In this short film, designer Adrian Westaway celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Prince Philip Designers Prize by taking a closer look at five decades of award winning British design.
On his journey, Adrian highlights the ubiquity of design – how it shapes everything we do, influences what we see, touch and experience and enriches all our lives.
Read the transcript below
I’m Adrian Westaway. I’m a designer, inventor and magician. As you probably know, no designer works alone. We’re all the sum of our influences, and the people I’m going to tell you about are certainly some of mine.
They’ve all won the Prince Philip Designers Prize, which singles out people for the lifetime contribution they’ve made to design. Their work certainly tells us a lot about all the different ways design makes life better.
Design is everywhere.
It shapes everything we do, influences what we see, touch and experience, and enriches all our lives.
Great design kick-starts change and reboots history creating new ways to live and work.
Designers are responsible for everything from fabrics to graphics, sculpture to ceramics, architecture to engineering - and beyond.
50 years ago, His Royal Highness Prince Philip saw Britain was still recovering from postwar austerity, when money and materials had been scarce.
He understood how important design and designers would be in getting the economy going again. He recognised design’s potential to grow Britain’s businesses and transform our lives for the better.
As he puts it, he was looking for:
A particular talent in producing things that were not only functional, but were actually comfortable and pleasant to look at and pleasant to live with.
50 years later, the Prince Philip Designers Prize remains the ultimate design accolade celebrating, rewarding and encouraging outstanding lifetime achievement by individual designers.
Each of their innovations has inspired change.
In our homes, for example, from the Prestcold Packaway fridge which won the first ever Prince Philip Designers Prize for its compact and refined design to James Dyson’s innovations in engineering and product design, which have changed the way we use household appliances.
Think of how furniture and home interiors were revolutionised by Terence Conran and Habitat.
Or look at the breakthroughs in glassware design, as David Queensberry introduced modern simplicity to cut glass, and Frank Thrower created the bold, heavy wine glasses that made Dartington glass so distinctive.
Or take the Milward cordless electric shaver designed by Kenneth Grange, whose elegant, sculptural design blended form and function with the manufacturer’s technology.
This shows us that great design can be invisible, or unmissable.
Look how it can change places and spaces.
Here in the London underground, for instance, where murals like this add vibrancy. They were created by David Gentleman, whose work on everything from stamps to Penguin book covers has refined Britain’s visual culture over the past five decades.
Back above ground, there’s architectural innovation from Sir Michael Hopkins and his flair for blending old and new and Lord Foster, who combines modernity, sensitivity and sustainability.
In 2008 Professor Max Fordham was recognised for his pioneering work, integrating environmental design into the heart of structural engineering.
Two years earlier, it was Thomas Heatherwick who won the prize for his ability to blend art, sculpture, architecture, structural engineering, interior and exhibition design with product design.
Each of these designers stands out for their ability to think and create innovatively,transforming the way we build and shape our homes, offices, factories and public spaces.
Design knows no boundaries
I’m sitting in the Royal Festival Hall where the seats are made by the same company who produced the auditorium seating designed by 1965 winner Peter Dickinson.
That’s when he created a slim, simple u-shaped frame to make tip-up seating comfortable in limited spaces.
Or look at graphic design which embraces everything from advertising to book covers to TV idents. Leading figures include Alan Fletcher and Martin Lambie-Nairn, who both brought wit to corporate identity.
Or think about how we move from A to B
In 2001 Kenneth Grange repeated his 1963 prize-winning success, this time for updating classic designs such as the anglepoise lamp and the London taxi, reviving their manufacturers’ fortunes in the process.
The Austin Metro’s designers won the prize in 1981, creating an inexpensive, economical and roomy car which flourished for 18 years.
Other winners have included Peter Milne’s Bullet racing dinghy, which could be built as a kit, giving young people their first experience of boat building as well as high performance racing.
Speaking of high performance, Robin Herd’s March 84C racing car set multiple records at the Indianapolis 500.
You might not see the dinghy or racecar today, but each innovation changed contemporary ideas inspiring new ways of thinking, doing and manufacturing.
Today’s great designers continue the tradition, constantly reinventing and revolutionising established ways of thinking.
This heritage of innovation has transformed British manufacturing and science.
How about John Cundy’s Rolls Royce engines, which minimised aircraft noise while maximising reliability and fuel efficiency.
16 years earlier, Dr David Dyson revolutionised metal cutting with a 1.5m industrial laser system. Its competitors were the length of a bus and five times slower.
And here’s one of my favourites – the flight simulator created by Rediffusion which allowed a pilot’s complete training programme to be simulated. Flights and airlines are safer because of it.
Look at this – my mobile.
It wouldn’t exist without design and technological breakthroughs like the Groundsat system from Plessey Avionics, which won it the Prize in 1980. This revolution in radio communications enabled transmitting and receiving on the same channel.
Here’s a hole-in-the-wall cash machine. Would today’s version work so well without the brilliance of Jack Howe, whose Chubb cash dispenser earned him the Prince’s prize in 1969?
Each of these innovations marks a chapter in our history of constant change, across very different aspects of society.
Andrew Grima’s jewellery and Patricia Roberts’ knitwear showed fashions changing over time, and so did the toys created by Patrick Rylands.
Design can keep us healthy too. If you’ve ever had your eye pressure measured at the opticians using a puff of air, that’s an innovation from John Fisher which has prevented tens of thousands suffering from glaucoma.
Design makes a real difference – everywhere
Without each of these design leaders, our world would be worse off.
We would be stuck, failing to move on or leap forward.
Since our progress is built on great design, we must keep recognising and encouraging it.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Prince Philip Designers Prize, Andrew Ritchie has joined the list of winners for his 30 year dedication to perfecting the design of his internationally successful Brompton folding bicycle.
Once again, it’s the imagination of the individual that makes all the difference.
Having presided over 50 years of the prize that bears his name, Prince Philip puts it this way:
Most styling or designers tend to look and see what somebody else has done and then they try and do the same thing. You know, there’s an awful lot of copying or whatever it is or they all advance together. Only once in a while does somebody come out with something which is really distinctive and that then tends to change the development of the product range because there’s been a sort of step change, and that’s usually by one person.
Britain is admired globally for our ability to innovate.
We have one of the world’s most creative and successful design industries.
Each winner of the Prince Philip Designers Prize has helped improve our prosperity and well-being.
Prince Philip is passionate about good design. His insights, patronage and enthusiasm have helped give great designers the credit they deserve for their lifetime achievements.
His prize will continue to reward and celebrate designers who find a better way to do things addressing social, environmental and economic challenges and making the world a better, stronger, happier place.
So let’s keep inspiring great design, developing our talents and fostering the next generation.
They, and you will continue to change the world.
Let’s be part of change, not just witnesses to it, as we build on 50 years of innovation and achievement.