1972: Designs to Remember

Let’s take a second to appreciate the designs of a certain over-looked and under-appreciated year: 1972. 

When we think of the 70s, we often think of really cheesy things like bell-bottoms, gold chains, disco music and opulent interior designs with velvet and shag carpeting. Then there are the giant cars, that while perhaps beautiful, became uneconomical and even comical once the oil crisis hit later in the decade. 

The 70s, at least in the U.S., are often thought of as the “morning after” from the 1960s; the hangover decade (fueled by cocaine hair of the dog). But the early 70’s should be remembered as something greater. Design was still powered by an optimistic counter-revolutionary spirit. There’s a sensibility and hope present that later vanished and only returned decades later. Many designs from this time have in fact endured.  

Pegging design to a certain year is, I acknowledge, an impossible exercise. These products and images took years to design, and in some cases, were released in other iterations years before. But please, indulge me nonetheless. 

My love for the year 1972 was born when I acquired a ‘72 Honda CB 350 Scrambler while in college. The Honda CB series of motorcycles are widely agreed to be among the most reliable and easy to work on machines around. They sold greater numbers of them than any other motorcycle before and, I would bet, there are still more running than any other bike since. 

They have held their value too. Find a good CB on eBay, adjust for inflation, and they’re about the same price they were some forty years ago. They are a prefered bike for many custom cafe builders because they are easy to work on, dependable and timeless looking. The Honda Scrambler has since inspired many a retro reissue and while it may not be the original scrambler, I’d argue it’s the best. 

1972 was also the year that Massimo Vignelli released his now famous NYC Subway Map. Vignelli straightened lines, distorted geography and chose bold colors to make a simpler, iconic map. The MBTA moved away from his design briefly but has since reincorporated his design elements. 

The new mid-size BMW was released in 1972 and has been going strong ever since. In 2008, BMW sold their 5 millionth 5-Series and the car has won numerous design awards. 

The Heuer Autavia rreally became popular in the early 70s, especially thanks to a cigarette ad campaign. The Autavia is still popular today. Surf any used watch forum and you’ll find an active trade of these vintage watches. 

Then there’s the architecture of the day. The most iconic opening being the completion of the North Tower of the World Trade Center and the opening of the South Tower. And, the following year the Willis Tower and Sydney Opera house opened. All are buildings that never became uninteresting over time. 

And while we may not often think of sport when we think about design, it’s worth noting that Jack Nicklaus was dressed like this, and the A’s won the World Series looking like this (pay no attention to Rollie Fingers).

And in Germany, Munich hosted the Olympic Games. The most memorable part? For many it was the beautifully-illustrated Otl Aicher posters. Colorful, dramatic, optimistic and totally iconic.

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As for art, The Godfather took home best picture for 1972 and songs like Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” and Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” were top of the Billboard Charts.  

What was it about the early 70s that inspired all this good design? The end of a war? A changing social landscape? I can't say. For now, best to simple admire it, and grab those last relics of the era while you still can.