The greatest designs of modern times
In 1959, Fortune published a “fascinating and brash” project that set out to discover the 100 best-designed products of the modern era. The list was compiled by Jay Doblin, the director of the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), based on a survey sent out to 100 of the era’s top designers, architects, and design teachers. The result is a fascinating document for modern eyes—perfectly illustrating mid-century design philosophy, yet often mirroring contemporary tastes: sleek sports cars by Porsche and Cisitalia, and even sleeker armchairs by Eames, Aalto, and Saarinen. Domestic appliances with forms foreshadowing Sputnik and the start of the Space Age. Above all, a deep appreciation for the aesthetic beauty not just of luxury goods but also the practical items that improve people’s lives on a daily basis.
In 2019, to recognize the 60-year anniversary of the original list, Fortune again partnered with the IIT Institute of Design (ID), now under the deanship of Denis Weil, to re-create the survey. Following Doblin’s methodology as closely as possible—with some sensible modern tweaks—ID polled educators, influencers, freelance designers, and corporate design teams on the creations they consider truly great. After more than a year of planning, surveying, and consolidation, we present to you the 100 iconic designs that rose to the top.
Just as in 1959, respondents were asked to name up to 10 examples of what they considered the best-designed products of the “modern era”—though this time we asked them to provide a reason for the nomination. Our respondents came back with more than 300 different products. But there was a clear convergence around the top 25, which were ranked by the number of nominations they received. For the rest of the list, where there was less consensus, the researchers at ID used language analysis of the submissions to rank products based on five criteria: how adaptable and expandable the product is; impact on society or the environment; ease of use; commercial success; and whether it redefined its category.
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The results show a clear shift in design philosophy over the past six decades. “Design has graduated from ‘value-adding,’ ” says Weil. “Now it’s value-driving, unlocking and making accessible the value in new technology.” Sixty years ago, the word design was almost synonymous with the aesthetics of the finished product. Today the emphasis is on how elegantly the product or service performs its specific purpose or function. Perhaps the clearest example of this evolution is a new category that appears on our updated list: Internet services. Google Search, ranked No. 3, is a great design not because of visual adornment, but because it eschews all unnecessary elements to do its job—organizing vast troves of information—near perfectly.
In his 1970 book One Hundred Great Product Designs, published only 11 years after compiling his original list, Doblin was already aware of where design was going next. “Process must become more important than product,” he wrote. “In the future, pride of ownership…will give way to human values—education, intelligence, contributions to society, creativity.” While optimistic, and even in 2020 not fully realized, we can see elements of his prediction in the updated list. In 1959, 14 automobiles made it into the top 100. Our new ranking includes just four—and Uber, an entire system of transportation rather than a single vehicle, ranks higher than all of them.
With regards to No. 1 on our list, Apple’s iPhone, respondents did not speak so much to its physical design—as handsome as its various iterations have been—but to the way in which the device has transformed human communication and nearly every aspect of how we live.
“Not only an instant way to be constantly connected,” said Kathleen Brandenburg of design consultancy IA Collaborative, of the device, “but a flexible, ever-evolving design that becomes whatever each user wants it to be.”
While more than one-third of the ranking comprises designs from the past 15 years, our respondents did acknowledge what one might call timeless creations. Six designs—marked by a star—are so iconic that they made both the 1959 list and today’s version. A handful of creators also appear on both editions, including Ray and Charles Eames, Alvar Aalto, and Eero Saarinen, whose furniture and home accessory designs are a shortcut for achieving mid-century cool; typeface designer Paul Renner, whose Futura font was used by Vogue, the Apollo program, and streetwear brand Supreme; and Ferdinand Porsche, whose car designs were both democratic, as is the case with the Volkswagen Beetle, and cutting-edge, as with the Porsche 911.
Our hope is that this list inspires you to think about the ways you encounter design every day. It’s a reminder that great design is more than window dressing—it’s about making life easier, simpler, better. And that’s beautiful.
Designed by Apple, 2007
“An iPod, a phone, an Internet communicator” was how the late Steve Jobs announced the iPhone to the world in 2007. At the time it was an impressive claim. Now it seems like a massive understatement for a device that changed how we live. Analysts were initially skeptical that Apple could succeed selling a premium phone for $499 in a market in which most devices were subsidized or given away by carriers. But by relentlessly pushing the envelope of hardware and software design, adding a professional-grade camera, and creating an ecosystem of apps and services, Apple has sold more than 2 billion iPhones—and in the process has become the most valuable company in the world.
Designed by Apple, 1984
Apple started the personal computer revolution with the Apple II, but the Macintosh defined the category.
“The Macintosh was not the first personal computer, nor was it the first one with a graphical user interface, but it was the first complete product that took all these ideas and more into a complete package. It became a computer one could understand and interact with using both language and vision, typing and drawing. It changed the way we relate to a computer.” —Johan Redstrom, professor, Umeå University
3. Google Search Engine
Designed by Google, 1997
A minimalist gateway to a universe of information.
“Just type in where you want to go or what you want to know in one simple box.“ —David Kelley, founder, IDEO
4. Eames Fiberglass Armchair
Designed by Ray + Charles Eames, 1950
Say “Eames chair,” and one might think of the leather and plywood lounge chair created by husband and wife design team Charles and Ray Eames in 1956. But it’s the distinctly more democratic molded plastic and fiberglass armchair introduced six years earlier that ranks high on our list. Available in a variety of styles and colors, the design can be found everywhere from conference rooms to downtown lofts. Another testament to its greatness: The chair remains in production today.
5. Sony Walkman TPS-L2
Designed by Norio Ohga, 1979
The Walkman allowed us to set the world to our own soundtrack.
“Changed the concept of listening to music.” —Anthony Dalby, VP, Design, Lego
6. OXO Good Grips Peeler
Designed by Sam Farber + Smart Design, 1990
Farber created this ergonomically superior peeler for his arthritic wife.
“Perhaps the best example of inclusive design, this peeler and the Good Grips line of innovations shows that design made more accessible to all is also better design for everyone.” —Brandon Schauer, former head of enterprise design, Capital One
7. Uber Rideshare
Designed by Uber, 2009
By leveraging the gig economy and GPS, Uber created a global transportation system.
“Simplicity, convenience, and a seamless experience. By truly identifying the ‘pain points’ of taxi travel, and designing a great experience, they disrupted an industry and evolved how we move today.” —Mark Buchalter, design director, Hornall Anderson
8. Netflix Streaming
Designed by Netflix, 1997
The DVD rental company turned streaming service upended the movie and TV industries.
“Netflix transitioned the world into a new era of video streaming and redefined how video content is created and distributed.”—Logitech Design Team
9. Lego Building Blocks
Designed by Lego + Hilary Fisher Page, 1939
A delight to children and the bane of any parent who has stepped on an errant brick, Lego is the most popular toy in the world, with 75 billion pieces made annually. Though the company is famously Danish, the design originates with English toymaker Hilary Fisher Page, who created an “Interlocking Building Cube” in the late 1930s. Lego founder Ole Kirk Christiansen brought the bricks back from a trip to London and later acquired permission from Page.
Designed by Apple (Jonathan Ive), 2001
The heir to the Walkman’s throne. Put all your music in your pocket.
“It revolutionized a category with a closed system, and propelled the music industry forward.” —José Manuel dos Santos, head of design & user experience, Signify
11. Google Maps
Designed by Where 2 Technologies, 2005
Maps transformed our relationship with our environment. Nowhere is unknown.
“Google Maps looks at how people think about navigation—planning, time management, anticipating micro-steps, discovering what’s nearby or on the way, and destination info—and then layered on crowd sourced data to make real-time adjustments to results, integrated with its other products (search, advertising, etc.).” —Russell Flench, service designer, Cleveland Clinic
12. Apollo 11 Mission
Designed by NASA, 1969
“Put a man on the moon.” —Nathan Van Hook, senior creative director, Nike
“On July 20, 1969, the first steps by human beings were taken on another planetary body. The Apollo 11 spacecraft was an integral part of the Lunar Landing Mission, driving monumental achievements in science, technology, engineering, and math. When the Apollo 11 spacecraft successfully landed on the moon, all of that washed away for a bit. The landing arguably became one of the most important moments in human history, as NASA showed what we are capable of if we put our minds and resources together.” —Tanner Woodford, founder and executive director, Chicago Design Museum
13. Akari Lamp 1A
Designed by Isamu Noguchi, 1951
Marrying function and sculpture, Noguchi’s endlessly imitated lamps are a domestic work of art.
“There are few designs as simple and omnipresent as Noguchi’s Akari paper lamps, which have been copied to death. One could argue that the Akari lamps, which Noguchi presented at the 1986 Venice Art Biennale, are indeed artworks, making them among the most widely disseminated art objects in the world. With the lamps, Noguchi brought together a centuries-old traditional Japanese technique with modern technology, and did so in the most beautiful of ways.” —Spencer Bailey, editor-at-large, Phaidon
14. MacBook Pro
Designed by Apple (Jonathan Ive), 2006
Untethered creative professionals from workstation computers.
“It simply changed every part of our life.” —Yongqi Lou, dean of the College of Design and Innovation at Tongji University
15. Post-it Notes
Designed by 3M (Spencer Silver + Arthur Fry), 1977
The majority of the great designs on this list began as solutions to problems. But the Post-it began life as a solution without a problem. In the late 1960s, 3M chemist Spencer Silver—in pursuit of a superstrong adhesive—accidentally created a low-tack, reusable adhesive that could hold two surfaces together but easily be pulled apart. After kicking around the company for a few years, Silver’s colleague Arthur Fry used the adhesive for the bookmark in his hymnal so stop it falling out, sparking the idea for the Post-It. And the iconic yellow of the paper that eventually became home to that new substance? Also an accident. It was the color of the scrap paper available to the design team.
16. Boeing 747
Designed by Joe Sutter + Boeing Team, 1970
“Making travel easier and bringing the world together.” —Nathan Van Hook, senior creative director, Nike
“The first commercial airliner made travel to faraway places possible and relatively painless. My personal favorite is the Boeing 747, liked by most people when they first saw it, and part of my work history.” —David Kelley, founder, IDEO
17. Polaroid SX-70
Designed by James Gilbert Baker + Edwin Herbert Land, 1972
Kodak gave us the camera; Polaroid gave us an entire film lab.
“It was so easy to use and came with tips that could make anyone be—or feel like—an expert photographer.” —Barbara Barry, design strategist, Mayo-Clinic School of Medicine
18. Model S Sedan
Designed by Tesla (Franz von Holzhausen), 2012
The car that took Tesla from upstart to global player. High-performance, zero emissions.
“It transformed the retail automobile into an exponentially more intelligent and efficient high-performance machine while reducing its environmental impact–potentially at enormous scale.”—Jason Ring, senior design manager, Uber
19. Nokia 3210
Designed by Alastair Curtis, 1999
The first phone to sell more than 100 million units. The pinnacle of pre-smartphone design.
“Freed the world from location-based communication, allowing people to take and answer calls from wherever they liked. It set the bar for size, battery life and robustness (people still use it today). It was also awarded the product of the Millennium and was the first phone to sell past the 100 million mark.” —Anthony Dalby, VP Design, Lego
20. Savoy Vase
Designed by Alvar + Aino Aalto, 1972
“Holds flowers similarly to a human hand.” —Renée Cheng, dean of the College of Built Environments, University of Washington
“The Alvar Aalto Vase is one of the world’s most famous glass objects. Each and every vase in the Alvar Aalto Collection continues to be mouth blown at the Iittala factory in Finland and comes in a wide range of colors and sizes. The collection is a staple of modern Scandinavian design and Iittala’s most iconic series.” —Fiskars Group
21. Philips Hue Lighting System
Designed by Philips (Signify), 2012
Made lighting our homes as personal as the music we listen to.
“Light points are the network for communication, hidden in a light bulb, but capable of much more.” —Ena Voûte, dean of the faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, TU Delft
22. App Store
Designed by Apple, 2008
Manufacturers used to control what was on your phone. The App Store lets you decide.
“With the App Store, Apple pays developers handsomely to create ever-greater apps that make this all possible. All this is refined by a principled, curatorial force of nature that makes us all feel inspired and optimistic that life is perpetually getting better.” —Jason Ring, senior design manager, Uber
Designed by Spotify, 2006
The history of recorded music—on your desktop, on your phone, in your pocket.
“Amazing to think that today instead of going to Tower Records and looking at a few newly released albums, we now have access to every song ever recorded and all you have to do is ask for it.” —David Kelley, founder, IDEO
24. Amazon Prime
Designed by Amazon, 2005
“Press a button and get almost anything delivered to your door, without paying shipping.” —Jason Ring, senior design manager, Uber
“Jeff Bezos changed the way we shop, publish and read through his software design and warehouse system. Amazon Prime’s two-day shipping policy even has the US Postal Service making deliveries on Sundays, a once sacred day for government agencies to close.” —Anonymous survey respondent
25. Muji Rice Cooker
Designed by Naoto Fukasawa, 2014
Compact, sleek, and intuitive, this simple rice cooker shows the “subtle and strong systematic coherence” that’s become Muji’s hallmark, says Alok Nandi of the Interaction Design Association. Though TV food personality Alton Brown loves to rail against kitchen “unitaskers”—devices with only one function—when that function is to quickly and simply cook the staple grain of half the world’s population, we think an exception can be made.
Designed by Airbnb, 2008
Airbnb’s model of staying with a local was a radical approach to travel that made us feel less like tourists.
“Because staying in the home of a local exponentially increases the learning potential of travel. Airbnb experiences typically cost less for travelers, and they help everyday people earn money in a flexible way.” —Jason Ring, senior design manager, Uber
Designed by Wikipedia, 2001
“Addresses the complex problem of democratizing and sharing knowledge.” —Barbara Barry, design strategist, Mayo-Clinic School of Medicine
28. NYC Subway Map
Designed by Unimark (Massimo Vignelli), 1972
The challenge: design a legible guide to the sprawling transit system of New York City. Italian designer Massimo Vignelli’s solution? Ignore the overground geography and create a simplified, color-coded abstraction. Designers love the map, but the straphangers of the era did not: The MTA had it redesigned just five years later. But many of Vignelli’s original design cues persist, including the color-coding, heavy use of Helvetica, and liberties taken with the geography of the five boroughs.
Designed by Apple, 2007
A mobile operating system installed on 1.5 billion devices. Simple to use; powerful enough for serious work.
“A user experience that even babies can figure out without being taught.” —Hitachi Design Team
Designed by Japanese National Railways, 1964
Japan’s bullet trains reach 200 mph and have recorded zero passenger fatalities.
“The high-speed train is the symbol of a combination of expertise in multiple design skills. Its impact on the planet shows that ‘responsible design’ and high tech and sustainable environment should be possible with new behaviors.” —Alok Nandi, founder, Architempo
Designed by Tencent (Zhang Xiaolong), 2011
Integrating a host of essential mobile apps, WeChat has become users’ one-stop shop.
“An app that makes our life much easier.” —Yongqi Lou, dean of the College of Design and Innovation at Tongji University
32. Nest Learning Thermostat
Designed by Nest Labs (Tony Fadell), 2011
A thermostat that programs itself; as easy to use as the classic Honeywell model.
“Because the Nest ecosystem makes your home come to life with intelligence, in a highly integrated, easy-to-use way.” —Jason Ring, senior design manager, Uber
33. 606 Shelving System
Designed by Vitsoe (Dieter Rams), 1960
Modular shelving that works anywhere and holds anything.
“This is one of the most—if not *the most*—functional and well-built designs I can think of. It fits into practically any interior, and truly lasts a lifetime. Like the Eames chair and Noguchi’s Akari lamps, it’s a timeless creation, one that is of clean design and impeccable quality.” —Spencer Bailey, editor-at-large, Phaidon
Designed by Skype, 2003
A videochat service so successful that it’s become a verb: to Skype.
“The ability to connect visually anytime and anyplace furthering opportunities for stronger connection and social human experience.” —Kathleen Brandenburg, founder, IA Collaborative
35. Modern Classics
Designed by Penguin (Jan Tschichold), 1952
Designed to cost no more than a pack of cigarettes and fit in a pocket.
“The decision of the British publisher Allen Lane to reproduce great writing in the inexpensive, easily portable form of a paperback book was a key catalyst of social mobility and self-improvement in the 20th century. From a graphic design perspective, the archetypal Penguin paperback is the one devised by the German typographer Jan Tschichold as Penguin’s head of design from 1947 to 1949.” —design critic and author Alice Rawsthorn
Designed by Deborah Adler, 2005
Clearly labeled drug containers use color coding and clever design to aid patient safety.
“Inspired by the need for safety, the drug delivery system was reformed around creating confidence in key consumer moments — it’s not a pill bottle as much as it is a system.” —Brandon Schauer, former head of enterprise design, Capital One
Designed by Beijing Mobile Bike Technology, 2015
An elegant solution to the “last mile” problem: the first cashless, dockless bike share.
38. Round Thermostat
Designed by Honeywell (Henry Dreyfuss), 1953
Honeywell is a conglomerate with 114,000 employees, annual revenues of $42 billion, and businesses ranging from aerospace to industrial control systems to chemicals. Yet the thermostat created by Henry Dreyfuss is so iconic and ubiquitous that, for many, the company has become synonymous with his design. And while Honeywell makes a plethora of digital and smart thermostats, the humble round thermostat—the design of which was inspired by the über-analog radio dial—is still in production today.
39. Stool 60
Designed by Artek (Alvar Aalto), 1933
“A seat, table, storage unit; democratic, cheap, stackable.” —Rebekka Bay, creative director, Uniqlo
Designed by Facebook, 2003
For better or worse, Facebook connected the world and transformed advertising, politics, and society at large.
“Facebook (and its subsidiaries) has connected people and become a platform for a myriad of movements from political to social. Thanks to this platform, advertising and ecommerce has made way for massive digital sharing, click-bait, and the rise of the ‘influencer’ economy.” —Frog Design Team
41. Billy Bookcase
Designed by IKEA, 1979
The Billy embodies Ikea’s affordable design; the company has sold some 100 million to lit lovers worldwide.
“A Swedish design icon that is affordable and highly adaptive to the different needs and homes.” —Bas van de Poel, Creative director, Space10
42. Pride Flag
Designed by Gilbert Baker, 1979
“Iconic rainbow is unmistakable, infinitely customizable, and speaks pride for an increasingly wide range of LGBTQ+ people.” —Sara Cantor Aye, cofounder, Greater Good Studio
43. Lia Pregnancy Test
Designed by Bethany Edwards + Anna Simpson, 2017
A home pregnancy test accidentally discovered in a bathroom trash can is something of a cliché in sitcoms and romantic comedies. But behind that plot point is a design flaw: Most tests are made from nonbiodegradable plastic and can’t be flushed. Inspired to find something environmentally sound, Bethany Edwards and Anna Simpson created Lia, a home pregnancy test produced from paper that disintegrates in water. The upshot is more privacy for women and less plastic waste.
44. Super Mario Bros.
Designed by Nintendo (Shigeru Miyamoto), 1985
The first smash of the home console era sold more than 40 million copies.
“A masterpiece of horizontal scroll action. Contributed to massive expansion of the gaming industry [and had] a large impact on how so many people spend their time.” —Hitachi Design Team
45. Vélib’ Bike Service
Designed by JCDecaux, 2007
Paris’s e-bike share aims to cut traffic and emissions, and it rekindled the city’s love of cycling.
The Vélib’ project is a best practice in social design that goes beyond the limits of bicycle transportation. A project that stimulated Paris’s new urban experience and mobility change under a shared economy.” —Bas van de Poel, Creative director, Space10
46. Apple Watch
Designed by Apple, 2015
The power of an iPhone in a package not much bigger than a postage stamp.
“Before the Apple Watch, smartwatches were bulky wrist computers. Apple transformed this category into a fashionable accessory that improves people’s health.” —Bas van de Poel, Creative director, Space10
47. Bialetti Moka Pot
Designed by Alfonso Bialetti, 1933
As essential as the beverage it brews, it took espresso from coffee shop to stove top.
“Iconic coffee pot designed in Italy in 1933 and popular around the world. Easy to use on a gas or electric stove.” —Carole Bilson, president, Design Management Institute
Designed by Ikea (Noboru Nakamura), 1974
Ikea continues to sell about 1.5 million of these elegant-yet-affordable chairs annually.
“A blend of Japanese and Nordic design that has democratized furniture design worldwide over the past 40 years, the Poäng is practical, adaptable, simple, and comfortable.” —Logitech Design Team
49. Volkswagen Beetle
Designed by Ferdinand Porsche, 1938
They say you can’t outrun your past. Tell that to the VW Beetle, which pulled off one of the great reinventions of our time. Commissioned by Adolf Hitler to be an affordable “people’s car” for the citizens of the Third Reich, the Bug, as it’s now lovingly known, overcame its sinister origins to be embraced by hippies and Disney alike. Designed by Ferdinand Porsche, the undeniably cute little car uses a rear-mounted, 25-horsepower air-cooled engine to keep things as mechanically simple as possible.
50. Microsoft Office
Designed by Microsoft, 1990
Can you imagine doing business without Excel or PowerPoint?
“The most widely used desktop software and productivity tool is virtually unrivaled in the business space. Excel is the Kleenex of spreadsheets.” —Frog Design Team
Designed by Earl Tupper, 1948
Lightweight, reusable, and virtually unbreakable food containers: a product as innovative as the “party” model for selling it.
52. View-Master Model F
Designed by Chuck Harrison, 1958
Chuck Harrison didn’t invent the View-Master, but he refashioned it from a bulky device aimed at photographers to a toy enjoyed by children and adults alike.
“A simple design for kids to see 3D images. Over 4 million sold and designed by the first African-American industrial designer to head up a large corporate studio.” —Carole Bilson, president, Design Management Institute
Designed by Vestergaard Frandsen, 2005
A drinking straw with a self-contained filtration system, LifeStraw has been deployed in disaster regions around the world and has provided safe water to millions.
54. Raspberry Pi
Designed by Raspberry Pi Foundation, 2012
“A simple, single-board computer, designed to promote basic computer-science education in schools and developing countries. The product costs only $35 off the shelf, without peripherals like a screen, keyboard, or mouse. The company was founded in 2012 so that more people are able to harness the power of computing and digital technologies for work, to solve problems that matter to them, and to express themselves creatively. With millions sold to designers, makers, and tinkerers, the next generation of technology leaders is sure to have interacted with Raspberry Pi at some point in their development.” —Tanner Woodford, founder and executive director, Design Museum of Chicago
Designed by Van Phillips, 1971
The Flex-Foot’s carbon graphite prosthesis allows leg and foot amputees to run and jump by storing and releasing kinetic energy like a spring. Variants of the Flex-Foot are used by 90% of Paralympians.
56. Novel Hospital Toys
Designed by Hikaru Imamura, 2012
“In a world where our technology and its side effects can be frightening, these simple and empathetic toy blocks help prepare a child mentally and emotionally for what could otherwise be a very terrifying experience to receive the care they need.” —Brandon Schauer, former head of enterprise design, Capital One
57. Life Magazine
Designed by Time Inc., 1936
LIFE turned the medium of magazine on its head by putting more emphasis on photography than words. In its heyday from 1936 to 1972 it served as a visual document to the world’s most important events.
58. Leica M3
Designed by Ernst Leitz, 1954
The Leica M3’s super-bright combined viewfinder and rangefinder allowed photographers to better understand the images they would capture on film before clicking the shutter. Its system of interchangeable lenses is still used by Leica today.
59. Olivetti Lettera 32 Typewriter
Designed by Marcello Nizzoli, 1963
The Olivetti Lettera 22 was the top-ranked product on the 1959 list, and its 1963 successor, the Lettera 32, was recognized by the survey in 2019. While typewriters have been superseded by personal computers, the Lettera 32’s portability and ease of use make it an enduring classic.
Designed by Airtable, 2012
Airtable is an online group-collaboration tool. Think of it like an Excel spreadsheet with more organizational features.
“Adopting everything you love about spreadsheets, combined with resolving everything you hate about spreadsheets, is where Airtable soaks its sweet spot.” —Allan Chochinov, New York School of Visual Arts
61. Forever Stamps
Designed by United States Postal Service, 2006
The Forever Stamp was inspired by a similar nondenominational stamp from the U.K.’s Royal Mail. It solves the problem of fluctuating mail postage rates for both the user and the postal service.
“Brilliant business model ensures they will always be the best price and relevant as long as the USPS exists.” —Sara Cantor Aye, cofounder, Greater Good Studio
62. Telephone Area Code
Designed by Bell Labs (Ladislav Sutnar), 1947
“The numerals that would allow the Bell Telephone system to expand its overall coverage were placed inside parentheses, an idea conceived by designer Ladislav Sutnar.” —Steven Heller, designer
63. Braun Calculator
Designed by Braun (Dieter Rams + Dietrich Lubs), 1987
One of Dieter Rams’ most famous designs, this minimalist calculator is now probably more famous for inspiring the iOS software calculator.
64. Apple Pay
Designed by Apple, 2014
Digital payments authorized by your face or fingerprints. Combined with Apple’s “secure enclave” chip, it’s infinitely more secure than a traditional credit card.
Designed by Nike, 2008
The Flyknit knitting process creates a running shoe upper that is virtually seamless, highly breathable, and hugs the foot like a sock.
“This shoe marked a move away from conventional mass production, redefining manufacturing customization in lockstep with world’s move towards sustainability.” —Logitech Design Team
66. Orange-Handled Shears
Designed by Fiskars, 1967
Fiskars was the first company to make an ergonomic, plastic-handled scissor in 1967. More than 1 billion of the distinctive orange-handled shears have been sold since then.
Designed by Satoshi Tajiri, 1989
Pokémon was inspired by creator Satoshi Tajiri’s hobby of insect collecting. The original Game Boy game, released in 1996, inspired a television series, movies, manga, trading cards, and a theme park.
“It captures the attention and imagination of so many people.” — Barbara Barry, design strategist, Mayo Clinic School of Medicine
Designed by Mylan, 1987
EpiPen cocreator Richard B. Toren’s daughter was severely allergic to bee stings, and he had to carry a complex kit of vials and syringes in case she was stung. The device he helped create safely and simply delivered a dose of epinephrine (adrenaline) into a patient experiencing anaphylaxis.
69. Medical Drones
Designed by Zipline, 2014
Zipline uses drones to deliver blood, vaccines, and medicines to regions in Rwanda and Ghana that lack sufficient road infrastructure. Zipline currently flies more than 500 deliveries every day.
70. Geodesic Dome
Designed by Buckminster Fuller, 1948
A hemispherical geodesic polyhedron sounds complex, but it’s simply a dome made from a lattice of triangles. Buckminster Fuller employed this form to create the geodesic dome, a structure that has scaled from greenhouses and small dwellings to biodomes and World Expo pavilions.
“Designed as a response to the postwar housing crisis, the geodesic dome is a formula to construct a robust domed shelter from whatever materials are available at the time. It has since provided sorely needed shelter for millions of people, many of them in desperate circumstances.” —Alice Rawsthorn, design critic and author
Designed by Earle Haas, 1933
Women had used tampon-like materials for millennia to absorb their menstrual flow. But Dr. Earle Haas’s Tampax, with its sterile rayon/cotton material and applicator, made it safe and easy to use.
“The design of the tampon was one of the chief catalysts for the liberation of women during the mid- and late-20th century by freeing most women from the physical and hormonal constraints of menstruation.” —Alice Rawsthorn, design critic and author
72. 23 & Me
Designed by Linda Avey, Paul Cusenza, Anne Wojcicki, 2006
DNA testing is controversial. But 23andMe gives answers to some of the most significant questions we have about ourselves: Who are we? Where do we come from?
“It introduces a complex scientific idea in the context of everyday life.” —Barbara Barry, design strategist, Mayo Clinic School of Medicine
73. Dyson Bagless
Designed by James Dyson, 1980
The Dyson bagless vacuum cleaner took one of the most mundane household appliances and made it a status symbol.
“It was a great combination of design and engineering, successfully creating a space among established brands.” —José Manuel dos Santos, head of design & user experience, Signify
74. Netscape Browser
Designed by AOL, 2005
75. Futura Typeface
Designed by Paul Renner, 1927
Once you know what the Futura family of typefaces looks like, you can’t escape it. The Calvin Klein logo? Futura Light. Best Buy? Futura Extra Bold. Louis Vuitton? Futura Medium. Not to mention Supreme, Nike, Red Bull, Gillette, Frosted Flakes, Domino’s Pizza…you get the idea.
Designed by JR East, 2001
Suica is a rechargeable, contactless payment card for Japanese train lines. Interoperable with a number of train systems, stores, and kiosks, it’s accepted at more 476,000 points of sale. Nineteen years since Suica was introduced, the New York City subway system is only just testing a similar contactless system.
77. Air Jordan 1
Designed by Nike (Peter C. Moore), 1984
The design that took basketball shoes from the court to the streets and into pop culture. Its original black and red colorway was banned by the NBA for not being predominantly white.
78. Leatherman Pocket Survival Tool
Designed by Tim Leatherman, 1983
Leatherman’s original multi-tool contains 14 tools in one and is centered around a hardy set of needle-nose pliers. An essential for anglers, hikers, or use around the house.
79. Box Chair
Designed by Enzo Mari, 1971
“Design is dead” is a phrase Enzo Mari—equal parts artist, designer, intellectual, and provocateur—has been known to bandy about. His Communist beliefs permeate his works, including the box chair, which is made simply of tubular metal and perforated plastic.
80. Ultra Light Down
Designed by Uniqlo, 2011
Uniqlo’s ultralight down takes up very little space and is super lightweight, affordable, and warm.
Designed by Robert Fraser, 1966
Robert Fraser took inspiration from Japanese zori sandals to create the first rubber flip-flop.
“Simple, functional design, inexpensive, as close to barefoot feeling yet foot protection for all. Unlimited styles available today at every price level.” —Carole Bilson, president, Design Management Institute
82. Womb Chair
Designed by Eero Saarinen, 1948
The name says it all. Designer and former president of the iconic furniture seller, Florence Knoll, asked Saarinen for “a chair that was like a basket full of pillows.” The result fits the brief to a “T.”
Designed by Andrew Parkinson + Thomas Parkinson, 1989
One of the original online grocers, established before Jeff Bezos registered Amazon.com.
“With Peapod, this chore is a 45-minute task versus three hours. I gain two hours and 15 minutes of value back into my life on a weekly basis. That is 117 hours of more value in my life yearly.” —Brianna Sylver, president, Sylver Consulting
84. Disney MagicBand
Designed by Frog Design, 2013
“Frog’s work for Disney resulted in a connected, seamless, and overall improved theme park experience. It reduced lines, allowed over 5,000 people into the park faster, allowed quick access to a user’s digital wallet, acted as a hotel room and photo pass, and signaled to beloved Disney characters to greet the children as they made their way through the park. Add to that the elegant and beautiful design of the band itself.” —Andrew Zimmerman
85. Volkswagen Type 2
Designed by Ben Pon, 1950
“Since the 1950s consistently delivering the people’s van, over five generations of product, with something for everyone: from a classic utility vehicle for tradespeople the world over to dreams of escape and adventure promised by 1960s ‘hippie buses’ and modern-day T5 ‘California’ models alike.” —Carole Bilson, president, Design Management Institute
86. Unix OS
Designed by Bell Labs (Ken Thompson + Dennis Ritchie), 1970
“Unix and its successors enabled and empowered the development of the open-source movement, which has fueled experimentation in software design.” —Alice Rawsthorn, design critic and author
87. Ray-Ban Wayfarer
Designed by Raymond Stegeman, 1952
From Bob Dylan to Andy Warhol to Debbie Harry to Tom Cruise in Risky Business, the Wayfarer is the de facto shade of American cool.
88. Stokke Tripp Trapp
Designed by Peter Opsvik, 1972
A rebuke to all the plastic baby products that parents throw out after a month, the Tripp Trapp chair actually grows with a child.
89. Aravind Eye Hospitals
Designed by Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy, 1976
“Aravind pioneered the application of sophisticated design principles to transform the lives of the poor in India, by addressing the issue of needless blindness at a cost, quality, and scale previously unimaginable. The Aravind model represents a high bar for the holistic application of design to an entire interconnected system of care that is adaptive, flexible, and unwaveringly user-centered.” —Robert Fabricant, cofounder and partner, Dalberg Design
Designed by Satoshi Nakamoto, 2009
“Bitcoin wasn’t invented, it was designed so that a wide range of stakeholders—developers, investors, businesses, miners, individuals—all had incentives that reinforced adoption of a new digital currency, without any central issuer or governing authority. In just over 10 years since it was released, it is now worth nearly $200 billion and is used by millions of people in countries around the world. I don’t think any product in the history of the world has bootstrapped quite so effectively.” — David Kelley, founder, IDEO
91. National Park Map
Designed by Massimo + Lella Vignelli, 1977
“Visual, educational, authoritative, inviting systems-based information design about national treasures in the USA.” —Marcia Lausen, director, School of Design at UIC
92. Porsche 911
Designed by Ferdinand Porsche, 1963
It’s a joke among motoring enthusiasts that the easiest job in car design is working on the Porsche 911, a car that has incrementally evolved since its introduction in 1965. The car available today is a lot bigger and massively more powerful, but it retains the essence of Porsche’s original design.
93. Teema Tableware
Designed by Kaj Franck, 1952
A Scandinavian classic that’s as practical as it is beautiful: Every Teema piece is oven, freezer, microwave, and dishwasher safe.
94. LINN Sondek LP12
Designed by Ivor Tiefenbrun, 1972
The Platonic ideal of a turntable—the gold standard of home audiophiles.
“More than simply playing music.” —Yongqi Lou, dean of the College of Design and Innovation at Tongji University
95. Valentine Typewriter
Designed by Ettore Sottsass, 1969
Sottass says he picked the cherry-red color “so as not to remind anyone of monotonous working hours.”
96. IBM Logo
Designed by Paul Rand, 1956
“Paul Rand’s redesign of the logo and visual identity defined the computer and information ages in relation to the corporation.” —Steven Heller, designer
97. Telephone Model 302
Designed by Henry Dreyfuss, 1937
As part of the research that went into designing the 302, Dreyfuss masqueraded as repairman to learn more about how people used their phones.
98. Great Green Wall
Designed by Panafrican Agency of the Great Green Wall, 2007
“The epic design endeavor to plant and cultivate a 5,000-mile swath of trees and other plants across the southern edge of the Sahara Desert from Senegal in the West to Djibouti in the East is an inspiring, optimistic, and wildly ambitious attempt to address the damage caused by drought, deforestation, land erosion, the climate emergency, and the social, economic, and political problems they cause in one of the poorest parts of the world.” —Alice Rawsthorn, design critic and author
99. IBM Mainframe
Designed by IBM (Eliot Noyes), 1952
Referred to within IBM as the Defense Calculator, the 701 was the company’s first mainframe—or large-scale computer—and laid the groundwork for Big Blue to become a dominant player in the market. Designed to serve the needs of the U.S. government, defense companies, and researchers, the machine was capable of performing 16,000 addition or subtraction operations a second.
100. Blackwing 602 Pencil
Designed by Eberhard Faber, 1934
With a cult-like following among copy editors and stationery devotees, the Blackwing 602 is known for its motto: “Half the pressure, twice the speed.” The pencil’s original maker, German company Eberhard-Faber, stopped producing the design in 1998, but its legacy is now being continued by California Cedar Products.
Acknowledgments: This list was compiled by the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology under the supervision of Denis Weil. Research was led by Todd Cooke and conducted by Ellesia Albert, Harini Balusubramanian, Jessica Jacobs, Mark Jones, and Martin Thaler.
A version of this article appears in the April 2020 issue of Fortune.
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