Invisible Design

It is easy to think of great design as being something bold and obvious in its appeal and function. However, I feel that great design can easily be found in any person’s home, in the items they use every day without ever thinking of how they work or how they came about.

While perhaps not the most exciting design, it cannot be denied that the nail clipper has been a lasting invention that is part of the average person’s life.



No one is exactly sure who the original designer is, but the first US patent for the improvement of the nail clipper design was by a woman called Valentine Ferguson in 1875. Since then, numerous patents and small changes have been made to the compound lever type but the basic principle and design has remained largely the same.

Nail clippers are small and cheap to make and have become so familiar and widespread that it would be difficult to create a new product to fulfil its function.

While most of the time, great design is seen as something new, bold or excitingly innovative, it can also be alive and well in something so embedded in our lives that we would never look at or question its design.

This idea of invisible design is obviously not a new one, and is part of Dieter Rams principles of Good Design in that he believes great design is as little design as possible.

‘It doesn’t draw attention to itself; it merely allows users to accomplish their tasks with the maximal amount of efficiency and pleasure. At its best, it is invisible.’

I agree with this to an extend. I think ‘invisible’ designs have the power to be great and will stand the test of time, but that doesn’t mean that bold new ideas that are by no means invisible cannot also be great, even if perhaps their greatness is shorter lived. For a design to be both invisible and timeless is a difficult feat, and one that often goes unacknowledged. I find that considering unassuming objects such as the biro, nail clippers, hair brushes… etc. is not what most people think of when they hear the word ‘design’ but they are pivotal and important in our lives nonetheless.


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