Roger Tallon: the father of French industrial design

Roger Tallon: his name may not mean anything to you, yet the man is considered the father of French industrial design, on a par with Raymond Loewy, who is considered the inventor of industrial design. Born in 1929, Roger Tallon was part of the immediate post-war generation, the one that rebuilt France to take it on the path of the “30 Glorious Years”. As a result, his image is associated with major industrial projects, particularly in the field of transport, where Tallon worked for many years with the SNCF. He was responsible for the creation of the RER signage, the design of the Corail carriages and the interior design of the TGV Duplex… A bulimic creator, he was also a transmitter of knowledge. In 1957, he taught at the Ecole des Arts Appliqués in Paris and innovated by offering the first design course in France. In 1963, he founded the industrial design department at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and then participated in the structuring of the ICSID (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design). For all these reasons, Roger Tallon has a place in France as a respected founding father


Roger Tallon, portrait. Source: Marie Claire Maison


Map of the RER, 1977-1978. Source: Pixel Creation

Before becoming the French reference in industrial design, Roger Tallon is above all an atypical personality, open to the ideas and technology of his time, a free spirit always on the move, and a great creative. An anecdote to understand the character: Tallon used to wake up at night to write down his ideas, which led him to accumulate no less than 500 various and varied diagrams throughout his career. Often, to develop a new project, he would dip into this war chest, which he rightly called “the freezer”.

Without knowing it, Tallon plunged straight into design, first at Caterpillaras head of graphic communication, then in 1953 at Dupont de Nemours, which was looking for a designer. At the time, the word was still unknown in France. Tallon then had a decisive meeting with Jacques Viénot, the creator of the Institut d’Esthétique Industrielle, which would later become theInstitut Français du Design and where Roger Tallon would teach from 1953 onwards, and whose aim was to improve the products of French industry through design. Roger Tallon thus joined Technès, a technical and aesthetic design office founded in 1949 by Viénot; he remained there for 20 years.

Roger Tallon is a jack-of-all-trades, many of his creations touch on very different universes: video, TV, Hi-fi, small household appliances, industrial trolleys, cars, etc… But the designer does not hide his preference for industrial projects, to the detriment for example of interior equipment and furniture in which his italian colleagues excel.

Among his first outstanding achievements, let us mention the “Duplex “9.5 mm camera and projector Monaco “(1954), the sewing machine Brandt-Luxe B600 “developed for the Gendron brand (1954) or the ” Taon “a compact 125 cc motorbike for the French light motorbike manufacturer Derny-Motors (1955). The 9.5 mm “Lido” camera for Pathé (1955) won the gold medal at the Milan Triennial in1957. The “M 44” metal spiral staircase designed in 1966 is also one of his flagship pieces


Roger Tallon and his 9.5mm Duplex camera, invented in 1954 for Pathé. Source : L’Express


Moto Taon for Derny-Motors, 1955. Source: Le Favori


M 44″ spiral staircase, Sentou edition. Source : “Design Contemporain”, Elisabeth Couturier, Flammarion

Although Roger Tallon did not chase fame and, as he himself explains, did not give in to the wave of starification of the designers of the 1980s, his name is forever attached to the first portable television set, Teleaviamade in 1966. The object became a cult and yet it was put on the market against the advice of the management of the Thomson group, the supplier of Teleavia ! This portable set was a revolution at the time because it went against the grain of the television sets on the market at the time: imposing and designed to be placed on furniture. For Tallon, the challenge was to offer an alternative to the portable sets imported from Japan. Not only does the device offer a larger screen size than the Japanese products, but it is easily transportable, of modest weight and proves to be the ideal device for equipping the second homes of the time, a societal trend in full explosion. In terms of aesthetics, the ovoid shape of the TV set gives it an immediately recognisable round identity


Téléavia P111 television set, 1966. 1st portable television set. Design Market

Following the success of the TeleaviaFollowing the success of the P111, Tallon had other industrial successes that established him as the leader of industrial design in France. Curiously, although he is little known to the general public, the products of this designer have flooded the daily life of the French: the toothbrush for the Fluocaril brand, the Elf oil cans – he was the first to use plastic to package motor oil -, the ski boots for Salomon or the invention of the spiral staircase without a handrail and made of cast aluminium – it’s all him! We are all surrounded by objects created by Roger Tallon or inspired by his creations


Design of the packaging for Elf, 1973. At the same time, on the other side of the Atlantic, a certain Raymond Loewy designed the Shell logo and the design of the brand’s service stations. Source: Côté Maison

In 1973, Roger Tallon founded his own agency, Design Programme, and decided to specialise inrailway design. This step in his career inaugurated a long collaboration with the SNCF, which he would bring into the modern era. Tallon is pragmatic, his design is thought out above all for the user. He also believes that a design object is part of a whole, that it cannot be designed separately from the ecosystem in which it evolves. This logic led his work to the design of the CORAIL trains in 1974, developed to revolutionise the travel experience. True to his principles, Tallon first designed a rolling prototype on which he installed video equipment to film the movements and behaviour of passengers on board. Tallon invented comfort on rails, CORAIL being the contraction. Gone are the green cars of the previous generation, the cars are now grey, with coloured doors in orange tones. They were also more spacious and comfortable, air conditioning was introduced and studies were carried out on soundproofing: the SNCF became a company at the cutting edge of modern comfort.

The SNCF enjoyed a boom year with the introduction of the High Speed Train in 1981. To design the TGV of the future in 1983, the TGV Atlantique, the company could only call on one person: Roger Tallon. The designer was to leave an indelible mark on his era. Tallon designed and conceived the exterior decoration as well as the interior layout. A total success: the blue and silver of the bodywork wonderfully convey the technological and futuristic image of the TGV. Tallon imagined the TGV that we still travel on today: he designed the bar car and the anti-vibration “Coach” seats with their fine stripes

Thereafter, Tallon was systematically associated with the development of the TGV: we owe him the double-decker TGV known as “Duplex”. Tallon exported his know-how to other high-speed projects: the North American TGV project (Texas and Canada, GEC Alsthom and Bombardier, builders, 1993), the VR project (Finnish National Railways, new identity, logo, signage and livery of the high-speed train, 1993)


The 1st class interior of the TGV Atlantique – The French designer conceived the layout of the 1st class interior of the TGV Atlantique for the SNCF in 1983. Archives Roger Tallon, collection kept at the Arts Décoratifs, Paris. Source: Côté Maison


Coach 1st class seat of the TGV Atlantique, 1983. Source: Decomotiv


Design of the TGV Duplex for the SNCF, 1994. Source: Côté Maison

Until the end of his life, Roger Tallon did not stop working actively. He left the EURO RSCG DESIGN agency with which his company ADSA + partners (1)– created with the designer Pierre Paulin and fashion designer Michel Schreiber – had merged in 1994, and worked outside of any structure on the project Slider from 2009 to 2011, the date of his death.

For this last project, Tallon worked on the new design of the Tours tramway, with Daniel Buren and the design team led by the RCP Design agency

However, it would be unfair to limit the tutelary figure of Roger Tallon to the industrial world. Curious about everything, Tallon collaborated with some of the most brilliant artists of his generation. He worked intensively with the New Realists (Yves Klein, Arman, César) . He helped Yves Klein to develop the project Pneumatic RocketThe object is moved by air pulsation, and its purpose is to offer a journey of no return for consumers of the immaterial who have decided to disappear one day into the void. Although Tallon knew that the iconoclastic object conceived by Klein was not intended to really work, he did share with the custodian of Klein Blue the prophetic and poetic vision of the world expressed by the artist. Pierre Restany, considered the most important post-war art critic and historian in France, said of Tallon : “For me, he embodied the breath of visionary energy in everyday life”.

His closeness to the art world led him to create the graphic grid of the magazine Art Press in 1973, founded and directed by his friend Catherine Millet.


Series of portrait seats, here César, 1967. In 1967, the artist César called upon Roger Tallon for a commission for a cot at Orly airport, the santons are the portrait seats which represent personalities of the time. Source : Le doigt dans l’œil du Design

Finally, as an attentive observer of his time, Roger Tallon has expressed himself on the evolution of current design and his opinion is precious to us. The great industrial designer does not mix design and style. He is even suspicious of the latter and declares: “I work for others and according to very precise programmes. I’m not interested in typifying my products; I leave that to the stylists (…)”. In an interview with the critic Chloé Braunstein at the end of the 1990s, Tallon took a critical look at the evolution of current design, stating: “The preoccupation with style always comes back to the heart of the design controversy, and it is also that of a certain number of ‘deco-designers’ who put their stamp on objects. I believe that the job of the designer who feels responsible is to ensure that objects are as free as possible from supremacist pressures and values: humble, discreet and durable (…) For me, style/fashion and design remain irrevocably antinomic.
(1) The ADSA + partners agency was responsible for the Paris metro project Météor for the RATP (line 14 of the Paris metro, 1991) or the new VAL 208 for Matra (Véhicule Automatique Léger, 1992).

Written by François Boutard