Kenneth Grange, Iconic British Designer

black cabs photo

Photo: B. Alter

Kenneth Grange is a British industrial designer whose work has covered every aspect of British life for the past 50 years. But few know his name or realize the extent of his influence.

From the ubiquitous black cabs to the electric kettles, Parker pens, razor blades and the trains, Grange was the quiet industrial designer behind them all.

London's Design Museum is holding the first retrospective of his work and it is a revelation. For British viewers and tourists, it is a reminder of the best of British design.

grangeBonnie Alter/CC BY 2.0

Grange has been called a "gentle" designer, an appropriate adjective that describes a body of work that is well-designed, serious and contemporary but not showy or pretentious. He was influenced by the Scandinavian, Italian and German design, but his domestic work was elegant but functional and appreciated domestic values.

boots baskets photo

Photo: B. Alter

He started a design practice in the 1960's and joined up with partners in 1972. What is remarkable is his ability to make things look fresh and modern but still retain a comfortable and familiar look. For example, these baskets (above) are used in Boots (a drug store chain) to this day. Designed in 1994, they have a hint of the traditional wicker baskets that used to be used to carry things. But they are completely useful in a charming way: comfortable to hold, stack easily, and take up little space on the shop floor.

kettles grange photo

Photo: B. Alter

His kettles and food processors (1960) were made for Kenwood, which is similar to Kitchen Aid. They set the standard for a domestic aesthetic at that time. They too are still in use and still look good. With their soft rounded contours they fit into any decor.

He also redesigned the black cabs in 1996 to make them sleeker but still retain the familiar look. Then there were parking metres (1958) and the bus shelters (1993) which are all over the country. Not to mention Parker pens, 1975: the gift of choice for every Bar Mitzvah boy at that time and lighters for Ronson (1965).

thermos flasks photo

Photo: B. Alter

These sturdy Thermos flasks are still a staple of every country picnic or hike. He redesigned the flask in 1987, using bright colours and a rounded, soft-edged form. It's a good example of Grange's ability to make something look fresh but still comfortably familiar.

kodak insta photo

Photo: B. Alter

He redesigned the familiar Kodak Instamatic camera (1968) and the Pocket Instamatic in 1972 for the European market. Included in the attention to detail were a sliding lens cover and sliding film wind.

razors wilk photo

Photo: B. Alter

Grange liked to design things so that they were easy to use. These razors that he designed for Wilkinsons Sword show his interest in ergonomics and how the user interacts with the product.

He is 82 now, and still practising. As to his retirement date, he says: "I hope I'm here at my desk, pencil in hand, as I draw my last breath."

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