The Race for Skinnier Design




Industrial design, by definition, aims to create objects that are optimized for mass production. Chairs are molded, not carved. Utensils are pressed, not laminated.

Along with this push to design for modern manufacturing has come an almost obsessive desire for simplicity. Ornament is out, and sensible, clean lines are in.

“Form follows function,” said Louis Sullivan in 1896. “Less is more,” said Mies van der Rohe in 1947. “Good design is as little design as possible,” said Dieter Rams in the 1970s.

The masters of Modernism all agreed: Objects should be dead simple and unobtrusive.

[Ed. For guidance about  PTC Creo and Industrial Design, check out these tips for surface modeling with real world ID examples.]

The Can Light Is Born

It was from this spare but fertile aesthetic that the modern recessed light was born in 1953. A cylinder, tucked into the ceiling, with only a bulb inside, the wires and junction box are completely hidden within the wall. What could be less complicated and more out of the way?

Ivan Kirlin pulled the patent on the earliest design, and you’d have thought he nailed the definitive lighting fixture by contemporary standards.

Basic recessed light fixture with attached junction box. Phone included for scale.

But like the mouse trap, inventors have been tweaking the patent ever since. Better mounting assemblies, easier to access and inspect wiring, a cover (to shield it while painting), and a thermal sensor  for better fire protection are just a few suggested improvements that came along after that original filing. The US Patent Office houses dozens and dozens more of these ideas.

Recessed Lighting Now!

Where are we today? You might be surprised. With the advent of LED lighting, we’ve solved many of the problems those earlier inventors were trying to address. New LED “down lights” are lighter, draw less energy, create less heat, pose less of a fire hazard, install with clips instead of screws, and weigh almost nothing. They are elegant and lean.

A modern LED down light, 20-mm thick.

Still too much

But not lean enough, as far as Philips India is concerned. That company is finding competitive advantage in being even more spare than the next guy, with less noticeable hardware.  In today’s market, they’ll have you know, there’s no reason to live with screws and black clips all akimbo as in the image above.

The hardware in the new Philips RazorLED is discreet…

Philips Electric Razor, slim and sleek at 9-mm thick.

…and the entire device is not much bigger than your iPhone.