Clockwise, from top left: Dante Giacosa. 500f city car. Designed 1957 (this example 1968). Manufacturer: Fiat S.p.A., Turin, Italy. Gift of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Heritage; Lina Bo Bardi. Poltrona Bowl chair. 1951. Steel and fabric; Irwin Gershen, Gershen-Newark. Shrimp Cleaner. 1954. Plastic and metal. Manufacturer: Plastic Dispensers Inc., Newark, NJ. Chemex Coffee Maker. 1941. Pyrex glass, wood, and leather,. Manufacturer: Chemex Corp., New York, NY. Image courtesy MoMA

What links these four products?

MoMA has the answer (but if you've bought one of our design books recently you've probably guessed already)

When was the golden age of Good Design? It isn’t actually, a rhetorical question. Good Design was actually an official term for right-thinking product development in America and elsewhere, during the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s.

Back then, New York’s Museum of Modern Art championed the concept of useful, modernist, well-made, yet affordable, designs in a series of exhibitions that showcased low-cost furniture, lighting and other consumer goods. 

However, as MoMA points out in its notes for a new show, The Value of Good Design, opening on 10 February 2019, “the concept of Good Design also took hold well beyond the Museum, with governments on both sides of the Cold War divide embracing it as a vital tool of social and economic reconstruction and technological advancement in the years following World War II.”

The post-war boom in the developed world was largely built on the mass-market, such as cars, cameras, and other smaller, though no less well-conceived items.

“This global scope is reflected in many of the items on view, from a mass-market Italian Fiat Cinquecento automobile and a Soviet-era East German Werra camera to a Japanese poster for a Mitsubishi sewing machine and a Brazilian bowl chair,” says MoMA.


Designed in the USSR: 1950-1989
Designed in the USSR: 1950-1989

Today, Good Design’s value varies vastly; you can pick up a plastic shrimp cleaner (a red, plastic scissor shaped object, made to strip a cooked shrimp’s shell from its body) for peanuts, while an original Lina Bo Bardi bowl chair commands a far higher price.

Nevertheless, this new show demonstrates how prized works by some of the world’s most highly acclaimed designers started out as simple and affordable designs.

For more on product design behind the Iron Curtain, get Designed in the USSR: 1950-1989; for more on Lina Bo Bardi’s bowl chair and 499 equally good seating solutions, get Chair: 500 Designs that Matter.


Chair: 500 Designs that Matter
Chair: 500 Designs that Matter