• May 10, 2018

The Magic of Iconic Design

The Magic of Iconic Design

1024 576 CMg Design, Inc.

Introduced in 1918, the trusty stand mixer many of us have in the kitchen wasn’t much of a success until 1937, when industrial designer Egmont Arens transformed the bulky KitchenAid into the sleek model we know today. Dozens of color choices and attachment options have been added over the years, but who would touch that design?

Now ubiquitous, it’s easy to forget that KitchenAid had to compete with others in its category first to survive, and then to achieve icon status. There is no definitive “How to Create an Icon” list, but we did note a commonality among many iconic designs: they either served their stated purpose incredibly well, or they did something extra that set them apart. 

What Iconic Designs Do, Beyond Serving the Intended Purpose

  • Evoke an emotion: pride, nostalgia, belonging, amusement, reassurance
  • Appeal to the senses: look, sound, smell, taste, or feel amazing 
  • Provide a vivid reminder: of a time, place, event, or season
  • Make a statement: style, wealth, allegiance, opinion, aspiration, excellence

And while qualities like durability, efficiency, and reliability often characterize an icon, if a design has enough else going for it, icon status can still be achieved without them. The British Jaguar automobile, introduced in 1935, had famously poor reliability ratings for decades, but its design, seen as quintessentially British, made it a sentimental favorite.

Consider these designs: paper clips, tree-shaped air fresheners, the yellow smiley face that was everywhere in the 1960s — far humbler than the KitchenAid stand mixer or Jaguar, they also became icons. That’s part of the magic of iconic design: it springs from across a spectrum of resources, talent, and meaning. But what determines which designs will become iconic, while others are left behind? 

Simply put, the icons manage to scratch a particular itch in just the right way — do that something extra — and they often have marketers who leverage the mood of the times. Brazilian-based Havaianas, for example, took humble, very basic flip flops and catapulted them to icon status in the 1990s, when they introduced a range of styles at various price points, and flip flops have been going strong ever since. And now, how can you look at flip flops and not think of summer, swimming pools, and sunshine? Or think of summer, and not envision flip flops?

Julie Markfield, CEO & Creative Director

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