In discussions about the most inspiring figures in product design, the same names often get all the attention — think James Dyson and Steve Jobs. But at Flynn Product Design, we like to do things a little differently. To us, great design isn’t just about innovation; it’s about having a positive societal impact. We had this in mind when curating our list of the top 9 product designers (past and present).
In no particular order, here they are:
1. Buckminster Fuller
It would almost be quicker to list what Buckminster Fuller isn’t known for. As well as an architect and designer, Fuller was a renowned futurist, philosopher, writer, and more. His underlying goal was to use his ideas and designs to help humanity and solve problems, including environmental destruction and poverty. While he may not have single-handedly overcome these complex issues during his lifetime, he certainly made significant progress and inspired the next generation. Examples of his ground-breaking creations include the energy-efficient, affordable Dymaxion House and geodesic domes, which distribute weight equally while using minimal design materials.
2. Isambard Kingdom Brunel
As Bristolians, omitting Isambard Kingdom Brunel from our list would practically be blasphemy. Often considered one of Britain’s best engineers, Brunel has quite the legacy. In the nineteenth century, he was a key figure for flagship projects such as the Great Western and Cornwall Railways. He aimed for his railways to fit in with nature, which he achieved by designing viaducts and tunnels to hide them, and devised ingenious constructions to solve problems. These included designing a Great Cylinder to act as a coffer dam to make a pier in a river.
3. Christian von Koenigsegg
Even if you’re not a petrolhead, it’s hard to deny that automaker Christian von Koenigsegg has achieved some impressive feats in his time. Despite not having a background in the automotive trade, his commitment to creating a great product led to him making an innovative, simplistic, and high-performing design that went on to compete with the most prestigious brands in the world. The designer’s cars now compete with the likes of Ferrari due to their exclusivity and bespoke nature (to this day, less than 150 have been made).Plus, its engines are said to last a thousand years or more — about as close to sustainability as a hypercar can get.
4. Victor Papanek Papanek
is known for his social and ecological approach to design, which he laid out in his book “Design for the Real World” — still one of the world’s most popular works in its category. The designer has challenged consumerism and talked about the social side of design and how it can be as a political tool. For instance, he has designed items for the home the home that are recycled, affordable, and easy to make — promoting a more conscientious approach than the mainstream.
5. David Lewis David Lewis
Is best known for his well-known electronics company Bang & Olufsen, but look behind the scenes and you’ll also find a noble philosophy. Lewis has always focused on “slow evolution,” which is all about producing items customers actually need instead of trying to lure them into buying new things for profit. He has therefore created long-lasting items. “You can miss cool things – afterthoughts, great little ideas – in the design process because it goes so fast,” Lewis says.
6. Luigi Colani
Was a car designer who worked with major companies like BMW, Volkswagen, and Fiat. But what really makes him special is his commitment to the futuristic and fanciful. Colani has consistently come up with designs that combine high-end vehicles with shapes from nature — for instance, he created a long-haul truck with a space for the driver that resembled a flying saucer. Some may say his designs are impractical or too try-hard, but many consider him a visionary. As a bonus, he has also always eschewed mass production and built-in obsolescence, instead prefer to design for life (or as long as possible).
7. Dieter Rams
A leading designer in the twentieth century, Dieter Rams spent a large part of his career working at the technology company Braun, which became known for its industrial product design in the twentieth century. He then went on to define his own unique philosophy for “good design,” which was all about marrying usefulness with aesthetics. This said that good design should:● Be innovative● Make a product useful● Be aesthetic● Help to understand a product● Be unobtrusive● Be honest● Be durable● Be aware of the environment● Require as little design as possible● Pay attention to all details
8. Giorgetto Giugiaro
And now we come to another car designer. Giugiaro may be best known for creating the DMC DeLorean, which appeared in Back to the Future, and the Lotus Esprit S1 (which turns into a submarine) in “The Spy Who Loved Me.” He was even named Car Designer of the Century in 1999. If you’ve seen either of these films, you’ll know that he took a futuristic approach to his design — although he has also strived to create useful designs for his consumer cars.
9. Antoni Gaudi
Despite having passed away more than a century ago, Gaudi remains one of the world's most famous architects and designers, and his designs have been immortalized in Barcelona — the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia is one of Europe’s top tourist destinations. While his work is best known for being dreamlike and beautiful, Gaudi also stands out for how he incorporated nature into his designs. For instance, his use of geometric patterns as they appeared in nature, and glass to emulate water. He even played his part in sustainability (before it became a “thing”) by reusing old pieces of glass for his designs.
Feel inspired ?
As you can see, there’s more than one way a designer can be considered innovative —whether it’s challenging consumerism or bold, futuristic creations. Which of the designers above inspires you the most? Flynn Product Design offers product design consultancy, industrial design, prototype design, and related services, to ambitious companies.