Ornamental Design

Written by Nicholas Kamuda
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Industrial design has its roots in a reactionary movement against 19th century trends in ornamental design. The extravagance of previous eras was still in vogue in the mid-1800s, prompting product manufacturers to use new technology to create cookie-cutter ornamental patters that enveloped machinery, furniture, and everyday objects of the period. The patterns were generally derived from design catalogs, themselves mass-produced, leaving little or no room for individuality or design integrity.

The British Reaction to Ornamental Design

The Arts and Crafts movement arose as a reaction to the aesthetically stifling manufacturing processes of the period. One of the primary spokesman for the movement, the Englishman William Morris, abhorred the manufactured ornamental design aesthetic, favoring instead a return to the even older principles of handcraft and individuality in design. Morris saw the simplicity and the (slightly romanticized) pride of craftsmen as being closer to purity of design.

Morris was greatly influenced by the medieval period of English history, before the industrial revolution took over the production of goods. His ideals for the period are exemplified in his wallpaper patters and book designs, which are perhaps his most lasting contribution to design (other than his dedication to care in the design and execution of goods). A loose collection of craftsmen based around Morris called The Firm also produced furniture, utensils, house wares, and other lifestyle products.

Though it may be seen as ironic that Morris' textiles feature extremely ornamental designs, it was not necessarily the ornamentation of the period that disdained Morris. Rather, it was the lack of respect that the factory-produced ornamental goods had for their materials and the lack of respect that the factories had for their workers. Morris and his contemporaries in the Arts and Crafts Movement sought to establish a more humanistic approach to design and living, in which (similar to contemporary principles of industrial design) better living for all is made available through thoroughly considering and intelligently designing the objects that surround us.


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