Industrial Design


The question came up recently asking what are the most beautiful machines ever made by man.  So, I thought I would post my list.  I did not chose these machines because they are the fastest, strongest or best performers in their fields.  I chose them because they spark an emotional, sensual, visceral reaction at the base of my brain — They are beautiful.

You will notice that the list is skewed toward transportation.  My personal aesthetic sensibilites undoubtedly contribute to this bias, but I also think that vehicles occupy a sweet-spot in industrial design.  They are durable enough that the effort to make them beautiful is worthwhile and yet not so expensive or purpose built that utility completely overides other considerations.  This list also specifically includes machines and not man’s other creations such as clothing, architecture or purely artistic works.  Those may have to be the subject of another list sometime.

Think I missed something?  I’m sure you’ll let me know.

10.  Bugatti Type 57S Atlantic

We start the list with a pretty exclusive beauty.  Only four were made, and only two survive today.

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9.  Oil Refinery at Night

There are a number of refineries along I-15 in North Salt Lake.  I use to drive past them every day on my way to work.  In the early morning with the fog rolling in off of the Lake and the waste gas flaring, they were amazingly beautiful.

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8.  Beechcraft Model 17 Staggerwing

The potent radial engine out front combined with the smooth curves and delicate lines so ably capture the strength and elegance of the Art Deco aesthetic.

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7.  J Class Yachts

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face and a grey dawn breaking.

– John Masefield

There is just something about the image of a ship, sails taught and running before the wind, that captures the imagination.  And I don’t think any other ship comes as close to the pure expression of the ideal.

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6.  Macbook Air

Pictures do not do justice to any of these machines, but especially this one.  The smooth lines and simplicity are compelling.  I still have to fondle it everytime I go into an Apple store.

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5.  Supermarine Spitfire

The inclusion of this most iconic of aircraft needs no justification.  However, (because I know it will come up if more than one person ever reads this) I considered and intentially left our the P-51 Mustang.  While the Mustang is undoubtedly a more capable aircraft, it is nowhere near as beautiful.

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4.  Mac Motorcycles Peashooter

I love motorcycles, and there a lot of them that could have made it onto this list.  But this offering from Mac Motorcycles so perfectly reflects an elemental motorcycleness that it had to be at the top (even though it hasn’t actually been made yet).

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3.  Harry Winston Opus X

This watch is exquisite even in these still photos, but you really must see the movement in motion to appreciate the true genius of the design.

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2.  Nemesis NXT

An aeronautical siren — a creature so beautiful and so sinister that even though you know it wants to kill you, you can’t help yearning to touch it.

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1.  Astin Martin DB9

This car balances a sublime harmony between elegance and animal athleticism.  Plenty of sports cars look fast, but this one exudes power and sensuality like the love child of Mac Truck and a Lotus Elise.

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Honorable Mentions — because 10 is never enough.

1934 Chrysler Airflow

(I had this at number 10, but the curves on that Bugatti . . . )  We like to romanticize beauty as universal and enduring, but it sometimes shows itself to be driven by cultural norms.  The flowing lines of the Chrysler Airflow push all the right buttons for me, but its initial reception generated all the enthusiam of a Milli Vanilli reunion tour.

I love this picture of the Airflow next to a Union Pacific M10000 streamliner

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General Dynamics F-16 Falcon

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Louis XIII Fowling Piece

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BMW R1100RS

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“Mallard” LNER Class A4 4468 Steam Locomotive

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One expects to see the camouflaged Bronco II sitting in a front yard down a dirt road in a Carolina swamp — the ’30s Jaguar? . . . not so much.

An SS100 maybe?

No one is going to pay a $15,000 premium for a car that competes with a Corolla. So there are not enough idiots who will buy it.

— Audi of America president Johan de Nysschen speculating on the success potential of GM’s Volt hybrid-electric car, as quoted in Car & Driver (Jan. 2010).

I don’t know what de Nysschen is on about. It’s only a 19 year return on investment. I could probably break even by the time the crown prince finishes college.

Adapting one’s product and advertising to the local culture is a key strategies for entering new global markets.

The Israeli arms firm Rafael takes the show to Bollywood with this marketing video shown at Aero India 2009 held recently in Bangalore.

Attractive women and flower festooned Spike-ER anti-tank missiles, an effective combination, I’d say.

Harley Davidson today announced that it will begin production on a more environmentally friendly motorcycle.  

woodharley

Citing Harley’s already impressive mileage figures, a spokesman for the American icon said that Harley felt they could “make the most impact by using renewable resources in the construction of the motorcycle itself.”

The spokesman went on to describe the bike as a fusion of San Francisco sensibilities with Alabama know how.

Asked about the inspiration for the design, the spokesman said, “Well, we had some old pallets lying around, and one of the boys says, ‘Hey, wood comes from the environment.'”

(ht commentator Top Gear)

I’m a Mac user, and I love Apple’s new “I’m a Mac . . .” advertising campaign.  I especially like the home movie ad.  Bill Gates made me smile when he said about the ads, “I don’t even get it. What are they trying to say?”

That, after all, is the whole point, is it not?