Book List of the Week

Experiencing Design: Carl Magnusson’s Book List

By Steve Kroeter March 25, 2013

Carl Magnusson

Product/industrial designer Carl Magnusson: CGM Design LLC (New York)

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Design, believes Carl Magnusson, “must evoke an experience physically and culturally beyond its core function.” The eminent industrial designer, who was trained as an architect, was talking about the “central message that stuck” from Steen Eiler Rasmussen’s Experiencing Architectureon his book list for Designers and Books, but he was really talking about all of design. “Hit a ball at a wall and sense the material and sound,” Magnusson continues in his comments about the book. “Notice the light change as you meander through narrow asymmetrical paths between buildings, or the opening up of vistas as one surface ends and the new view becomes apparent.”

The idea of design as an expression of cultural as well as functional experience has characterized Magnusson’s career. The winner of Contract magazine’s 2012 Legend Award for lifetime achievement, Magnusson spent his early years with the Eames studio, three decades with Knoll, where he was Director of Design in North America and Europe, and in 2005 founded his own firm, CGM Design, which has collected accolades for its collaborations with leading furniture and automotive manufacturers.

The same approach applies to his book list selections, along with Magnusson’s reasons for choosing them. In the introduction to the list, Magnusson gives five criteria, or categories, for his choices, ranging from “early books by proven historians” to “divertimenti: intellectually entertaining to “outsiders’ views on design, which tend to put our work into perspective—i.e., design is not the most important factor but a part of a larger picture.”

So, on his his list of ten books for Designers & Books is Reyner Banham’s Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (on five other book lists), which “puts into perspective the implications of the industrial revolution for architecture and industrial design” and “gives evidence that modernism easily transcends the various styles of the first half of the 20th century and such historical blips as postmodernism.” Another book is Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis, in which “a few cross-cultural Great Ideas by thinkers of the past that comment on how we find meaning and connection in what we do.”

BMW Art Cars, edited by Thomas Girst; contributing author Carl Magnusson, et al., forthcoming 2014 (Hatje Cantz)

Magnusson, who has long been drawn to automotive design (“Everything that I do has a certain mechanical logic to it,”*) and has undertaken projects with BMW, also cites William Mitchell and coauthors’ Reinventing the Automobile, saying he is “taken by the authors’ pragmatic blueprint for mobility’s future.” He adds that “in a parallel and separate development, Ross Lovegrove’s recent visual solution for a concept car for Renault brings cultural content back into automobile design.”

Magnusson himself is a contributing author of BMW Art Cars (Thomas Girst, editor), forthcoming from Hatje Cantz. The book covers the series of BMW racing and production cars that have been designed by various contemporary artists, merging function and cultural content in a unique way. 

* “Industrial Designer Carl Gustav Magnusson: ‘Design Is Function With Cultural Content,’” Fast Company, November 23, 2010 

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