Dr Ruth McDermott

UNSW, Sydney

Dr Ruth McDermott is an academic and lighting designer/ artist whose PhD thesis addressed the emergence of LED technology in the early 21st century. Her work has been exhibited in Australia and internationally and featured in publications about light art. Her research interests are lighting, the history of lighting and women in design. She is currently writing a book on light art with the University of Technology, Sydney ePress. She is the Coordinator of Design at UNSW Foundation Studies.

Marianne Brandt: designer of icons or ‘real’ industrial designer?

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In 1923, under the slogan ‘Art into industry: a new unity’, the Bauhaus adopted a new direction. Previously, the emphasis was on engaging with craft as a way to liberate the imagination of the designer, whereas now the teaching of craft was to prepare design for mass production (Marcus, 2008, 346). As a result of this change, the Bauhaus produced an array of what have become design classics which continue to resonate with people a century later. By focusing on light fittings, a prolific and high-profile area of the Bauhaus, our paper will argue that many of the lighting designs had an emphasis on expressing ideas about form and material in accordance with Bauhaus ideology. Yet, very few could be considered genuine pieces of industrial design which aimed to meet user expectations and match manufacturer’s needs. In our view, the Bedside Table Lamp designed by Marianne Brandt in collaboration with Hin Bredendiek is one of few complete industrial design projects to emerge out of the Bauhaus. An analysis of this object reveals an attention to detail, sound technical understanding, an emphasis on user needs and a complexity of form that went beyond the symmetrical and basic geometries of many of the Bauhaus works. At a time when industrial design was emerging as a discipline, this is an example of actual engagement with industry and manufacturing processes. These factors combined to create an innovative light fitting, free of older forms and approaches, which enjoyed both commercial and critical success. This study contributes another layer of understanding to the beginning of the industrial design discipline, it positions Marianne Brandt alongside pioneer industrial designers who designed for manufactures such as Peter Behrens and Christopher Dresser and it elevates the Bedside Table Lamp from just another Bauhaus light to a unique and important exemplar.