The Slovenia Times

A Multitude of Iconic Creations



The recent exhibition "Iskra: Non-Aligned Design 1946-1990," held at Ljubljana Architectural Museum recalled the golden age of industrial design. Slovenes particularly identify with the products of that age, since many of them were true design masterpieces and, due to the narrow choice of available products, nearly every household owned some of these items. The exhibition was an excellent summary of how design was introduced at Iskra, one of exemplary companies of the socialist era.

Špela Šubic, the creator of the exhibition leads us to discover the essential elements and landmarks of this period. She describes the establishment of design department within the Automation Institute in 1962 as the first step towards recognition of the importance of product aesthetics. This however would not be possible without enlightened individuals like Davorin Savnik who managed to bring some forward thinking into the world of socialist politicians and bureaucrats, whose aesthetics were more or less measured in tonnes and megawatts.

The encouraging design climate of western and northern Europe also left its mark in Slovenia, particularly influencing some ambitious individuals who began to set standards in domestic industrial design: Edvard Ravnikar, Niko Kralj, Marko Turk et al. The important events that followed were, according to Šubic, the establishment of the "B course" at the Faculty of Architecture, the beginning of the Biennial of Industrial Design in the mid-1960s and finally the establishment of the design department with the Academy of Fine Arts in the 1980s.

The relatively closed economy of the former Yugoslavia was a fairly comfortable environment without the pressure of competition, but the more ambitious companies kept track of global trends and set themselves higher standards. Despite the self-contained concept, the state allowed or even ordered trade in foreign markets.

The present

The 1990s started with a shock, but in the long term the arrival of market economy meant the establishment of realistic criteria and integrated systems of product support. Despite versatile and capable designers, we still lack the infrastructure and experience to be comparable with countries that have not undergone a transition through different economic systems.

Is there a distinctively Slovenian element in the industrial design artefacts? Ms Šubic says that Slovenes are involved in many successful products throughout the world. Each one emphasises the importance of a good team or a studio, where nationality seems to play no role at all. The question, therefore, is whether it makes sense to look for a specifically Slovenian product at all? There might be some examples exposing a national character of a design, however the times when German products were considered to be the best built and the Italian most beautiful are gone.

Successful design studios and production companies do not limit themselves to state boundaries. However, when it comes to the promotion of a country, this view can be reversed - it is essential that the state acknowledge the quality, support it and turn it into its own benefit, concludes Šubic.


The Biennial of Industrial Design (known also by its Slovene acronym BIO) is one of the few major international design exhibitions with a tradition of over forty-five years of presenting contemporary trends in international design through its selection of well-designed products and its emphasis on quality, originality and innovation. From the first biennial in 1964 to today, BIO has presented twenty-one exhibitions surveying the state of international design.

The works presented in the BIO exhibition are carefully selected and critically evaluated. An international jury reviews all of the works selected and awards the highest recognitions in design among all the works exhibited: BIO Gold Medals, BIO Quality Concepts Awards, BIO Honourable Mentions, and Awards for Student Work.

The biennial is a cultural event directly connected to industry, the economy, the design profession, innovation, education and development. Through its work, it brings the activities of industry and the profession closer to the general public and helps forge links between various sectors. The next BIO will be held from 7th October to 7th November this year at the Architecture Museum of Ljubljana.

The Highligts of the Golden Age

The beginning successes in the area of Slovene industrial design go back to the fifties. The first Slovene who received an international award from this field was innovator Marko Turk and his trademark AOL (microphones). Another such achievement were the collapsible chairs created by architect Niko Kralj for furniture company Stoli Kamnik. The Rex chair (1952) set the standards of quality Europe-wide. Today it is exhibited in the New York MoMA.

A true example of a well-coordinated action that conquered the market was Cocta (1953)- the Yugoslav version of Coca Cola. Architect Sergej Pavlin designed a soft drink bottle and logo. He picked out old letters that were used before WWI in Slovenian Newspapers and created a logo of a girl drinking Cocta. The girl soon became a recognizable symbol of one of the most popular Yugoslav drinks that even today holds a certain market share.

In the sixties the successes of industrial design moved to the area on engineering and electronics. Some of the finest achievements were Iskra's telephones (1960), created by Davorin Savnik, Tomos's motorcycles (1966) and Sasa Meachtig's concept of kiosks - Kiosk K67(1969).

A fine example of an industrial achievement from the recent history is the telephone set called Iskra ETA (electronic telephone apparatus). It was designed in the late 1970's and featured a revolutionary design done by the then leading Slovene and at that time also Yugoslav industrial designer Davorin Savnik. It even received several awards, such as the "Die gute Industrieform" in Hannover, Germany in 1980, the Yugoslav industrial design award in Ljubljana in 1979, and the "Design Zentrum" award in Stuttgart, Germany in 1981. The design was obviously so fascinating that it was copied by other manufacturers from around the world, probably because it wasn't properly copyrighted. At first, the set featured a classic dial, but it has later been modernized.


The manufacturer Iskra used to be one of the gigantic companies, which was supposed to cover almost any need in the electrical and electronic field in Yugoslavia, for both industrial and consumer use alike. After the independence, Iskra was divided into several smaller companies, which are still more or less successful.


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