Design of the times

One of the downsides of doing things for free is that you don’t tend to get any credit for it. My new hobby is reading the Guardian, it makes me happy and sad in almost equal measure. It makes me happy because it is without doubt the best newspaper to read if you have an interest in the environment or the arts; it makes me sad because if you are in business then most of its readers think that you are the antichrist or a humanist equivalent.

Neil Grundon, Deputy Chairman, Grundon Waste Management
Neil Grundon, Deputy Chairman, Grundon Waste Management

Each article comes with a comment box underneath, the Daily Mail does this as well, its box is reserved for Genghis Khan, whereas the Guardian commentator is far more subtle.

After one particularly thoughtful piece on aid in developing countries, the journalist who had written the piece was taken to task by a reader about connections to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Well wait a minute here, these are people who have decided to do stuff for nothing at their own expense, it’s called altruism and we used to take it for granted.

Speaking of giving things away for free, I have to mention Gary Anderson. He is a hero, his work is more recognised today than any of the big brands we worship or idols we aspire to and in my mind, he is Steve Jobs and David Bowie rolled into one.

The fact however that he didn’t profit from his invention is without doubt the reason not many people know him.

In 1970, the Chicago-based Container Corporation of America (I love the way how in the 70’s you knew what companies did by what they called themselves) decided they were making rather a lot of waste paper.

With the first Earth Day approaching, the company wanted to honour it by designing a logo or symbol that would allow customers to know if a product was recyclable. They came up with the idea of a competition, with the proviso that the winner would put their entry into the public domain and that there would be no trademark applied to its design. There were 500 entries and Gary won.

The 23-year-old Gary was a pretty cool cat, he acknowledged the Mobius loop/strip that he designed came straight from the fluid mysticism of the underground psychedelic art of the time – he must have had a cool time as a teenager in the 60’s.

However, the shape reflected restraint and balance as well, something that was evidently not lost on the judging panel, who included Herbert Bayer, Eliot Noyes, and the legendary Saul Bass (who just so happened to make one of my favourite sci-fi films Phase IV).

In tradition with many of the great logos of our age, it has undergone some minor tweaks here and there, but by and large has been a constant in our lives since its inception.

Imagine a world without Gary’s work. I think I can, it would be one on which every juice bottle has a fluffy platitude about being kind to bees, or about humanising the inanimate object to such an extent that if he hurls himself into the correct container he will be reborn.

Thanks to Gary, every major brand in the world has access to a free logo that, if used correctly, tells us if it is recyclable or not. All the brands have to do is be honest about its use and true to the spirit in which it was donated. I guess that is the problem when you get something for nothing, its value is lost on the recipient.

Today, Gary Anderson is a big name in urban planning and his work on the recycling logo has finally been recognised worldwide and accepted as one of the finest examples of Bauhaus principles.

Bauhaus primarily tried to unify art, craft and technology – an important point that should not be lost on the industrial designers of today as we all strive towards a circular economy.

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