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"Is it not the individual designer himself who is the sponge or receptor of society first hand? And is it not this processing of impressions by the designer himself and the relaunching of these influences with his own perception, precisely the work of the designer [...] I feel that visual images have a way of evoking huge amounts of data from our consciousness and unconsciousness, almost instantaneously."

Lecture by Douglas F. Kelley, 'Slide 17, Artist', (undated).


"I have a feeling however that for the designer who is visually orientated, and for the designer who keeps his eyes creatively exercised in stimulated searching, there may be a form of visual improvisation, in which the eye of the designer itself, in its role as an instigator, indeed ferrets-out new visual configurations and shapes."

Lecture by Douglas F. Kelley, 'Slide 26, Picasso's Eye', (undated). 

The 'T-chair' (3L/C), designed by Douglas Kelley, Ross Littell and William Katavolos, 1952. © Douglas Kelley Archive. 



"As most Industrial Designers, I have always been intrigued and indeed stimulated by what is termed, 'The Nature of Things'. This to say, the manner in which things and ideas organically evolve or are put together: how they work or perform and their reason for being: also the social and cultural linkage.


"This term, 'The Nature of Things' is usually related more to the beauty of nature and to its intrinsic origins based on heredity [...] I like to believe however that there is also an evolved side to this 'nature' which is not intrinsic, a dynamic side which takes account of the nurturing aspects, the learning, the changing or developing forces [...] It is this intrinsic rightness within a state of nurtured change which so intriguingly parallels the Design Process.


"In the nature of things, there is always a balanced blend of the measurable and immeasurable, the analytical and the intuitive, the repetitive and the spontaneous. I advocate a renewed understanding of particularly the intuitive element, in a world which appears solely dedicated to facts and provability."

Lecture by Douglas F. Kelley, 'The Nature of Things', May 1985.



Organic Ceramic shape_edited.jpg

Ceramics designed by Kelley, c. 1950s. © Douglas Kelley Archive. 

A couple of years ago, the American industrial designer, Douglas F. Kelley, unexpectedly handed me a curled leaf from the grass of a London park, noting its unique structure and furled beauty. After pointing out detailed structural and aesthetic elements, he took the leaf back and kept it for his study. It was from such careful observations that Kelley appears to have drawn inspiration for his designs which incorporate such a broad spectrum of objects, buildings and concepts. As his lecture quoted above suggests, Kelley absorbed observations from nature and society in everyday life, and took this to be the role of the designer. The idea that a singular image might evoke such a flood of information and ideas consciously and unconsciously means that Kelley perceived a flood of potential in every visual. From work on ceramics, cutlery, Revlon cosmetic bottles, lightweight sewing machines, to the Barilla pasta logo, BP petrol stations, and the NCR self-service cash dispensing machine, Kelley's designs take care in the subtle aesthetics of the object and its social practicality. 


This insert is dedicated to the life and work of Douglas Kelley. Included is an article and profile of Kelley by Jeremy Myerson, originally published in Design Week in April 1989. This is followed by a tracing of his career and activities by this insert's editor Gertrude Gibbons, with quotes from his autobiography and other writings, and images of his projects from the Kelley archive.

The 'House in the Valley' designed by Kelley, 1949-50. © Douglas Kelley Archive. 

'Design Without Frontiers', by Jeremy Myerson, Design Week, 7 April 1989.

If travel broadens the mind, then Douglas Kelley must have the most all-embracing perspective in British design.


Just consider his itinerary over the past 30 years. He is an American who designed factories and training camps in Korea during the Korean War, studied in West Germany at the famous Hochschule für Gestaltung at Ulm, and forged close links with Italian design after marrying an Italian. He has worked successfully as a consultant in New York, Paris and London, completed a United Nations design mission to Egypt, and toured China.


Now permanently based in London in a stylish home-cum-studio on Sloane Street which displays many of his own artefacts, Kelley can look back on a long and multi-faceted career in which he has been at various times an architect, ceramicist, furniture innovator, exhibition specialist, product, graphic and interior designer.


Who better, then, to be an elder statesman at a time when design is urgently looking to cross national boundaries and integrate different disciplines than this genuine all-rounder and internationalist?


Yet if Kelley is a hero in design, he remains an unsung one. Despite such diverse achievements as designing the first NCR high street cash dispenser (which revolutionised the way most of us draw out money from a bank) and the T-chair for Cadsana (which has gone on display in New York's Museum of Modern Art), Kelley has kept a low profile.


I suspect this quiet, precise and thoughtful man prefers it that way, but Kelley admits: "You don't become well known when you do so many different things."


An unconventional design career started conventionally enough in the late Forties. Kelley, who hails from upstate New York, was "all signed up to study architecture at Syracuse". But an art teacher at his high school suggested that he should consider taking industrial design at Pratt, one of the leading design schools in the US, as an alternative.


“At the time my choice was unusual," recalls Kelley, "because the only person articulate in industrial design was Raymond Loewy. But I spent three years at Pratt, which encouraged an intuitive approach."


In 1950, Kelley went straight from college into business with two classmates — Ross Littell and William Katavolos. They created a collection called The New Furniture and teamed up with a textile company called Laverne to manufacture it. The range included a three-legged T-Chair (recently revived by Cadsana), which proved an immediate artistic success.


"We went straight from Pratt in Brooklyn to Manhattan high society," says Kelley. "Irving Penn photographed the chairs, MOMA selected pieces for its permanent collection, Saarinen specified the furniture for his General Motors technical centre, a great honour at the time."


The problem, though, was money. "Laverne took advantage of a group of young designers," explains Kelley. "We never made a penny from royalties until 1988, when Cadsana took up the furniture. Now it is still made in Italy and America."


A bitter falling-out with Laverne followed. Writs flew and Kelley subsequently moved across town to work with the legendary George Nelson for a variety of clients including Herman Miller. But not before he and his partners had turned to architecture and created a highly unusual modern home for his parents near Buffalo in upstate New York.


"My father was a patent attorney and always fighting for inventions," says Kelley. "This affected my upbringing. When my family wanted to move up-country, they had the faith to allow me to create a steel and glass structure which afforded breathtaking views of the surroundings. Unfortunately the house is no longer in the family and I haven't seen it for 15 years."


Looking back now on Kelley's approach to furniture and environments in the early Fifties, it is remarkable how one so young could have developed such enduring work.


Beneficiaries during the Fifties were employer George Nelson, who is described by Kelley as "a perceptive critic", and the US government, which drafted Kelley into the Korean War to work alongside Korean engineers on a variety of major projects. "I said I was a designer so they said, 'Okay, you can design factories.' It was an incredible challenge."


After the Korean War was over, Kelley "wandered around Japan for six months"  before winning a Fulbright Fellowship to the Ulm Hochschule in West Germany. He'd applied to go there because of the reputation of Max Bill but arrived just as the great man was leaving, ousted in a palace revolution. 


Ulm provided a stern counterbalance to Pratt's intuitive emphasis, and Kelley returned to New York a year later to start his own practice. En route he stopped off in Milan, where he met his Italian wife and learned about Italy's post-war golden age of design.


Equipped with so many different cultural influences, the late Fifties proved a creative period for Kelley. In particular, he experimented with organic ceramics and with sculptural packaging for Revlon. "I've always believed in organic natural shapes, following Nervi's example rather than the high-tech architectonic approach of recent years" he says.


Kelley admits that he might have remained in New York if Raymond Loewy hadn’t invited him to head up the Paris Loewy office in 1960. Loewy's biggest client at the time was British Petroleum and Kelley worked on identity, packaging and service stations for BP. 


Paris proved to be very much to Kelley's cosmopolitan tastes. His two daughters became fluent in Italian and French, and the projects he managed, including Hilton Hotel interiors, were often large in both scale and prestige. But in 1966 he decided to go to live and work in London.


The opportunity arose when US design firm Lippincott and Margulies decided to move into Europe on the strength of its Chrysler account. Kelley was headhunted to manage the operation and was told to site the office wherever he wanted to go. Kelley chose Grosvenor Street in London. "But it didn't work out," he says. "Lippincott and Margulies were the typical bad Americans who wanted to penetrate Europe with a sledgehammer."


After just 18 months, Kelley left to become an independent consultant in London, building up a practice in Jermyn Street which employed up to 15 staff at different times.


"London proved a very different city in style to Paris," he says. "The British have a literary heritage rather than a visual one, and I nearly left several times." How then can Kelley explain London's design consultancy boom of the Eighties? "It's been to do with the trader instincts in retail," he claims.


If Kelley has scaled down his consultancy activities in the past five years allowing more time for lecturing and UN missions, he was nevertheless in the front line of British design for a decade from the early Seventies onwards. Milestone work included identities for the Bank of Ireland, Chef & Brewer, and Carrington Viyella; exhibitions for Laporte; product design for Elna sewing machines. One Elna model, the Lotus, followed the T-chair into the MOMA collection.


But, on reflection, Kelley's most important project of this period must undoubtedly be the NCR self-service cash dispensing unit, pioneering work which has helped to change the role of banks on the high street. Kelley was commissioned by the Dundee-based subsidiary of US company NCR (formerly National Cash Register) in 1978. He recalls: "When we first presented the concept, some top NCR executives were afraid people wouldn't know how to use them. They said, 'You're out of your mind, people will never get out money on the street." But other managers within NCR supported the idea."


Kelley designed the unit with great attention to ergonomics to fit into the old safe deposit box space on the exterior of banks. "When you stand in front of it, there's a certain privacy. Now the design has gone throughout the world," he says.


The NCR project won a Duke of Edinburgh design award in 1985, but the Design Council chose to give all the design credit to three unknown engineers. Kelley's name was omitted from the roll of honour, and he is still baffled and bitter about the incident to this day. The omission is all the more unforgivable when you consider what an impact the NCR design has had and how little back-slapping the prolific Kelley has enjoyed.


Kelley went on to extend the principles of automatic teller machines to an airline ticketing terminal for NCR in 1981-2, but the airline business proved more elusive and the system was not a success.


He did, however, collaborate with a notable patron of good design, Olivetti, on the interiors of its Putney headquarters in 1983. "It was a post-war spec building with seven floors," says Kelley. "It was not an easy project."


A year later, with NCR no longer a client, Kelley lost the lease on Jermyn Street and decided to change direction once again. He now devotes his time to "doing the things I enjoy doing" — lecturing, travelling, and furniture design.


Two recent missions for the United Nations took him back to South Korea, scene of his innovations in the Fifties. And the high-profile Cadsana production of his furniture has also revived interest in his role in that quirky design decade.


But Kelley is not nostalgic for the past. Rather, he is always in search of new cultural influences — such as leading a class of Chinese design students through a critique of the bicycle in Shanghai.


As I leave, our interview concluded, Douglas Kelley presses a 1960 copy of the US magazine Industrial Design into my hands. A familiar vibrance comes off the pages of this "special international issue" and I realise that there's nothing new under the sun in design publishing. In a sense, there's nothing new under the sun in design practice either. Decades are recycled and national heritages plundered for the creative ammunition they can give us now.


Kelley, who has spanned the post-war design years with dignity and not a little courage, stands apart from the crowd.



Originally published in Design Week 7 April 1989. Reproduced by kind permission of Jeremy Myerson.

(c) Kelley Archive, NCR Banking

NCR automated cash machine pioneered by Kelley, 1977. © Douglas Kelley Archive. 

Intuition and Cultivation: The Designer's Dynamic Play of Eye, Mind and Hand, by Gertrude Gibbons

In the 1930s, following the exhibitions Machine Art 1934 and Bauhaus 1938, MoMA initiated a series of annual exhibitions of 'Useful Objects' which set the stage for the Good Design shows held by MoMA and the Merchandise Mart in the early 1950s. These were curated and designed each year by a prestigious designer, in a uniquely performative and theatrical manner: Arthur Pulos describes Paul Rudolph's 1952 curation as "theatrical" and, in 1953, Alexander Girard "dramatised the objects by spotlighting them in an otherwise black environment" [1]. In the summer show that year, a partnership of three young American Industrial Designers (loosely formed in 1949), William Katavolos, Douglas Kelley and Ross Littell, working in association with Laverne Inc "made this one of the most modern of the Good Design exhibitions" [2].

(c) Kelley Archive, DFK just out of Pratt with William Katavolos & Ross Litell 1949_50.JPG

Kelley (right) with Littell and Katavolos, c. 1949. © Douglas Kelley Archive. 

They exhibited a selection of pieces from the 'New Furniture collection' including the famous three-legged chair (3LC), now in MoMA's permanent collection [3]. There was also a 1LC with the same detail and assembly procedure as the 3LC, but this was more difficult to mould and was sadly only produced for a short time. "The leather lounges 5/LC and the 7/LC sofas of soft calfskin also achieved a unique comfort and appearance" [4].

The 'New Furniture' launch on 4th June 1953 was a great success, the Press Release proclaiming their declaration:



The 5L/C sofa designed by Kelley, Littell and Katavolos, 1952. © Douglas Kelley Archive. 

In his autobiographical notes from April 2010, as yet unpublished, Kelley notes the wooden carving of 'an old man with a bird' which, carved by him at the age of nine, started him on his design journey. At the outbreak of the Second World War he began his first professional activities as a draftsmen in his father's patent office, Beans, Brook Buckley & Bean, which due to the war found itself short of draftsmen "to express the intriguing new ideas emerging at the time". He studied Industrial Design at Pratt Institute, a new course founded by Alexander and Rowena Reed Kostellow, integrating engineering with marketing, architecture and aesthetics. From this time, Kelley was strongly influenced by the teaching of Eva Zeisel, the Hungarian ceramicist, and her aesthetical and practical abstractions of organic forms.  

[(c) Kelley Archive, House in the valley exterior_edited.jpg

The 'House in the Valley' designed by Kelley, 1949-50. © Douglas Kelley Archive. 

Following his years at the Pratt Institute and formation of the partnership with Katavolos and Littell, he was asked to design a house for his family on a site of 25 acres on Cazenovia Creek Buffalo. At this time, "there were only two other steel and glass houses of note; Philip Johnson's House in New Canaan Connecticut (1948-49) and the Mies van der Rohe house, the Farnswoth in Illinois (1945-51)" [5]. With a steel structure and large glass panels, the design of the House in the Valley was inspired by the single open plan of Johnson's House. However, this family house, completed in 1950, had multiple rooms, efficient heating, and was and still is very much lived in. Later in Kelley's career, he refurbished various Historic luxury hotels (including Portofino Vetta for Fondiaria group), as well as hotels in Milan and Rome, residential buildings and town houses in London, barns and farmhouses around the UK and Italy, accounting for the unique structures, histories and stories of the original as he brought them into the modern. In 2015, the 'Glass Wing' for a house in Somerset, designed as a parallelogram, allows the formal classical facade of the house to remain uncompromised. As Kelley's daughter Serena Lambert notes, this design "encompasses DFK's organic ethos of design, enhancing and bringing to life the space and buildings around it and yet creating an innovative fascinating, elegant and totally contemporary architectural statement" [6].

The 'Glass Wing' designed by Kelley, Somerset, 2015. © Douglas Kelley Archive. 

The year after the 'House in the Valley' construction, in 1951, Kelley was called for military service and was stationed in Korea in the Korean Military Advisory Group. He had been studying Japanese under the impression he was to be stationed in Tokyo reading maps and undertaking photo-recognition. As Kelley's ship was disembarking new orders came through and he was instead sent to Pusan, South Korea. One of the priority projects during his time there was the rehabilitation of Koreans who had had their houses destroyed. The powers in Washington believed mass-produced concrete houses would be most effective, but Kelley did his best to redesign these concepts, knowing that "such concrete boxes would not suffice" and people would in fact find it insulting. This showed his manner of social and cultural observation, in developing designs sensitive to the environment in which they were to be realised [7].


In February 1953, two years after his enlistment notice, Kelley asked to be discharged in Japan. He received Japanese lessons from his Korean secretary (these had been banned in Korea due to the war) and learnt the written characters of the katakana and hiragana. Leaving in civilian clothes with 'Greenbacks' in his pocket, Kelley took the bullet train to Tokyo, thrilled with the new sense of freedom. The theatres in post-war Japan were thriving, and Kelley describes an "extraordinary performances at the Kabuki-za in Tokyo, running for several hours, with radiant characters of all kinds flowing into the audience via the hanamichi — flower walk." The keen observation of the young designer comes through in his recounts, highlighted by his description of the tea ceremony:


"I sat quietly in the corner observing every movement of the hands and utensils in the preparation of the thick green tea. The exact repetition of each hand movement in the sequence is essential for congenial conversation, the true reason for the ceremony which is, in fact, more of a social meeting with an elevated, almost esoteric, conversation."


As well as in his carefully-curated collection of photographs of temples and mountains and architectural details. "I was in awe of the craftsmanship and precision that seemed to enter into every element of life there" [8]. Here he developed an already-present interest and admiration for Japanese architecture and culture that remained a strong influence and source of inspiration: Kelley's bookshelves included editions of Lafcadio Hearn, Basho, Buson, Issa, Kikaku Chiyo-Ni, Joso amongst others dating back to the 1940s. A collection of Japanese Haiku bears pencil marks highlighting key haikus and the rules that structure them.



(c) Kelley Archive, Revlon perfume_edited.png

Following the successful Design Shows in New York, Kelly, Katavolos and Littell went their separate ways in 1955 and Kelley took a job working on various furniture projects with George Nelson, one of the most prestigious design shops in town at the time which, together with Charles Eames, was one of the key Herman Millar design studios. He also worked on a line of glass stemware, decorative glass and whiskey bottles, all of which are aesthetic objects and sculptural forms in their own right. The same might be said for Kelley's subsequent designs for Revlon perfume bottles (c. 1958). These years are filled with anecdotal encounters and chance-meetings [9].  

Designs by Kelley for Revlon Cosmetics, 1959. © Douglas Kelley Archive. 

Kelley left on a Fulbright Fellowship to the post-war Bauhaus-influenced design school Hochshule fur Gestaltung in Ulm, in 1957. Kelley was assigned Dr. Dieter Oestreich for Fulbright administrative purposes, who Kelley described as having "the same feeling for organic design" as he did, in contrast to the school. Kelley spent much of his time driving around the country to meet various company executives. At the end of the Fellowship, he drove with Eva Zeisel to Milan, his car full of her plaster casts. It was on this occasion in Milan, that upon Zeisel's introduction, Kelley met Giovanna del Punta who would later become his wife. Del Punta spoke four languages fluently, Italian, English, French and German, and would assist Kelley in his lectures and projects in various countries throughout his career.

Kelley and del Punta's tour of Europe together shortly after they met informed the article he wrote for a special issue of Industrial Design magazine, March 1960. This issue focused on the international scene and Kelley's article, 'Form in National Identity', forms an analysis of each of the European countries, exploring the potential elusive qualities that create individual national design characteristics, based on his observations. These unique national characteristics in style suggest everyday objects have the ability to remain diverse and bear elements of distinctiveness.


"Traveling in Europe, I have become vividly aware of a visual phenomenon: if you shut out all background, close your ears to language, and focus on almost any functional object in isolation, you get a strong message of national identity from just what you can see—from surface form." 

Kelley has a particular attention and interest in the Italian style, writing that "the Italian designer is inherently and spontaneously a sculptor" and "finds shape in even the most mechanical objects", while simultaneously showing a "controlled and practical ability to derive sculptural possibilities from the problems to be solved". They are able to "match their sculptural fascination to the demands of function" [10]. He humorously contrasts the English designer as seeming "too polite", but compliments their "brilliant ability to define problems, analyze solutions, evaluate results". Inevitably, Kelley argues, each of these generalisations might be proved or disproved, but his interest lies in the possibility of national character and such considerations demanded in the designing of products of a technical nature for an international market.

Prototypes for a cutlery design by Kelley, c. 1967. © Douglas Kelley Archive. 

Kelley concludes the article with a call for the designer to remain both imaginative and practical:


"In this transitional period, as there is growing intercommunication of design attitudes and commercial goals, the validity of individuality and national character will be put to severe tests: it may be falsely submerged (for misunderstood commercial reasons) or it may survive on the designer’s ability to maintain his artistic imagination while increasing his rational and technical skills" [11].


This publication brought Kelley into contact with several key figures in the design world, including Bill Snaith, (Loewy's partner), Charles Whitney of Whitney Publications, Brooks Stevens, Ralph Caplan and Edgar Kaufmann. Harold Cohen, who founded the Design Department at the University of Southern Illinois, wished Kelley to join them at the university as part of the senior group (Cohen was responsible for inviting Buckminster Fuller, John McHale and Magda McHale to join the department, as well as connecting a network of notable figures such as Ray and Charles Eames, Josef Albers and Serge Chermayeff). Kelley was invited to lecture at the university, and met Fuller, with whom he got on well.

Instead of taking up a university position, however, Kelley pursued a different direction. An old friend of his, James Fulton, who had been working for Loewy in his Paris office called Kelley as he was about to leave Paris and told Raymond Loewy about him. After several meetings Kelley was offered the position and took up heading Loewy's Paris office, Compagnie de L'Esthetique Industrielle, which incorporated product design, packaging, architecture and corporate identity. Kelley notes the "major identification exercise" during his period there as 'Directeur Générale' was the signage programme for BP service stations. "These tall multi-service roadside elements were implemented all over Europe, Australia and the Far East." In 1963, for an exhibition in London, they designed a "very advanced organic floating service station for air-born cars of the future", which widely captured the imagination and received much optimistic press. They also worked on the interior design of helicopters (in 1962 they were approached by Potez Aircraft and by Dornier, Friedrichshafen, to help redesign the interiors of military aircraft). There appears no end to the diversity of projects Kelley worked on here, and he highlights their graphic design work for Motta in Milan. "Their bottle shapes and label designs were always going through the studio," Kelley notes. "One particularly interesting and not at all easy project was the structural design for a Panettone box."   

Poster announcing programme of lectures including by Kelley, Buckminster Fuller and Serge Chermayeff at Southern Illinois University, c. 1964. © Douglas Kelley Archive. 

A major project was the Elna Lotus sewing machine co-designed with Richard Riche in 1964, released in 1968. This was a huge success, both critically and commercially. Its portability offered a freedom hereto impossible, and was the first compact sewing machine to be contained entirely in one unit. With its reduced dimensions, it still had a regular working surface, and its case was integrated into the design, such that the sewing table, accessory case and handle were all built into the design. This remains a much-loved model to this day, praised by sewing bloggers, who write of its elegant design, internal engineering mastery and detail, and its perfect stitch.

(c) Kelley Archive, Elna_edited.jpg

Elna Lotus sewing machine, designed by Kelley with Roger Riche, Compagnie de L'Esthétique Industrielle (CEI) - Raymond Loewy, c. 1965. © Douglas Kelley Archive. 

He describes what was one of the most notable missions of his career: "Loewy called from New York saying the Special Fund of the United Nations in New York wanted someone to go to Egypt to consult on a development project. An engineering complex was being formed in Cairo with a Fellowship programme and a prototyping facility to advance the economy." So in 1963, Kelley and Giovanna del Punta left for Cairo, placed in the Hilton hotel. He writes how the inside of the hotel was a complete contrast to the streets outside, filled with poverty and distress. This was the first of several governmental and UN-led projects Kelley was involved in.

Despite feeling a certain alienation from the English design community and a reticence on their part to accept him, Kelley moved to London in 1966 to direct the European office of Lippincott & Margulies, and brought in many interesting and international new clients such as John Player, Barilla, Co-Op, Revlon, and others. He set up his own office, Douglas Kelley Associates, in 1968, in Sloane Street and then Jermyn Street, an international Design Consultancy working across and between Europe, the USA and the Far East. Projects include for Laporte Industries (a company making paint compounds), Carrington Viyella (textiles), Chef & Brewer (pub and restaurant group). They worked on the development of a corporate communications programme for the merger of the Irish banks into the 'Bank of Ireland'.


In 1977, the Dundee-based engineering branch of NCR Corporation worked with Douglas Kelley Associates to configure an automated cash dispenser to fit into European bank facades, with Barclays and NatWest the first banks to undertake successful test installations. Jeremy Myerson argues that this was "Kelley's most important project of this period"; it was a pioneering work which has helped to change the role of banks on the high street". Kelley spoke of the challenges in designing such an object and idea, from the social perspective, as to how these were to be trusted, how were they to be positioned and presented in such a way that people would actually use them.  

Douglas Kelley, Ross Littell and William Katavolos in MOMA .jp2

Kelley (right) with Littell and Katavolos in MoMA, c. 1980. © Douglas Kelley Archive. 

From the time, there appears only one reference to Kelley's role in this significant project, in an article by Steve Braidwood in Design, September 1982, focusing on the airlines self-service ticketing and check-in system 'Skylink': "NCR realised that an automated reservations, ticketing and check-in system for use by airlines would, like the cash dispenser, require quite a different design approach to that used for the majority of its products, which are clearly branded with its identity. [...] So the industrial design work on the cash dispenser, and later on the airline system, was not done in-house but by a consultancy, Douglas Kelley Associates, of London" [12].

Another unacknowledged project is noted by Kelley in a letter to Design, March 1990. The letter responded favourably to an article by Gaynor Williams from the January Issue on the success of the re-released Microwriter, AgendA, recognised by the Design Council's British Design Award and one of the first personal digital assistants. The article rightly acknowledged Cy Endfield (the inventor, magician and screenwriter blacklisted by House Un-American Activities Committee) and Michael Davies, but did not include the in-house engineering of Stephen Steliou or the fact that it was Douglas Kelley Associates who pioneered the early work in 1985, "when the original Microwriter was still plugging along despite its uncomfortable size and weight", initiating the study of the pocket-sized unit in 1985 with the financial aid of the Design Council’s Funded Consultancy Scheme [13]. As Williams notes, "Microwriting was originally a failure. A form of speedwriting incorporated in the first battery-driven computer in the world, it just didn’t sell. On the market by the end of 1982, the Microwriter hand-held word processor had many problems [...]" [14]. The development of the more transportable, user-friendly version recalls the earlier project Kelley worked on, the Elna Lotus sewing machine. As Kelley said regarding self-service machines:


"It is a concept [...] Its success depends on it being taken up by the public, and so human factors — ergonomic and psychological considerations — are very important" [15].



At the 15th Annual Conference of the American Society of Industrial Designers in autumn 1959, the speakers addressed the question, "How can industry plan for a future in the shadow of dynamic changes generated by economic, scientific and human research?"


Raymond Loewy, the 'father of industrial design' whose streamlined designs are ingrained in contemporary psyche (the Coca-Cola bottle, Greyhound bus, S1, graphics and interior of Air Force One), spoke out against the designer becoming limited in the "age of specialisation." He asserted that "when a designer begins to make a specialty of packaging or of transportation interiors or business offices he is on the road to cutting himself away from the essential professional activity of total industrial design." By narrowing their scope, designers were at risk of "ceas[ing] to be design minded." Loewy concluded his address with the following warning:


"[I]f designers get reabsorbed, ingested, digested, mutated or reoriented by the action on them of non-designing forces or executive enzymes, there will be no industrial design profession and I base all this on the assumption that it is important that there be an industrial design profession" [16].


In this same publication, two months later, Kelley's article exploring forms in relation to national identity was published, valuing diversity, communication, individuality and difference in design aesthetics and practicalities. By Loewy's definition, Kelley represents the epitome of the industrial designer; never narrowing his scope, his activities and projects might be called an example of "total industrial design".

Waterford Glassware designed by Kelley in the office of George Nelson,  c. 1955. © Douglas Kelley Archive. 

All images courtesy the Douglas Kelley Archive.




[1] Arthur Pulos, The American Design Adventure, MIT Press, 1983, pp. 114-7.

[2] Ibid.

[3] In Kelley's words, the chair "[e]mploying a beautiful natural cowhide leather for the seating element, it was secured to both the back frame and the seat frames in a manner which concealed the sunken screws. This was achieved by employing two half round steel sections in such a way that once secured, the back and side frames are literally turned inside-out, thereby completely hiding the screw heads." (Douglas Kelley, "Autobiographical notes", April 2010).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Lambert, DFK, 2020.

[7] Kelley's interest and work in East Asia continued throughout his life, and in 1987 he went to Korea as a UN advisor to address marketing and design concerns with the Korean industrial sector. The same year, Kelley lectured on product design in his capacity as 'Chairman of International Relations Board of the Chartered Society of Design UK' at Jiao Tong University, a seminar that became a nation-wide event delivered over eight days.

[8] Kelley, "Introduction to Kelley's collection of photographs in Japan", 2021.

[9] In Kelley's autobiographical notes, he writes of the year and a half he had his desk in Nelson's offices, where on one occasion he found the young Sottsass was sitting behind him.

[10] His dedication and investment in the Italian design world continued with various projects in the 1960s and 70s, and in 1984, Kelley served as one of five judges on the XIII Compasso D'Oro Design, Milan. In 1989, when La Fondiaria Assicurazioni launched a property development programme by investing in hotels and retail propert, Kelley was asked to design the three hotels and a retail shopping complex in Milan, Florence and Rome.

[11] Industrial Design, Volume 7, Issue 3, March 1960, pp. 66-70

[12] Steve Braidwood, Design, Issue 405, September 1982, p. 50.

[13] Kelley, "Letters," Design, Issue 495, March 1990, p. 8. 

[14] Gaynor Williams, Design, Issue 493, January 1990, p. 26.

[15] Kelley on the self-service machines, qtd. in Braidwood, Design, September 1982.

[16] Industrial Design, Volume 7, Issue 1, January 1960, pp. 67-8.

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