Grange's career began as a drafting assistant with the architect Jack Howe at ARCON in the 1950s. Grange tells about this period: "arcon, an influential architecture firm that had won the contracts to develop all the post-war, pre-fabricated housing. this would have been around 1948/49. I then went on to work with three other architectural practices and this was probably the most formative time of my life I would say. they showed me a world of modernism and modern objects, white walls and flashes of bright colors, bold ideas and so on – it was a completely new world to me and I loved it.", and in another interview: "But by a strange accident I got a little job in an architectural office. Later on you realise this was like a smaller but the equivalent of Fosters. So by an amazing piece of luck, there’s this kid who didn’t know anything about architecture or anything — really ignorant as they come — but there I was doing very odd jobs in an office...When I came out of the army and was looking for work, a man called Jack Howe offered me a job. He had a mixed practice — he was an architect but he was also designing products — street lighting columns, bus shelters — doing the natural adjuncts to what he trained to do. That was my introduction to product design. He encouraged you do any work that came along, so evenings and weekends, a bit of painting, a bit of mural work or whatever, you took any work that came. Later on I was greatly surprised that there’d be some offices who would in a sense try and prohibit the workforce — the assistants — from doing work outside of the office. That wasn’t Jack’s temperament at all. It was such a different life to my home life or anywhere else I’d been. They were modernists by nature and they couldn’t think of any other way. They behaved differently, it was a marvellous introduction to architecture. Architecture then became the most influential part of any occupation I’ve ever had. I subsequently worked for three different architectural offices before I started on my own. I’m labouring the point because it’s a very, very big influence on my understanding of modernism, and they were the only ones who had any beginnings in that territory." His independent career started rather accidentally with commissions for exhibition stands, but by the early 1970s he was a founding-partner in Pentagram, an interdisciplinary design consultancy. Grange tells the beginning of Pentagram: "So it was years before we got a client who came anywhere near the multidisciplinary, and that was Reuters. Again, they started with employing Alan Fletcher to redesign their logotype, he did a very elegant idea. Then they asked Theo Crosby — who’s my architectural partner — to do some buildings.
Reuters — very smart people — basically invented electronic trading, money trading, and you know what that’s done to the world. But they pretty much invented that. And very, very cleverly — very smart folks at Reuters, even the [people] who make the coffee has actually got two or three degrees at least, really smart folk — they decided that they would launch this service, the first in London maybe, but they would mark their products — even though it was in trading rooms where you’d think it would never reach a bigger audience. But it meant that the traders got used to the idea that it was Reuters producing these screens of data and so on. So they commissioned me to design the monitor and the keyboards. They made their own monitors and keyboards for a very long time, until — and that’s the pace of electronics, the pace of software development, even the hardware side, of those trading systems are so demanding and so up to the minute that you can’t run the business of providing it and develop your own machines. So for the most part all the trading rooms are fed by the computer specialists really. It was the only multidisciplinary client we ever had really."
Grange's career has spanned more than half a century, and many of his designs became – and are still – familiar items in the household or on the street. These designs include the first UK parking meters for Venner, kettles and food mixers for Kenwood, razors for Wilkinson Sword, cameras for Kodak, typewriters for Imperial, clothes irons for Morphy Richards, cigarette lighters for Ronson, washing machines for Bendix, pens for Parker, bus shelters, Reuters computers, anglepoise lamps, regional Royal Mail postboxes and the latest London BlackTaxi. He was also responsible for the aerodynamics, interior layout and exterior styling of the nose cone of British Rail's High Speed Train (known as the InterCity 125) and also involved in the design of the 1997 TX1 version of the famous London taxi-cab. He has carried out many commissions for Japanese companies.
One quality of much of Grange's design work is that it is not based on just the styling of a product. His design concepts arise from a fundamental reassessment of the purpose, function and use of the product. He has also said that his attitude to designing any product is that he wants it to be "a pleasure to use". Grange was a pioneer of user-centred design, aiming to eliminate what he sees as the "contradictions" inherent in products that fail to embody ease-of-use.
Since retiring from Pentagram in 1997, Grange continues to work independently. Recent work has included door handles for Ize Ltd., desk and floor lamps for Anglepoise, and a chair for the elderly for Hitch Mylius.
The First Production HST power car, 43 002, was repainted by Great Western Railway in to the original British Rail Inter-City livery, and then named in his honour by Grange on 2 May 2016 at St Philip's Marsh GWR HST depot in Bristol, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the first passenger services of the Intercity 125. Grange later visited York in October 2016, and 'signed' power car 43 185 using spray paint. Grange is the Honorary President of the 125 Group which has restored the original prototype HST Power Car and aims to preserve operational examples of the subsequent production HST vehicles when they are finally retired from service.
Grange was knighted for services to design in the 2013 New Year Honours. Grange's designs have won ten Design Council Awards, the Duke of Edinburgh's prize for Elegant Design in 1966, and in 2001 he was awarded the Prince Philip Designers Prize – an award honouring a lifetime achievement. He has won the Gold Medal of the Chartered Society of Designers, and is a member of the Royal Society of Arts' élite Faculty of 'Royal Designers for Industry'. Grange has been awarded honorary Doctorates by the Royal College of Art, De Montfort University, Plymouth University, Heriot-Watt University, and the Open University.
Grange was a guest on Desert Island Discs on 1 January 2017.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kenneth Grange.|
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- Edwin Heathcote, "Everywhere and nowhere", Collecting special, Financial Times, 28 May 2011. Retrieved 29 May 2011.
- Kenneth Grange at the Boilerhouse: An Exhibition of British Product Design, The Conran Foundation/Boilerhouse Project (V&A Museum), London, 1983.
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- Julian May "The 125 at 30", BBC News, 15 September 2006. Retrieved 3 March 2009.
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- Prince Philip Designers Prize, Design Council
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- The Brits Who Designed the Modern World Artsnight – Series 4: 7, BBC Two
- Sir Kenneth Grange PPCSD Anglepoise
- Discussion with Grange on his design of the Signature Diamond loudspeakers for Bowers & Wilkins