It doesn’t come right out and say it, but 1000 Design Classics is basically a gigantic best-of list. Featuring classic chairs, vehicles, tools, and housewares, the book is a chronological overview of some of the most ubiquitous, elegant, and impactful designs from the past four centuries.
But when the book was originally published in 2006, the work featured—selected by publisher Phaidon’s editors—tended toward a familiar set of designers: mostly white, mostly male, and mostly European.
A new update to the book seeks to bring a bit more balance to this encyclopedic collection. The 2022 edition of 1000 Design Classics, out now, has been amended with 100 additional designs from across history, particularly from the past 15 years, that better reflect the diversity of designs and designers who have shaped the modern world.
New entries include the neon-colored Tropicalia chair by Spanish architect and designer Patricia Urquiola, the Bata stool by Nigerian Canadian furniture designer Lani Adeoye, and Japanese designer Oki Sato’s farming lamps made out of nets. Other notable additions include a plush armchair by Iranian French designer India Mahdavi, diamond-shaped Kaleido trays designed by Clara von Zweigbergk for the Danish home goods retailer HAY, and the Bird Zero rideshare e-scooter.
The book’s editorial team explains via email that many of the newest designs added to the book demonstrate an increasing emphasis on sustainability, craft, and renewable energy, such as the Tesla Model S. “Tesla cars transformed the electric car industry, becoming a real alternative option for sustainable travel,” they write. Another example they cite is Little Sun, a solar light designed for global communities who have little access to electricity, produced by artist Olafur Eliasson and engineer Frederik Ottesen. “It shows how simple and beautiful it can be to rely on alternative energy. We believe that good design should improve our life and solve problems.”
The book is not revisionist history, though, and many of the design classics from the first edition are still celebrated, from the Sony Walkman to the Kodak Instamatic to the Zippo lighter. Some of the designs featured are so common now that their ingenuity can be taken for granted. One prime example: the key ring, an unattributed design dating back to the 1970s. The book’s editors call it “a tiny masterpiece of engineering and utility that nearly all of us carry and few appreciate.”
With 30,000 seats, a red ring of running lanes for track events, and a central soccer field, the new stadium in the eastern Chinese city of Quzhou, is very clearly a place for sports. But for MAD Architects, the Beijing-based firm that designed the stadium to blend into the surrounding landscape like a crater on the moon, the project is actually a massive piece of land art.
“The architecture disappears into nature,” says MAD Architects founder Ma Yansong. Rolling green hills surround the stadium, and other facilities that are still under construction, in what will be a huge, 6.5 million square foot sports park. These kinds of spaces are typically covered with asphalt parking lots and sliced through by transportation infrastructure. Ma says all that hard surface takes away from the human experience of such a space especially one hoping to be a new central public space for a city of more than 2 million. “We covered all this space, including the buildings, with landscape,” he says. “When people come here they will not only use the building, they’ll also use the outdoor space and in between space as a park, as nature.”
[Image: Aogvision/courtesy MAD Architects]
The stadium is the central built part of the park, and it stands out as an otherworldly icon, the crater in an undulating landscape of green grass. A halo-like roof seeming to hover just above the lip of the crater, cantilevering over the seating inside. “We buried all the seating into the landscape, so that’s like part of the ground. And the roof we wanted to be part of the sky, so it’s almost like a floating cloud from far away,” says Ma. Connecting at just nine points around the perimeter of the stadium, the roof structure dips down on one side of the stadium, offering the higher seats on the other end a view of the park’s central lake and the Quzhou skyline in the distance. “Stadiums normally are very focused on the games and indoor functions,” Ma says. “We wanted to make sure that the view is not just towards the inner part of the building, but also connects to the outside.”
[Image: CreatAR Images/courtesy MAD Architects]
The rest of the park is pocked with similarly upraised mounds of grass-covered sports venues, including a gymnastics venue, a basketball stadium and a swimming pool, all still under construction. “We call them volcanoes,” Ma says. “You can climb onto them, you can wander in between the volcanoes. The experience is unique.”
[Image: CreatAR Images/courtesy MAD Architects]
While sporting events are the main draw for this kind of a venue, Ma says his concept for the park was to provide reasons for people to visit regularly, whether there’s an event or not. Conceptualizing the project as a form of land art was a way to create such a draw, he says. It offers what he hopes will be a surreal escape from reality. “Everything in the modern city is too materialized, and too practical. But people are looking for spiritual and emotional space,” Ma says.
[Image: Arch Exist/courtesy MAD Architects]
MAD Architects has become known in China and the U.S. for its fluid forms and ambitious large-scale projects, from the cloud-like Lucas Museum of Narrative Art expected to open in Los Angeles in 2025 to a huge social housing complex in Beijing that fuses public space and urban amenities.
[Image: Tian Fangfang/courtesy MAD Architects]
[Image: Tian Fangfang/courtesy MAD Architects]
The firm is well-practiced in designing otherworldly spaces, and subverting expectations. Ma says this is about more than just form making—it’s giving people new avenues for reconnecting with their community and nature. “I think everyone needs such a space to find freedom for the spirit,” he says. “So that’s our goal.”
It’s 2022, and everything is a brand: companies, people, and even countries. After Peru, Estonia, and Japan, the latest example in the latter category comes from a tiny mountain kingdom in the Himalayas. But what does it even mean to brand a country, and does every country need a brand?
After more than two years behind closed doors, Bhutan has reopened its borders for tourists. To mark the occasion, the country unveiled a new national identity designed to inspire citizens and foreign visitors alike—and justify a new Sustainable Development Fee that’s gone up from $65 a day to $200. Designed by London agency MMBP & Associates, the brand centers around one word, “Believe,” and the visual identity reflects the country’s character and history through a kaleidoscope of traditional symbols rendered in bold and modern colors.
For the uninitiated, nation branding, or place branding, is all about using corporate branding techniques to promote countries. Tourism is the most obvious expression of that practice, but in this era of globalization, nation branding is also used to attract capital and talent, or to boost a country’s perceived prestige.
The practice dates back to the 1990s, when its inventorand former advertising executive Simon Anholt, defined it as the sum of people’s perceptions of a country across industries like tourism, immigration, culture, and people. In recent years, the practice has taken off to a point where nation brands now get ranked by a variety of institutions like the Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brands Index (Germany topped the charts in 2021, suggesting that respondents felt positive about buying German products, investing in German businesses, or about the German government’s work to fight poverty).
Today, a growing number of countries, cities, and even neighborhoods have embarked on branding and rebrand exercises, from Japan to New Zealand to the Republic of Tatarstan. In some cases, a rebrand can be reduced to a simple logo or slogan; in others, it can become a full-on tourism strategy. But at its core, branding is an attempt to shift perceptions for one particular purpose or another (but more on that later).Some branding strategies, like Scotland’s “Best Small Country in the World,” last a few years then die out. Others, like Amsterdam’s “I amsterdam” have become so popular that the city had to temporarily remove the iconic “I amsterdam” sign after it caused mass tourism in the city’s Museum Square.
The Bhutan Believe brand is actually a rebrand. Aside from its rich biodiversity and lush nature, Bhutan is known for its “Gross National Happiness”index as well as its “high value, low volume” approach to tourism. For years, Bhutan promoted its tourism as part of a “destination brand” that would set the tone for potential tourists (it was called “Happiness is a Place.”) In 2018, the country adopted a new strategy called “Made in Bhutan,” which ended up being less of an identity and more of an attempt by the Bhutan Department of Trade to position Bhutan as an export country.
Bhutan’s attempts to rebrand itself highlight the challenges of the process. Like many countries, Bhutan is more than a tourist destination, despite its dependency on tourism for its economic health. The very nature of a branding exercise will inevitably flatten a country’s complexity to fit one particular context (most often this is tourism). That’s why MMBP & Associates spent the past four months dreaming up a cohesive identity that reflects the country more holistically.
Julien Beaupré Ste-Marie, the founder of MMBP, says the driving force for Bhutan’s rebrand was two-fold and targeted both local and international audiences. Tourism was Bhutan’s second highest source of revenue before the pandemic brought it to a standstill. Now that the country has reopened, the rebrand is meant to convey the country’s renewed commitment to sustainable travel and justify the higher Sustainable Development Fee that comes with it.
Before the pandemic every tourist traveling to Bhutan paid a daily fee of $200 to 250 for an all-inclusive package that had to be booked through a tour operator. Only $65 of that went to the country’s sustainable development fund, while the rest went towards food, accommodation, transport, etc. Now, tourists can enter the country independently, but they have to pay a daily fee of $200 per person as part of their visa application, exclusive of food, accommodation, and other extras. This means that visitors are now paying more for less, so part of the rebrand was about communicating why the fee that has essentially tripled. (Those reasons are laid out on a new website created by MMBP as part of the rebrand, where visitors are informed that the full $200 now goes to the sustainable development fund.)
Tourism aside, Beaupré SteMarie says the country has been experiencing a significant “brain drain” over the past few years as more young Bhutanese left in search of better opportunities abroad. (The trend appears to have peaked in 2018, but was still above average in 2021, when about 16,000 Bhutanese were living abroad, or 2% of the population.) In response, Bhutan has launched a series of education programs like the country’s first blockchain engineering program and a large scale upskilling program to train young people in fields like silversmithing, coding, or storytelling. As such, the new brand was designed to inspire young Bhutanese to move back, or never leave in the first place. “The brief for the brand was to be this self-fulfilling prophecy of engaging youth and renewed love and appreciation for the country,” says Beaupré Ste-Marie.
The rebrand is aspirational at best, naive at worst, but it brings up an important question about the validity of branding in a world where every aspect of our life is a play to make money. Over the past two decades, many war-torn countries like Croatia, Columbia, or even Rwanda have used branding to shift public perceptions. In the process, they’ve become booming tourist destinations. But does every country need a brand?
That depends on the motivations. “Almost every country in the world has a brand,” says Keith Dinnie, a professor of marketing at the University of Dundee School of Business in the U.K., who has written several books about place branding. “Unfortunately, you often get political leaders who see their neighboring countries have a branding campaign and they want one, but it’s not based on specific objectives.”
There are several triggers that often inspire countries to invest in a rebrand; it could be a failed campaign that didn’t resonate with locals (like Scotland’s “Best Small Country in the World” campaign, which Dinnie says ruffled a lot of feathers among locals and was later replaced with the comically bland “Welcome to Scotland”). Another reason might be a change in regime where “someone comes in and feels the need to do something new,” says Dinnie. Or, in the case of Bhutan, the government wants to rebuild the economies after the pandemic. But in the end, these reasons only make sense if they’re supported by clear objectives, like attracting tourists, foreign investment, or even international students for higher education.
Naturally, most rebrands come at a heavy cost (especially considering that money often comes from taxpayers pockets). Dinnie says it’s hard to prove whether any of them lead to more tourists, but the causal link between branding and investment is easier to track. He cites Great Britain’s so-called Great Campaign, which by some accounts has brought in over 4.5 billion pounds since it launched in 2011, by increasing exports and attracting foreign investment. Beaupré Ste-Marie declined to share the cost of the rebrand, and it’s too soon to say if the Believe campaign will have a tangible impact. I suppose for now, the only thing that people can do is “believe” that it will.