s when he was chosen to refurbish the French president’s private apartments at the Élysée. Since then, he has turned his hand to just about everything a designer possibly could, including furniture, decorations, architecture, bathroom fittings, light fixtures, kitchens and tableware, floor and wall coverings, appliances, office equipment, utensils, clothing and accessories, toys, glassware, and even food and large vehicles.

Starck’s unique take on design is perhaps best witnessed through his unconventional lemon squeezer, the Juicy Salif. While it looks, at first glance, like a modern sculpture (and something out of science fiction), in actuality it is a 12-inch tall lemon squeezer created on request for the Italian product manufacturer, Alessi. Today, while the item is criticised for its lacklustre functionality, it remains a powerful symbol of the excess and “high consumerism” of the 1980s. Starck is also well known for his subversive, political pieces, such as those found in his Guns Collection.

4. Marc Newson

Of all of the famous product designers on this list, Marc Newson is perhaps the most adept at understanding and manipulating materials. In the words of his friend Jonathan Ive (of Apple, Inc.), “I think Marc is fairly peerless now. Marc’s forms are often imitated, but what other designers seldom imitate is his preoccupation with materials and processes. You have to start with an understanding of the material. Often your innovation is just coming up with a new way to use material”.

This incredible insight into materials was brought to stunning fruition in Newson’s Lockheed Lounge chair, a fibreglass and aluminium chaise which he both designed and crafted by hand in his distinct “biomorphic” style. It went on to be featured in a Madonna video, and within just over two decades of its inception, it sold for a staggering £1.1 million at auction. Mark has since received numerous accolades for his work (which spans aircraft design, product design, furniture design, jewellery, and clothing), including being named one of Time’s most influential people in 2005. In 2014, he officially joined Apple’s design team, working alongside Jonathan Ive.

3. Jonathan Ive

In addition to being Newson’s longtime friend and collaborator, Ive is a formidable designer in his own right, being the driving force behind much of Apple’s globally influential aesthetic. Heralded by Steve Jobs as his “Spiritual partner at Apple,” during Ive’s ongoing tenure as Senior Vice President of Industrial Design, he has spearheaded the design of the MacBook Pro, iMac, MacBook Air, Mac mini, iPod, iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and iOS 7—in essence, almost everything that has propelled Apple into the spotlight it occupies today. Ive is known for closely following the design ethos of another of the famous product designers on this list, Dieter Rams, stating that he ensures all of Apple’s flagship products adhere to Ram’s “Ten Principles of Good Design”.

2. James Dyson

Best known as the inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner, James Dyson is a model of both persistence and innovation. During the 1970s, Dyson witnessed an industrial cyclone system in a sawmill and was instantly captivated, realising that he could draw on similar concepts to revolutionise the vacuum cleaner. Dyson reputedly made over 5,000 prototypes in a workshop behind his house before attaining success—only to have to battle against a hostile industry which did not wish to lose revenue from vacuum bag sales. Undeterred, Dyson launched his new vacuum cleaner in Japan, where it won the 1991 International Design Fair prize. Since then, a variety of models of this classic industrial design have been developed, and Dyson continues to actively innovate technologically: In 2014, James Dyson journeyed to Tokyo to introduce his “360 Eye” robotic vacuum cleaner, which features 360° scanning and mapping for navigation, cyclonic dust separation, a custom-designed high-suction digital motor, and the advantage of being fully controllable through a mobile app.

1. Dieter Rams

Dieter Rams is often considered to be the grand patriarch of modern “object culture”; the restrained, sleek aesthetic which Dieter applied to various Braun products during his 40 year tenure showed an inimitable force of vision which is still being emulated today. Many of the most stylishly minimalist devices currently on the shelves—notably Apple’s—pay homage to Dieter’s “Ten Principles of Good Design”.

Dieter believed that one ought not design for design’s sake; instead, the designer must be as honest and unobtrusive as possible whilst satisfying the goals of usability, durability, innovation, aesthetics, and functionality. In testament to his adherence to his own principles, Dieter’s work has so perfectly withstood the test of time that his iconic mid-century pieces—television sets, radios, coffee makers, furniture, etc.—would not look out of place in homes today.