The Museum of Modern Art Design Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive design reference guide. Compiled over the last 15 years by Mel Byars, in consultation with an international team of design experts, The Encyclopedia sets out to provide the solid framework of a discipline whose own historical accounting of itself is still relatively young. (By way of contrast, art history has existed as a scholarly discipline for over two centuries and has produced a reasonably comprehensive record of itself in that period.) Only once before has a similarly comprehensive overview of the history of design been attempted–in 1994, also by Mel Byars.
The Encyclopedia is about design, of course. Still, these days “design” seems to encompass almost everything, from magazine layouts and sweatshirts to animatronic flower gardens and heat pumps, not to mention the more abstract “information design.” However, design is considered only in its concrete application to functional objects, thus crossing with craft, decorative arts, and industrial design, but distinguishing itself from fine art and theory. The result is 832 pages covering the last 130 years in the history of the creation of furniture, lighting, fabrics, ceramics, glassware, metalware, objects in a range of other materials, and mechanical, electrical and electronic appliances as automobiles and some inventions.
There are separate entries for designers and craftspeople, design studios, consortiums and partnerships, noteworthy manufacturers, significant historical periods and styles, and materials. Entries, 3,600 in all, are self-contained and organized alphabetically and include cross-references. Information is an amalgamation of data gathered from many primary and secondary sources. With over 700 full-colour illustrations, most of which are drawn from the MoMA collection, the remainder from Quittenbaum Kunstauktionen in Munich and Hamburg or directly from designers or manufacturers, this publication is an invaluable definitive compendium of the world of design over the last century and a half.