Think Big | Design Ideas That Changed History

By RSIR Staff |

Changes in the design world are shaped by ideas. And though we often associate design evolution with larger movements, such as Impressionism, Art Nouveau, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and the like, there are plenty of smaller, less-obvious or well-known ideas that have made a significant impact on our culture and daily lives. The exploration of said ideas is the objective of Peter and Charlotte Fiell’s latest book, 100 Ideas that Changed Design. Below we have outlined seven of our favorites.


According to the Fiells’, taste is a “highly contentious issue” because the subject “is heavily associated with education, and ultimately social class.” (28) That fact, however, has not stopped people from their own pursuits of “good taste,” from the idealization of the human figure in Greek mythology and Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, to styles of fashion that have evolved over the decades. Design movements have even emerged from the attempt to push back against “good taste,” such as Pomo and kitsch, among others.

Mass Production

The term mass production was coined in the early 20th century as a means to describe the way in which the Industrial Revolution transformed the automobile industry, through the mechanized large-scale production of parts. Since then, mass production has permeated many industries, including home goods and building materials. A trip to IKEA is as much a demonstration of mass production as it is the next design trend: universality.

The influences of mass production and universality are evident in the popularity of stores such as IKEA, which offer affordable mass produced and universally designed products.


The introduction of the factory meant that the majority of product design shifted into a consistent and uniform function. The Fiells’ write that universality remains closely tied to modernism, particularly in the Bauhaus School, which designed simple forms for furniture and objects that could easily be replicated.


As the successor of post-modern and modern architecture, parametricism utilizes algorithms, programs, and computers to manifest equations for design. Though the concept is far from new—having been employed by architect Antoni Gaudi in the early 20th century—it has risen to prominence in the last decade alongside technological innovation in computers. (144)


In recent years, humans have become much more aware of their environmental impact, which includes the notion of disposable, single-use products (particularly those made of plastic). However, as the Fiells detail, products such as disposable razors—introduced by Gillette in 1903—were a representation of modernity and heralded for the time they saved consumers. Of course, the anti-plastic movement has revealed the inherent issues with disposability, however there remain industries in which it is vital, such as the medical industry.

Many safety features have become standard in today’s automobiles.


Safety might seem like an obvious consideration when it comes to design, but it actually wasn’t until the mid-1960s (and the release of Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile) that safety became an integral part of the design process. This notion greatly changed the automobile industry in particular, as negligence has shifted into a focus on the well-being of consumers: think auto sensors that stop a vehicle before a crash, safety testing, back-up cameras, auto-piloting features, etc.


Finally, we will end with an idea that speaks to the heart of the Sotheby’s International Realty® brand: luxury. As a concept, luxury has always been inextricably tied to the notion of extravagance. Beginning with the Victorian era, luxury goods have been marketed to the wealthy elite. As the Fiells’ note, the perception of luxury is a subjective one, but typically relies on either exceptional quality or exquisite handcraftsmanship. Though a luxury item “does not necessarily have to be rare or expensive, it almost invariably is.” (24) In the case of Sotheby’s International Realty, luxury is regarded as an experience, not a price point.

Ready to discover more of the world’s most influential design ideas? Purchase 100 Ideas that Changed Design, by Peter and Charlotte Fiell here.