His design traced a transformation in the style of the times, dictated by technological progress and shifting aesthetic tastes. His projects were both functional and intriguing in form.
Janusz Zygadlewicz, camera design, 1960s, photo: private collection
The designs of Janusz Zygadeliwicz traced a transformation in the style of the times, dictated by technological progress and shifting aesthetic tastes. His projects were both functional and intriguing in form, inspired in great measure by the scale and proportions of architecture.
Like many boys, he began by drawing cars on any available scrap of paper. Zygadlewicz wanted his professional life to make use of this passion. Following his studies, he began work as a visual design consultant at the Motor Industry Construction Bureau (BKPM) in Warsaw. His first design, produced at the Szczeciń Motorcycle Factory, was a small-engine car, the Smyk [the Kid – trans.]. At the time, he was collaborating with BKPM constructors Witold Kończykowski and Andrzej Zgliczyński, who came up with the Smyk’s self-supported body. The vehicle concept, designed for two adults and a pair of children, drew from the BMW Isetta of 1955. Doors that fit into the front of the vehicle and slanted forward to match the steering-wheel column became the body’s trademark. . In 1957 the prototype and the first test series were made. In 1958 the Szczeciń Motorcycle Factory was scheduled to produce 100 Smyks for the domestic market. Engineer Witold Kończykowski said of Smyk:
"(…) the most interesting thing is that it has no conventional solutions at all, from the body to the tread wheel, because all the mechanisms were designed with a mind for cost, simplicity, and the Polish production capabilities of the time."1
After 1956 all indications seemed to show that the Polish dream of having a popular domestic automobile accessible to the average citizen could come true. The authorities had declared the development of the automobile industry. Meanwhile, Zygadlewicz had already drawn another car. His ability to draw was so great that, apart from the technical designs for his vehicles, he also drew their visualizations. He called his new design a"popular" car, and named it the Zeta, probably after the first letter of his surname. The industrial producers preferred, however, the new body design for the Mikrus, commissioned by the Transportation Gear Factory (WSK) in Mielec. In spite of the WSK’s formal obligations, the design was never implemented.
Janusz Zygadlewicz, 'Smyk', automobile, for the Szczecin Motorcycle Factory, 1957 Collections of the Urban Engineering Museum in Krakow, photo: Kuba Sowiński / Engineering Museum in Krakow
Zygadlewicz tried to interest foreign investors in his ideas. The model he designed with Olgierd Rutkowski for the new body of the Soviet Moskwicz in 1958 came about in the Industrial Design Bureau Experimental Factory of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and was put on display in 1959 at the Industrial Exhibition in Moscow. This model, too, did not make it to production. The designer himself described it thus:
The main attraction of the body we are proposing is perhaps the size of the windows. The bottom line of the windows was lowered to the greatest extent possible, to increase side and rear visibility. This seems a fairly vital issue, as one often sees the driver craning his neck to make out the road right beside the vehicle. This lowering also favored the streamlining of the whole vehicle. The body was devised so that it could easily be produced in two versions, either as a two- or four-door. The surface of the metal was designed so that there would be no special problems with deep and complicated pressings in the production phase. (…) The door handles are designed not to protrude from the line of the shell. They are lever-type devices, with turning axes situated on a horizontal line.2
This statement comes from"Motor" weekly, with which Zygadlewicz collaborated from 1958–1962. He also wrote for a few other magazines, thus popularizing design issues. At the same time, he himself swiftly gained popularity, particularly among the relatively large numbers of automotive enthusiasts.
In 1959, Stefan Bratkowski (who went on to become an outstanding journalist and social activist) wrote about Zygadlewicz in the pages of Polska Poland magazine, and a year later in Dookoła świata (Around the World).
We are unaccustomed to using big words; and if we were speaking of something else, I might be inclined to explain that we were looking at the start of a brilliant career. But in this case, we have the start of a revolution. It turns out that beauty can be industrially produced, in the form of a million machine-made objects. A revolution in art is simultaneously underway – a new and unbounded world of creative possibilities has opened up before artists. There is nothing which cannot be made beautiful. (...) The capabilities of today’s visual arts stretch from the scale of cities to the scale of dessert spoons…
Bratkowski criticized domestic products for copying foreign designs as if"(…) Poles can’t afford to have their own, even better ideas… Only a very few search out contacts with visual artists, and only on their own initiative." Here he cited Zygadlewicz’s opinion:
The decision-makers in our industry seldom realize that external appearance will soon have a powerful effect on demand…. This is already tangible in our exports. And we must have our own designs. We can afford to. The world has not yet moved so far ahead that we can’t give chase. Professor Sołtan, who once educated me, founded an industrial design studio at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in 1958. There is a similar department in Krakow. This is just a drop in the ocean compared to the needs our industry might declare at any given moment, when they understand the chance they have.... Now is the time to think hard about personnel. My future work mates in the visual arts also have to see what a chance they have.
The article’s conclusion was enthusiastic:
Will (...) the marriage of art and industry be a lasting one? Are we on the brink of success in this new field? I believe we are. A man like Zygadlewicz shows a phenomenal feeling for industrial material. Might it turn out that we have more of these talented people? I believe we do. So full speed ahead to the revolution in the visual arts.3
The optimism of the two men – the designer and the journalist – found no confirmation in the reality of the"planned economy." Back in the 1950s, Zygadlewicz had put forward a body design for the Warszawa, produced by the Passenger Automobile Factory in Żeranie, and for the Syrena Sport, and in 1970, for the body design for the Fiat 125 GT4. After Smyk, the only car designs implemented by Zygadlewicz were the Melex electric golf cart (1970-1972) for the Transportation Gear Factory in Mielec and the N-126 camping trailer for the Precise Industry Factory in Niewiadów (1973). Although his car body ideas were not executed, he continued to be fascinated with the idea of designing the car of the future.
Janusz Zygadlewicz, 'Zephyr', glider, made as a team headed by Bogumił Szuba, produced by Experimental Glider Factory in Bielsko-Biała, 1958, photo: private collection
Failure in his attempt to convince industry to execute his dream car designs encouraged Zygadlewicz to design for many other sectors. The correspondence he kept with factory directors documents his ongoing efforts to implement his ideas.
"Apart from the radio industry" Zygadlewicz claimed,"the majority of my executed designs came about through my spontaneous interest in the subject. I developed the piece myself, and then made an unsolicited offer. These offers were most often accepted, initiating a collaboration, and eventually the production of objects with prominent visual design."5
Zygadlewicz’s most fruitful collaboration turned out to be with the radio-television industry – with the Diora Factory in Dzierżoniów, where he designed radios and television sets (1962-1970), and later with the Kasprzak Factory in Warsaw (1972-1978), where he designed a few stereos. Analyzing the shapes and details of these products, we can easily perceive their stylistic transformations. Set against the organic styles of the mid-1950s, the bodies of the first, boxy radios stand out with their severity, though often, as with Meteor (after 1964), they are improved by diagonal breaks in the front sides. On the other hand, Ewa (1969) and the ZK 146 stereo (1974) possess the trademark, purely cuboid "architecture" that was all the rage in the 1970s. The reference to architecture is no accident – Zygadlewicz was inclined toward this discipline, if only through his education. His way of shaping the shell – the rhythmic"screen" decoration of the speaker covers, or the knob and button layouts – prompts inevitable associations with the division of building elevations from this period. The style transformations of the time – both in design and in architecture – were dictated not only by aesthetic preferences, but above all by changes in technology. At the time, radio casings were chiefly made of wrought sheet metal.
In starting work on a product, Zygadlewicz had not only its form in mind. In preparing a wall phone design in 1970 for the Telephone Equipment Production Factory in Radom, he began with an analysis of how such devices were used, in order to find a solution more convenient than those already existing. He figured out, for example, that if the receiver is hung vertically it is easier to grip with either the right or the left hand."A good solution should create a legible design: a visual form that unambiguously informs a person how the object is to be used. So that he doesn’t have to read the instructions…"6
Janusz Zygadlewicz (1931–1987) was an industrial designer and a set designer. He studied architecture at the Engineering Academy in Poznań (beginning in 1951), at the Gdańsk Technical Academy and the Warsaw Technical Academy (1953–1955). From 1956–1959 he worked at the Motor Industry Construction Bureau in Warsaw. He collaborated with the Sport Aviation Equipment Factory in Warsaw (1960–1963), the Diora Radio Factory in Dzierżoniów (1962–1970), the Łódź Cinema Technology Factory (in the latter half of the 1960s), and the Kasprzak Radio Factory in Warsaw (1972–1978). His designs included cars, radios, televisions, stereos, and telephones. He designed sets for television and for the Song Festivals in Opole and Sopot. His most important distinctions include the Gold Medal from the OSTIF International Aviation Organization for"the world’s most beautiful glider of 1968" (team design); the Design and Industrial Production Aesthetics Council Award from the Chairman of the Ministers’ Council (1968) for the Pollux AP 33 film projector (1967); and the gold medal at the Leipzig Fairs for his K-S4 photocopier design (1968).
Author: Anna Maga
Text originally published in Out of the Ordinary. Polish Designers of the 20th Century, edited by Czesława Frejlich and published by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute (Warsaw, 2011) in cooperation with the Karakter publishing house. Translation by Søren Gauger, edited for the purposes of Culture.pl by Agnieszka Le Nart.
For more information on the book, see: www.karakter.pl
1. Jedziemy Smykiem,"Motoryzacja" 1957, no. 10, p. 545
2. J. Zygadlewicz, Nasi styliści projektują nadwozie Moskwicza,"Motor" 1958, no. 47
3. S. Bratkowski, Zygadlewicz – rewolucja formy,"Dookoła świata" 1960, nos. 15-16
4. A. Moldenhawer, Piękno w technice, spotkanie z Januszem Zygadlewiczem,"Młody Technik" 1970, no. 2, pp. 49-53
5. Quoted from: A. A. Mroczek, Świat przedmiotów Janusza Zygadlewicza,"Kierunki" 1971, no. 15, p. 14
6. Quoted from: A. A. Mroczek, ibid.