Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Objet D'Rad

By Rick Shithouse

Welcome to the first edition of Objet D'Rad, a new monthly feature on Synthetix.FM that will focus on specific design icons of the 80s. First off I'd like to thank Tim Waves for helping out getting our header graphic rockin. You can find more of Tim's wonderful 80s inspired work on his site here.

On with our first edition of Objet D'Rad! For this first post I really wanted to cover one of my absolute favourite pieces of iconic 80s design, something that spoke to me directly when I first laid eyes upon it and just had to own them. This Objet D'Rad in particular is Sharp's WN-30 Sparky Calculator.

Manufactured in 1987 as a part of Sharp's 'Humanware' line the WN-30 calculator is about as iconically 80s in design as anything could possibly get. The Humanware line from Sharp was all about adding colour, personality and high end design to commonly used home electrical and electronic items. We'll be revisiting this range again in the future, but the WN-30 marks a massively high water mark in concept and delivery of re-inventing a commonplace item into something more akin to an art piece.

For context, one must remember, that in 1987 there were no smartphones or home internet or anything like what we have electronically at our disposal today. The calculator was a common and oft used part of every day life at work and school and up to this point (aside from the Casio Film Card line) the calculator was purely functional for functions sake and wasn't seen as an item of beauty in any respect.

The Sparky was an ingenious design that functioned as well as it looked. The diagonal sliding cover not only worked in an exceedingly futuristic manner but also protected the display and solar cells from being damaged. This also reduced the size of the calculator to a small 7cm square when not in use. The buttons are also slightly rounded to prevent them catching on anything.

Original Japanese Print Ad for the WN-30 Line.

The more time one spends surveying the WN-30 the more one notices subtle design choices that tie the whole piece together. The slightly different shade given to the 'On/Clear' button, the use of a geometrically angled font for all the numbers, the way the more vibrant colours are hidden beneath the sliding outer shell. 

Even the intricately fine angled patten that surrounds the display, everything just drips of high end and refined design aesthetics. This didn't go unnoticed either, as the Sparky was featured in the 1987-88 edition of the International Design Yearbook (pictured right), along with numerous other pieces from Sharp's Humanware line.

The sheer elegance of the 80s aesthetic is captured flawlessly in the WN-30 Solar Cell Calculator from Sharp. This is a real hallmark of art design in mainstream electronics from the 80s that remains unsurpassed. The time when major electronics companies took risks on avant garde designs has long past now, but we'll always have these wonderful motifs as reminders of why the 80s was such a visually exciting and ground breaking decade.

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