Two decades of Design: charting the finest design innovations of 1996-2016
History has its calm spots, long stretches where nothing much happens and the lives of men remain fundamentally unchanged. The last two decades were not such a time. Such has been the dizzying, disruptive advance of digital technology – creating seismic behavioural shifts and tech companies of vast wealth and power – it is easy to imagine the material world, the world beyond the screen, stuck in slow motion, an analogue also-ran with the wrong sort of engine.
As this expansive look back at two decades of design innovation makes clear, nothing could be further from the truth. The world of objects has also shifted on its axis. And in more and more areas, design – beautiful, functional design – has shifted from last-minute bolt-on, a perfunctory styling job, to first principle. We now begin with design and the world is a better-designed place.
The next two decades will see a new revolution as technology emerges from behind the screen and almost everything becomes smarter. Design will gain new dimensions and we will be here to show you how it happens. And, just to make clear that we can innovate with the best of them, our Proustian design reverie has a unique background pattern in every single issue. Here’s to another two decades of smarter, more beautiful, more refined stuff.
Launched in 1996 in First Class and then rolled out in Club World cabins in 2000, the British Airways flatbed transformed business travel with its increased space and comfortability.
Photography: Courtesy British Airways
Ryanair may have led the low-cost airline revolution, but it was the launch this year of easyJet that showed how an internet-only airline could really work.
Photography: Courtesy easyJet
The first glimmers of the all-electric future manifested itself in General Motors’ forward-thinking EV1. A fleet of around 1,000 cars was leased, not sold, and when they proved too expensive to run, GM had them all recalled and (mostly) crushed.
Photography: Matthew Richardson/Alamy Stock Photo
American company Expedia debuts as the original online travel company to launch and the internet’s first big travel brand adding speed to our travel options through bulk searching and booking.
Photography: Courtesy Expedia
Release of the Nokia 9000 Communicator, which combined a PDA with a digital cellular phone. The two devices were fixed together via a hinge in the first clamshell design.
Luxury watchmakers Parmigiani Fleurier was founded, now known for creating the Bugatti 370, a driving watch inspired by the Bugatti Veyron supercar. Michel Parmigiani, the most famous watch restorer in the Swiss industry, created his own brand.
Photography: Courtesy Parmigiani Fleurier
Architecture master Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao opens and the Bilbao effect begins. Soon every city will want one following the beauty of its abstract and innovative titanium architectural form.
Photography: Michael Bracey/Alamy Stock Photo
Colette opens in Paris. Spanning seven hundred sq m and three floors, the retail destination marks the birth of the concept store concept, where a shop is tailored towards a lifestyle theme without having separate departments.
Photography: Frederic Reglain/Gamma Rapho via Getty Images
Steve Jobs returns to Apple as interim CEO, having co-founded the company in 1976 and pioneered the microcomputer revolution of the 1970s and 1980s, before being forced out of the company in 1985 after a long power struggle.
Photography: Daniel Sheehan/Liaison
‘Zettel’z 5’ chandelier by German designer Ingo Maurer launches. Made of stainless steel and Japanese paper hung with paperclips, some of which are left empty and some of which feature love letters writte in different languages, DIY decoration was never so high-end.
Photography: Courtesy Ingo Maurer
Citterio 98 cutlery for Finnish brand Iittala launches. Designed by architect, furniture designer and industrial designer Antonio Citterio, the matte stainless steel collection brings utilitarian chic into every home.
Photography: Courtesy Citterio
Petronas Towers, designed by César Pelli, completes in Kuala Lumpur. It is the world’s tallest building at the time and will remain so until 2004, when Tapei101 is completed.
Photography: JTB MEDIA CREATION, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo
The 'Vermelha' chair is launched by Fernando and Humberto Campana for Edra. The Brazilian brothers show just what can happen when 500 metres of red rope finds its way into the right hands.
Photography: Courtesy Quittenbaum
Donatella’s first Atelier Versace collection wows on a see-through catwalk over the swimming pool at the Ritz Paris.
Photography: JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images
After having created the Maison Pierre Hermé Paris in 1997, Pierre Hermé opens his first boutique in Tokyo and the humble macaron gets a luxury makeover.
Photography: dpa picture alliance/Alamy Stock Photo
Ace Hotels launches in Seattle, deconstructing the traditional urban hotel model by kickstarting a worldwide trend for unfussy, industrial-chic, hipster-friendly hotels.
Photography: Courtesy Ace Hotel
Revered industrial designer Marc Newson’s Ford 021C concept car, a 1950s-inspired saloon with suicide doors, is our cover star. Produced purely as a styling exercise and not intended for production, it was named after the Pantone orange colour. For the first time, a car is redefined as a piece of contemporary consumer technology.
Photography: Tommaso Sartori
Nikon D1, the first professional digital SLR, launches. It marks, says one wag, the end of the beginning of the digital age.
Photography: dpa picture alliance/Alamy Stock Photo
Just when everyone thought the wristwatch was about to become obsolete, Chanel created a new language in fine watch design with the sporty, unisex ceramic J12. It sold massively and is now an icon of modern watchmaking.
Photography: Courtesy Chanel
Clandestine bar Milk & Honey opens on the Lower East Side of New York behind an unmarked door with an unlisted phone number. They revive the knowledge, expertise and ceremony that accompanied cocktail culture in years past, and the Craft Cocktail movement begins.
Photography: Doug Steley C/Alamy Stock Photo
Francesco Binfaré’s 'Flap' sofa system for Italian brand Edra, with its reclining elements and liberal use of lycra, astonishes.
Net-a-Porter launches in London with backing from private individuals including Anya Hindmarch and Tamara Mellon (after the likes of Condé Nast pass). As Seen on Screen (soon to be renamed ASOS) debuts the same year.
What began this year as a site for users to grumble about shoddy hotel rooms, has since become the biggest online brand of unbiased customer reviews, helping small businesses to grow, keeping the service market competitive and delivering a body blow to the traditional guidebook.
Tomas Maier joins Bottega Veneta as creative director, quickly introducing a new era of stealth wealth by removing visible logos – as their famous 1970s slogan conveys, 'When your own initials are enough' – and highlighting the signature intrecciato woven leather.
Photography: Courtesy Bottega Veneta/Peter Lindbergh
The Eden Project, designed by Grimshaw Architects as a greenhouse of conjoining geometric plastic cells, opens in Cornwall, England.
Photography: Courtesy The Eden project
Launching as the original flight-comparison website, Skyscanner is flexible, fair and the first of many.
Photography: Courtesy Skyscanner
The world is devistated by the destruction of the World Trade Center’s twin towers by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Photography: LatitudeStock/Alamy Stock Photo
Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s Blur Building opens at the Swiss Expo. A practice known for art installations and small residential projects joins the big leagues.
Photography: Courtesy Diller Scofidio + Renfro
Today, every serious sports car manufacturer is in the business of bespoke cars, but Ferrari’s Enzo was one of the first, a road-going synthesis of Formula 1 technology and bold Pininfarina design, sold by invitation only.
Photography: Culture-images GmbH /Alamy Stock Photo
The Paleo Diet is published. Written by Loren Cordain, it advocates stripping back nutritional intake to just that which our Paleolithic ancestors had, redesigning the meaning of food.
Photography: Marilyn Barbone/Alamy Stock Photo
Maarten Baas graduates from the Design Academy Eindhoven with his Smoke series project, for which he charred furniture and treated the torched skeletons with epoxy resin, turning them into useable pieces of furniture.
Photography: Courtesy Studio Maarten Baas
Concorde takes its last commercial passenger flight after the type's only crash in 2000 and the 9/11 attacks.
Design hotel and mountain spa retreat, Vigilius, designed by Mattheo Thun, opens. It is built entirely out of renewable resources in an attempt to reflect its environment and inconspicuously nestle and merge into the surrounding landscape.
Photography: Courtesy Matteo Thun + Partners
Carl Honoré’s book In Praise of Slowness is published, uncovering a movement that challenges the cult of speed in favour of better quality of life.
Photography: MBP-one/Alamy Stock Photo
Virgin Galactic launches as a space flight company developing commercial spacecraft with the aim of imminently witnessing a maiden flight and transforming space tourism.
Photography: Courtesy Virgin Galactic
Five years after he passes away, Spanish architect Enric Miralles’ reimagined Santa Catarina food market in Barcelona opens.
Photography: Hemis/Alamy Stock Photo
Google Maps launches and old-fashioned map reading goes the way of the gramophone.
Bose’s QuietComfort noise-cancelling headphones bring military technology to the masses.
The Netflix streaming service launches, encouraged at first by mainstream networks, which see it as a place to sell otherwise worthless old shows.
Photography: FocusMedia/Alamy Stock Photo
Airbnb enters the short-term accommodation market and quickly has a huge impact on the hotel industry, forcing many traditional brands to rethink their business models.
Photography: Courtesy Airbnb
Emirates launches the ultimate freshen-up with the world’s first in-flight shower.
Photography: ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images
The bushy brow takes firm hold with the signing of Cara Delevingne to Storm Models.
Photography: Charles Edwards/Alamy Stock Photo
The Slowcooker, by Margriet Foolen for Royal VKB, is an instant kitchen classic, embracing the latest trend in slow cooking.
The launch of the '001' lightbulb by Plumen and Samuel Wilkinson means there is finally an environmentally-sound, better-looking replacement for the humble filament.
Photography: Courtesy Plumen
Another platform driving the sharing economy, Uber’s arrival disrupts the traditional taxi industry in many major cities.
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum opens in New York.
Photography: Stefano Politi Markovina/Alamy Stock Photo
Cold brew coffee is the new caffeine craze. A centuries-old brewing method, coffee grounds are steeped in room-temperature water for up to a day to produce a concentrated coffee essence which is then diluted and served chilled.
Photography: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Tyler Hays launches M Crow, in New York – the ultimate expression of the new craft movement, emphasisng handcrafted hyperlocal production inspired by founder Tyler Hays fantasy to personally make every object in his life from scratch.
Photography: Courtesy Crow
Every issue of Wallpaper this month contains a unique version of this poster, printed with HP Indigo’s Mosaic software, which was first introduced to the mass market in 2014 in Israel, when HP managed to produce more than two million bottles for Diet Coke, none of them the same.
Photography: Courtesy Coca-Cola
The Etihad Residence Suite, the world’s only three-room suite on a commercial jet, features a living room, bedroom and bathroom.
The 13, the world’s most expensive hotel is announced. Located in Macau, it will cost some $1.4 billion to bring to life.
Photography: Courtesy 13 Hotel
The great dame of architecture Zaha Hadid – the first woman to receive the RIBA Gold Medal and one-time editor of Wallpaper – and Claude Parent – the provocative architect who built the church of Sainte-Bernadette du Banlay in Nevers – both die.
Photography: Credit: JOCHEN LUEBKE/AFP/Getty Images
Model citizens: the Bouroullecs on urban fiction
The circus' big top makes an appearance in the kitchen of the W* House
The Ulm School's singular approach to product design comes to light at Raven Row
Celestial shelving system creates geometric networks in the W* House
5 designers imagine White House interiors for Clinton and Trump
Pop-up design shows and galleries from around the globe
Route master: Louis XIII's cognac travel trunk is an ode to adventure
The W* House: a sculptural cork and copper stool nods to Op art
Black beauties: Norm Architects discover the darker side of Danish design
Doshi Levien make a home at John Lewis
Italian stone specialist Salvatori unveils London showroom, designed by Piero Lissoni
Apple re-opens London flagship with a new look by Foster + Partners
Ornamental dinnerware invites industrial aesthetics to the W* House
Today's design, tomorrow's reality: join Tony Chambers in conversation with Paul Cocksedge
Smart travel-friendly stools get stacked in the W* House
Constance Guisset stages a harmonious duet of apartments in monochrome and colour
Inside the Smart Art issue: Santiago Gonzalez takes us home, plus Jean Nouvel's design studio
Dressed to impress: Picky Nicky loves a man (and woman) in uniform
Work of friction: the making of Thomas Heatherwick’s Friction Cover for our 20th anniversary issue
Norm core: Normann Copenhagen creates a Technicolor kingdom in its revamped flagship
PAD brings collectible design to the fore with its tenth London edition
In the frame: standout designs from around the globe
Brazilian furniture pop-up Studio 55 makes waves in West Hollywood
Future fabrication: Joris Laarman traverses new frontiers in 3D-printed design
Abstract hanging lights brighten up the W* House
London Design Festival 2016: in pictures
Persian rug company Golran's first Milan flagship is a serene oasis of calm
New in the W* House: a geometric aluminium palindrome that can be both stool or bowl
Studio Swine resurrects Fordlandia, Henry Ford’s lost Amazon utopia
The Campana brothers put a humble Brazilian brick centre stage at Aesop's latest store
Lee Broom makes the leap stateside with New York showroom debut
Google's life-enhancing gadget suite brings a new edge to your world
Zaha Hadid experiments with walnut in her final collection for David Gill Gallery
The long game: B&B Italia’s Giorgio Busnelli dreams big for the future
Melrose Place maker: Ben Soleimani on reinventing a tired patch of West Hollywood
Luminaire auctions Campana brothers, Nendo and Marcel Wanders works (and more) in Miami
La Chance brings a contemporary flourish to art deco furniture in New York
On the button: hunting for unidentified acts of design in Huaqiangbei
Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec take glassblowing to the extreme for Galerie Kreo
As PAD London turns 10, fair debutant Joseph Walsh brings something new to the table
Stardust memories: Picky Nicky reminisces on the thrills and spills of working for Wallpaper*
Still life: brandy distiller Christoph Keller explains how art influences his business
Counter revolution: Tom Dixon brings the heat to IDS Vancouver
Sloping beauty: Patricia Urquiola reaches mountain high with tableware for Georg Jensen
Martino Gamper and friends collaborate on ceramics that are anything but ordinary
Frette and Dimore Studio make perfect bedfellows for new London store
- All Design news