A “Tribute to Men and Women Who Design”

Here is a cool thing that reader “minusf” wrote to me about recently: A half-hour film made by Chevrolet in 1958 called “American Look.” You can see it, split into three parts, on YouTube the Internet Archive:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

It’s pretty heavy on pro-America/pro-Chevy propaganda, but it’s also a revealing glimpse into a world when most everything was still designed with simple art materials like pastel crayons and clay.

Still from 'American Look' showing a car prototype being sculpted from clay.

In the third part, they build a design prototype of a ’59 Chevy out of plywood and clay. This was the car my family had when I was a little kid. To me it looked like a scary, angry animal. Little did I know they were going after “sleek and stylish.”

The pre-Fifties world seems to have been erased in the film. People live in thoroughly modern houses, have thoroughly modern furniture and appliances, and work in thoroughly modern buildings. Nothing old seems to exist.

I must have seen a lot of propaganda like this when I was a kid. I fully expected that the world would look like this when I grew up. But in reality, old and new have always lived side-by-side, and probably always will. (I love it when films that are set in the future, like Blade Runner, get this right.)

A lot of the design in the film still holds up well, like the Eames chair. But every now and then they show something that looks utterly old-fashioned—unsurprisingly, anything to do with electronics, appliances and business machines, which have changed radically over the last fifty years. On the other hand, the design requirements for chairs, spoons, and drinking glasses are pretty fixed.

(Thanks to John Blair for finding these videos on the Internet Archive. When I originally wrote this, the videos were up on YouTube, but at some point they were removed. Thanks to John, I am able to link to them again.)