Design Literacy: A Primer

The Standard-Bearers

Here are some of the prophets and pathfinders who helped clear away the last of the old formality, fustiness and frou-frou. They've elevated everyday objects and surroundings to the level of art -- while bringing them down to earth.

The Very Best New Building
What else but Frank Gehry's Disney Hall? The L.A. Philharmonic's new home, opening this week, is a sexy symphony of steely curves, rosy-gold at dusk, silvery at high noon. It took 16 years to materialize, and was well worth the wait.

Why the Dutch Rule
The Netherlands rocks the design world, thanks both to lavish government support - $40 million a year -- and to necessary inventiveness. "They laid down a grid of irrigation ditches on a swamp," says Netherlands Architecture Institute head Aaron Betsky, "then turned that into a neat, orderly country."

Legacies Reinvented
As recent updates of the Mini Cooper and VW Beetle suggest, fresh takes on the classics have a powerful appeal. These historic firms are making the past new.

Honor Roll
Not every gifted designer aspires to craft high-end toenail clippers. Meet some folks who make a difference.

Good Housekeeping
OK--We admit that clumsy, plug-ugly kitchen gadgetry doesn't even rank among the top 100 problems of the human race. But why should cooks have to suffer when relief is right here in plain sight? Check it out.

The Way-Coolest New Car
Toyota's Scion XB is a boombox on wheels -- or a breadbox with six speakers and optional subwoofer. A hit in Japan, it's the ravers' ride of choice in California, the one state where it's now sold. What's up with that? It goes nationwide next summer.

Which isn't to say they aren't big shots--it's just that not everyone knows them yet. They're hitting the sweet spot, their mojo's working. They're here to tell us today where design will be tomorrow.

How Green Is My Architecture?
America's buildings create as much pollution as cars and industry combined. U.S. architects and inventors are trying to catch up to standards long prevalent in Europe.

Everyday Brilliance
Walk into any drugstore and you'll see humble examples of astounding design. Band-Aids, Q-Tips, disposable razors, even light bulbs. You take them for granted, but each represents deep R&D and thousands of anonymous design hours.

The New Ornamentation
Just when you thought no-fun minimalist severity was going to be cool forever - it seemed like forever -- designers are now tastefully tarting up textiles and furnishings again, as if our surroundings were to be cherished rather than confronted.

Real Men Love Curves
These days the cutting edge isn't a straight line. From Gehry's buildings to your office's door handle, computers let designers create sensuous swoops and boldly bulging blobs.

You Saw It Here First
Every creator cares more about what's next than what's now. How about you? Here's a sneak peek at two pop-culture projects whose success depends on the richness of design.

Editor's Pick