Norman Bel Geddes: The Rise and Fall of Subjective Vision

Maffei, Nicolas P (2015) Norman Bel Geddes: The Rise and Fall of Subjective Vision. Design and Culture, 7 (1). pp. 29-50. ISSN 1754-7083


The following text investigates the rhetoric and designs of the pioneering industrial designer, Norman Bel Geddes, and the way in which they exemplified a subjective approach to design practice, focusing on the firm’s work for the radio manufacturer the Philadelphia Storage Battery Company (Philco) in the 1930s. The research investigates how the public image of the visionary designer was strategically produced and enthusiastically, as well as critically, received. This article shows that the Bel Geddes’s firm engaged in objective design research, which was further guided by subjective design choices. This tension between the objective and subjective lay at the heart of Bel Geddes’s design practice and helped his company to make products that appeared simultaneously modern and fantastic, practical and visionary. This approach had wide appeal in the 1930s, but later lost its attraction.

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