What makes a
product iconic?

What makes a design 'Iconic'?​

An iconic design is something recognizable and memorable and comes in many forms such as people, architecture, branding, typography, automobiles, industrial design, cinema, and popular culture. An iconic design is usually groundbreaking, by its use of new materials or techniques or by revolutionizing the use of older materials or techniques in a new way. Icons are strongly dependent on culture. A particular design that is iconic in one culture might not be in another and vice-versa.

Beetle Drawing

How to spot an iconic design?

People often tend to confuse the term iconic with classic which is a little open-ended. For example, a Peugeot 202 is a classic car but it is not iconic. Whereas the Beetle is both classic and Iconic. All vintage cars are labelled classic cars but only a few are Iconic.

 

There is a simple checklist we can follow to identify Iconic designs. By answering the following six questions, you will know if a design is iconic or not.

  • Is the design symbolic and have a rich history?
  • Is the design unique and often recognised immediately by people?
  • Is it a design that stood the test of time, remaining popular and in the memory of those who see or use it despite the passing of years?
  • Is it a design that set new standards in terms of manufacturing techniques, technology, quality, functions/features or style?
  • Did the design set a benchmark or a trend for others to follow?
  • Does the design inspire other designs or is often emulated by other designers?

If your answer is YES to more than four questions out of the total six then you’ve got yourself an Iconic Design!

Examples of Iconic Designs

1 2

Luxo L1

If you’ve ever seen a Pixar movie, you know that the animated hopping Luxo lamp (Luxo Jr.) went on to become a key piece of Pixar’s identity. It is instantly recognizable and may very well be the most recognizable and iconic character from Pixar. The Luxo L-1 remains a classic icon because of its unique and advanced arm technology, combined with high light output and emphatic design features. The design was revolutionary at the time of its early production. It is still in high demand, and to date, more than 25 million units have been sold worldwide. The iconic design of the L1 lamp is still used as a base for other lamp designs.

Luxo L1 1
Stratocaster 45
2

Stratocaster

The Fender Stratocaster is a model of electric guitar designed by Leo Fender, Bill Carson, George Fullerton, and Freddie Tavares back in 1954. It is a double-cutaway guitar, with an extended top “horn” shape for balance. All of the specs and details of the instrument, along with changes in culture and technology surrounding the music industry in the US in the 1950s enabled the Stratocaster to become an incredibly popular guitar. The general design and features of the Stratocaster guitar have remained largely unchanged to this day as it is still produced by the company which bears the Strat creator’s name. It is also one of the most-often emulated electric guitar shapes in the industry. The Stratocaster is so iconic that it has even ended up being an emoji on our smartphones.

3

Classic Mini Cooper

Designed by Sir Alec Issigonis and produced by the British Motor Corporation (BMC) from 1959, the Classic Mini Cooper is one of the most revolutionary and iconic British design pieces. It is the same car that we all know as Mr.Bean’s car. During the 1960s it became popular with celebrities and was seen in films and on TV across the world, ensuring that it became a design icon. The Mini was Born as a necessity to have a small family car that would be fuel efficient because of the restrictions in fuel supply during the 1950s caused by the Suez crisis. After a production run of almost five and a half million units, the original design became a true British icon, influencing a generation of car designers. Its distinctively diminutive contours remain hugely popular today and can be seen in modern day iterations.

Mini Cooper 1
Nokia 3310
4

Nokia 3310

One of the most successful mobile phones pre-smartphone, the Nokia 3310 was released in 2000 and became being one of the most successful phones with 126 million units sold worldwide. Sturdy, reliable, and longer-lasting battery, 3310 came with the  T9 writing technology, an 84x84px monochromatic display, and a few evergreen games, most notably Snake 2. Nokia released a new 3310 in 2017, a revived version of the icon targeted as low-end. The original design is still widely acclaimed and has gained a cult status due to its seeming indestructibility. Indeed, in the last decade the term “indestructible Nokia 3310” has become one of the most well-known memes in the tech industry.

5

Coca Cola Bottle

The creation of this iconic bottle design for the world’s most favorite soft drink began with a desire to protect the brand from its competitors. The company & its bottlers decided to create a “bottle so distinct that you would recognize it by feel in the dark or lying broken on the ground”. Inspired by the cocoa bean’s curves & ribs and the curves from a woman’s dress, the classic “hobble skirt” bottle was crafted by the Swedish glassblower Alexander Samuelson in 1915, and thanks to his unique and patented design, the bottle was making its way into the hearts and soon homes of Americans and the world. This iconic contour fluted lines of the Coca-Cola bottle has been celebrated in art, music, and advertising globally for over 100 years now and has become one of the most recognized objects of the twentieth century.

Coca Cola
Aston Martin DB5 1
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Aston Martin DB5

The Aston Martin DB5 is a jaw-droppingly gorgeous and elegant car that carries an endorsement by none other than James Bond. The DB5 was made in small numbers between 1963 and 1965 as a classic grand tourer with a 4.0-liter, 282 bhp engine and 4-speed manual gearbox with optional overdrive. As synonymous with the style and classiness of 007, the wood, the chrome, and the leather all project class and has made the Aston Martin DB5 one of the most eminently recognizable cars in the world for over half a century. Bond made it famous in the movie Goldfinger, but it would’ve stood on the merits of its own looks. The Aston Martin DB5 to date is used as Bond’s signature car in the series.

Overview

In short, iconic design is simple, recognizable, memorable, timeless, versatile, and appropriate. These few products were arguably the best examples of successful design: they were innovative, they have stood the test of time, they were easily adopted by a vast majority of the population, and, as products, they are so user-friendly that they disappear into our daily routine.