Bruce Snider's Favorite Design Objects

Traditional musical instruments are almost always beautiful, perhaps because they relate so intimately to the human body. The banjo is a favorite of mine, partly because I’m a player, but also because of the instrument's iconic simplicity. You can draw one with just a line and a circle. But there’s a twist here: a drone string that lends the form a subtle asymmetry and the music its syncopated drive. Beltsville, Md., banjo maker Kevin Enoch built mine, a spare and elegant model called the Tradesman.

No other technology I can think of matches the bicycle in beauty, efficiency, and power to do good. Its design, fundamentally resolved a century ago, wastes nothing. Twenty pounds of bike can replace 3,500 pounds of car, get you to work nearly as fast (with a smile on your face), and harm no living thing in the process. Many bicycle designs have risen to the level of art—Cinelli racing bikes from the 1960s, ageless Raleigh 3-speeds, the tricycle that all three of my children rode (with the ingenious removable push handle that saved my back)—but if you’re feeling generous, I’ll take an Elium SL from Seven Cycles.

I first learned that Converse All Stars were cool when I was 11 years old, and I haven't changed my mind since. I'm wearing white low-tops now, same as always. They're made of rubber and cotton canvas, go with almost anything, and have a red stripe all the way around that you see every time you look down. As athletic shoe technology, they're one step up from flip flops. But as long as you don't try to run in them you'll be cool.

Forget Pinocchio. Traditional sailboats are as close as humans have come to crafting a living being from wood. More of them than not would qualify for a spot on this list. All sailing pleasure craft descend from working boat designs—sailing for fun would have seemed daft to our seafaring ancestors—and some of the most beautiful are those that show their lineage most clearly. The Beetle Cat, based on 19th-century Cape Cod fishing boats, has been around since the 1920s. You can still get one, and it still won’t need a motor.

We don’t generally think of fruits and vegetables as designed objects, but most are the product of thousands of years of human selection. The results reflect our tastes, aesthetic as well as gustatory. Watermelons—green on the outside, deep red flecked with black on the inside—are just gorgeous to look at. Were the visuals not so vivid, would the fruit be as refreshing?

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