I am not always convinced that great design is easy to appreciate – it takes a bit of thought, a moment of pause. I’ve run across a couple examples of this lately in reading about author J.R.R. Tolkien and designer Alfredo Haberli.

After reading Tolkien’s classic The Hobbit, reviewer May Lamberton Becker, wrote:

At the time of writing, still under the spell of the story, I cannot bend my mind to ask myself whether our American children will like it. My impulse is to say if they don’t so much the worse for them…the story has the unmistakable signs of having been told to intelligent children.

Luckily, children did embrace the book.

However, it does not always go so well. I was first introduced to Alfredo Haberli’s designs after reading an interview in June’s I.D. From there, a discovery of his Origo dish set which is a study in beautiful simplicity. These pieces are every bit as intelligent and lovely as you might imagine. Haberli elaborates:

Our eating habits have changed. We are more and more open to inspirataion from Mediterranean, Scandinavian, Asian, and African countries. With all that in mind I designed a set of seven pieces that interact with each other or work along…It’s playful. It adapts. Different containers have new and multiple functions. People don’t really understand the system.

Is marketing at the center of this? Tolkien had a publisher that went out of their way to highlight the children’s book, even taking out the rare full page adds. On the other hand, Haberli states that for him, “marketing efforts did not succeed in communicating the invention behind the set.” Two different times, two different creations – one big lesson?

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