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Objects of Desire

Design and Society Since 1750

Adrian Forty

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A radical and highly original examination of design and its place in society over the last 200 years


Whether at home, in the street, or at work, we are surrounded by objects that we take for granted, yet which are more significant in our daily lives than perhaps we realise. When we shop, how do we choose between items with different appearances but with the same function - and why? Do we decide on purely aesthetic grounds, or because one offers a feature that another doesn't, or because our choice has been influenced by a successful marketing campaign?

In this radical and highly original examination of design and its place in society, Adrian Forty challenges premises that have usually passed unquestioned. He argues that design is used by societies to express their values. Its norms are shaped by economic and social conditions; it can confirm a role or status or be manipulated to overcome resistance to innovations that seem threatening.

Objects of Desire looks at the appearance of consumer goods in the 200 years since the introduction of mechanized production, whether in Josiah Wedgewood's use of neo-classicism for his industrially manufactured pottery or the development of appropriate forms for wirelesses. The argument is illustrated with examples ranging from penknives to computers and from sewing machines to railway carriages.

In opening up new ways of appraising the man-made world around us, Objects of Desire is required reading for anyone who has any involvement with design and a revealing document about our society.

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'One of the most significant contributions to design history in recent years'
Financial Times

'Readable and argumentative'
Architects' Journal

Further Details


Format: Paperback

Size: 24.6 x 16.8 cm

Extent: 256 pp

Illustrations: 272

Publication date: 27 May 1986

ISBN: 9780500274125

About the Author

Adrian Forty is a Professor of Architectural History at The Bartlett, the Faculty of the Built Environment at University College London, now retired. He is also the former Programme Director of the masters programme in Architectural History. In 2003, he was awarded the Sir Misha Black Award for Innovation in Design Education. Forty is the author of many highly regarded books on architecture and design, including Objects of Desire and Words and Buildings, both published by Thames & Hudson.