The 296 files in this series span the entire lifetime of KDW and include files on the craft-based industries such as marble, wrought iron and candle-making which were explored in the early days of the workshops. Each of these techniques or materials had their own KDW code but in general generated a maximum of product twenty files. The majority of files in the series can be classified as furniture or industrial design. These were initially classified by the KDW KF and 44 codes but from the mid-1970s both were allocated 44 codes.
In the first few years of operation the Scandinavian Report recommendations on developing designs using indigenous materials appear to have been adopted and many design projects concentrated on the craft-based industries. These products – ranging from Oisin Kelly’s cast iron candleholders to Kilkenny marble ash trays and table tops – were, together with products from other KDW departments such as ceramics and textiles, promoted to the international market, particularly through setting up outlets in the United States. These craft-based products were all designed for mass production. Some of these lines were short-lived and others, such as candle making, were devolved to commercial companies.
By 1968 a “General Purposes Workshop” had been established and the more experimental designs, for instance in plastics, were produced from this base. This workshop may also have been the source of initial examples of furniture design such as the wood and leather chair, designed by Peter Lorenzen and made by the Ardee Chair Company. This was shown at the Enviro ’70 exhibition in the RDS. At that time it was not available for sale in Ireland but was selling well in Europe. Other prototype items of furniture, such as Gerald Tyler’s 1972 easy chair were exhibited at trade fairs but were not produced commercially. Gerald Tyler also designed an expandable child’s bed which an article in the Financial Times in 1973 states was commissioned by Heal’s and Company of London, a department store which had previous links with Kilkenny having held a KDW promotion in 1967.
The 1977 KDW Annual report notes that the ‘first phase of a long-term product design and development programme with the furniture industry was completed during the year and resulted in the introduction of a limited range of new furniture on the Irish market’. However, the furniture development project had highlighted the problems for individual firms in developing new designs and prototyping them without interfering with existing production schedules, and underlined the need for KDW to improve its prototyping support. A furniture prototyping workshop was opened at Kilkenny in 1980. A furniture showroom had been opened in the KDW Dublin shop in 1979 and provided one outlet for the KDW designed domestic furniture produced by companies such as the Crannac Co-operative. Designs for office furniture, reception areas and shop displays were also produced.
In the early 1970 the industrial design department began operations, undertaking work in a very broad range of material and techniques including plastics and experimental ceramics. The 1973-4 Annual Report noted that major projects executed included “building components and electronic, television and medical equipment” (p10). Work for government departments was also undertaken, such as the litter bin designed by Gerald Tyler for the Office of Public Works and signage for various state and semi-state bodies such as Posts and Telegraphs. Much work was produced in the area of homewares and household appliances – cookware, light fittings, storage, and cutlery among the many products designed. The 1978 Annual Report noted that the Industrial Design Department 2today accounts for more than 50% of KDW’s practical design services to manufacturers” (p11). This Report also reported that a new model-making unit had entered full operation providing services to industry.
While this wide variety of assignments continued into the 1980s – including design for the craft-based industries – electronics and design for light engineering moved to the fore, much of this for the Irish subsidiaries of international companies. Increasingly projects undertaken for firms such as Lake Electronics and PMPA evolved from designing a particular product and encompassed all aspects of design and branding for a company. By 1983 KDW had rebranded itself a Kilkenny Design and was foregrounding its function as “Product planning, design and technical support”. At around this time the distinction between the individual workshops – indicated by the variety of codes applied to design jobs – was eroded and from 1984 all design work undertaken by Kilkenny Design was assigned the same code – 88.