The iPhone, launched in 2007, has changed the world of digital and portable devices. The Bic pen, invented in 1950, became a symbol of mass consumption. Despite being over 60 years old and the arrival of screens, the Helvetica font is still one of the most used in the world. How did these 8 iconic products and objects come to be and what influence do they still have today?
8. The Swiss Army knife
Invented in the late 1880s by the Swiss Army, the Victorinox knife was designed to provide soldiers with an all-in-one tool with a blade, flathead screwdriver, can opener and punch for disassembling their rifle. It became popular with the general public after WWII, when American soldiers landed in Europe. As time passed, the models were enriched with many tools such as a laser pointer or a USB key.
Nowadays, 45,000 knives leave the factory in Ibach, Switzerland, each day to be shipped to more than 120 countries. The Swiss Army Knife has even become a popular expression for the idea of a person or an ingenious or multi-functional object.
The DSW (Dining height Side chair Wood) chair, which was the first plastic chair to be mass-produced in the 1950s, was originally designed by Charles and Ray Eames and was made from glass-fiber reinforced polyester resin. Due to its rigid and light shell of a single piece, it helped to reduce production costs to distribute a mass furniture.
It was a kind of Ikea model before its time! Its design has been copied by many other office and living room chairs. The seat shells are now mostly made of polypropylene, a more comfortable and resistant material.
First launched in January 2007 by Apple, the iPhone initiated the wave of smartphones, which in 2021 will equip more than 3.8 billion people worldwide, according to Statista. It was the first device to combine a media player, camera, web browser and email, all on a touch screen with an easy-to-use interface.
The design inspired most other brands, to the point that smartphones ended up looking pretty much the same. With the iPhone, Apple also moved from a niche market to a mainstream market. In spite of high prices, Apple is the third largest seller of smartphones in the world.
Somehow, the Renault Espace was almost born dead. During the first month of sales, in 1984, only nine units were sold! Nevertheless, the concept of this vehicle, which was ” flexible, spacious and comfortable and which could be driven like a car and not like a bus “, slowly made its way to the point where the word “monospace” entered the common language.
Nowadays, the MPV segment seems to be in decline in the face of the success of the SUV. But the original revolutionary idea of the Espace – seats that swivel 180 degrees to create a “mini-lounge” in the back – might well come back into fashion with the autonomous cars.
Designed by Swiss graphic designer Max Miedinger in 1957, Helvetica (Latin for Swiss) is the most widely used font in the world. Famous for its neutrality and legibility on screen as well as on paper, Helvetica is used by many brands such as Evian, WhatsApp, Panasonic, Nestlé or Toyota, and is also used for vision tests in ophthalmology offices.
Nevertheless, it is its great rival, Arial, that was chosen as the default font on Windows. It is very close to Helvetica, and its critics accuse it of being a pale copy. Following a first facelift in 1982 (Helvetica Neue), the font has undergone a major makeover in 2019 (Helvetica Now®) intended to restore its glory.
After acquiring the patent for the ballpoint pen from Hungarian László Biró in 1950, Frenchman Marcel Bich created the Bic Cristal, a worldwide bestseller with over 140 billion copies sold. The pen became a symbol of mass consumption and disposability, yet it featured major innovations at the time: an ergonomic hexagonal edge for a better grip, a transparent barrel that allowed the ink level to be seen, and a tube with a small hole that ensured the same pressure on the inside as on the outside.
The ballpoint pen is far from being dead with the advent of screens, and today it is reborn in a digital version in the form of a stylus.
Today, some 40% of American people have a single-cup coffee brewing system. The segment, which did not exist 30 years ago, now represents almost half of the coffee market in value. Nespresso, the Swiss company that invented the coffee pods, has fought tooth and nail against its competitors, until the patent became public domain in 2016.
The coffee pod machine also initiated a new mode of consumption for coffee, based on the model of printers, where the refill is sold at a high price as a consumable. However, it also symbolizes the disposable society: the pods made of aluminum and plastic are very difficult to recycle.
Symbol of the notepad, the shopping list and the idea box, the Post-it was invented by a chemist from 3M in 1980, who wanted to develop an adhesive. The legendary canary yellow color is also a coincidence, since this yellow paper was the only one left in the nearby lab when it was launched.
The Post-it has not been buried by digital technology and has inspired most of the “note” applications on computers. Its manufacturer, 3M, even sued Microsoft in 1997 for using the term “Post-it” in its Windows 97 software. The small yellow square has also become the go-to tool for businesses and creative people, particularly for brainstorming sessions and movie storyboards.
Do you know any other products or objects other than these 8 iconic products who inspired many other products and innovations in our world? Let us know in the comments section below.