12 Product Designs that Defined the 20th Century

Product Designs that Define the 20th Century

Product design is a powerful thing. It appeals to aesthetics, speaks to the senses, and discerns a brand as the best. On rare occasions, a product design is so ingenious it exalts an idea to an icon. CNN asked the world’s top designers to name the greatest designs of the past 100 years. The network also spoke to Gianfranco Zaccai, CEO of global design and innovation firm Continuum, whose team has designed many well-known products from the largest brands for the past 30 years.

According to Mr. Zaccai, the top three principles of good design are empathy, pragmatism, and passion. Empathy is essential because it’s the realization that you are designing for others beyond yourself. This means you have to put yourself in others’ shoes to relate to their needs and lives. Pragmatism is helpful because it grounds your idea in reality and makes you focus on practical things like production, performance, and price. And the final factor is passion, which turns creativity into creation.

Zaccai believes it takes a talented team for brands to maintain a sense of innovation. The team needs to understand people’s lives and have various skills and insights that can stimulate others’ ideas. After all, the greatest ideas often result when two or more sensibilities unite in one stroke of genius.

“Design is about making a positive difference in people lives, which they embrace because of the holistic value it provides,” explains Mr. Zaccai. “It’s functional, fun, enjoyable, uplifting, and sustainable.”

For amateur designers, Mr. Zaccai suggests that they look at their world to see if their vision reflects a need. If so, they have to share it with people they can trust who can help them make it better. In addition, they must perceive and pursue every opportunity to develop their product, promote its growth, and support its long-term success. It takes passion, patience, and perseverance, but it’s worth it to see an idea come to life.

With all of the products in the last 100 years, 12 stood out as outstanding. Two Apple designs were favored by experts for the way they defined generations. The designers also admired the sleek seating of Aeron chairs, the architectural awe of escalators, and how jet engines transformed air travel.


Here is the list of 12 classified as outstanding:

  • Apple Macintosh
  • Piaggio’s Vespa
  • Escalator
  • Virgin Galactic Space Plane
  • AK-47
  • Floppy Disk
  • Ipod
  • The Aeron Chair
  • Bang and Olufsen Stereo
  • Airbus A380
  • Ford Model T
  • Jet Engine

Product Designs that Defined the 20th Century


Floppy Disk
Floppy Disks

Airbus A380
Airbus A380

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