Telephones, televisions, dolls, cameras, CDs, watches, cigarette packets, and tobacco boxes: more than anything, after the Industrial Revolution, our life as human beings and consumers began to fill up with a considerable number of items, in our homes, offices and the public spaces we used. Over time, these items have changed, often becoming more practical, more hard-wearing and cheaper; sometimes they have fallen into disuse and been replaced by other items, with different functions but also with a different look, shape and colour. Using the archive of the Science Museum Group Collection
(five science, technology and transport museums spread across England, from Manchester to York) Cath Sleeman
, a researcher at Nesta, has tried to examine the evolution of twenty-one categories of items, choosing the most commonly used ones to study how their shape and colour has altered.
Sleeman chose 7,083 photographs out of 380,000 exhibits in the museum’s archive, from the nineteenth century to the current day, and she discovered that the items around us are a lot less colourful. Using the photos, selected by adhering to precise criteria which allowed the colours of the items to be accurately isolated (for example, a background with an even colour), the research focused on shape, colour and texture.
So, it was possible to see the chromatic evolution of design: at first glance, it is clear how the coloured pixel percentage of the photos of the items analysed, from the nineteenth century to the current day, has reduced considerably.