Archive for June 19th, 2007

New design blog

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

I’ve set up a new blog for the course I teach at the University of Dundee, which those of you interested in design might want to subscribe to and, if so inclined, comment on.

Design Cultures is a place to post articles I find around the interweb about design that I think students might be interested in, that might spark debate, controversy or even ridicule…

It’s quiet at the moment as the students are away, so not many comments. Hopefully that will change come September.

Greece bans sexy roadside ads to prevent deaths

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

From The Guardian (18 June 2007)

Greece is mounting a nationwide effort to remove “eye candy” billboards from roadsides, amid growing evidence that images of women wearing not very much contribute to Europe’s worst road accident figures.
With 15,000 hoardings in the capital alone, drivers are distracted by “unacceptable levels of eye candy”, say campaigners who have convinced the courts to rule that all roadside adverts be dismantled.

Billboards invariably depict svelte females in outre poses. “Many of them not only hide traffic lights and road signs, they are put up illegally,” said an Athens traffic police official.

“We believe they are the cause of 10% of all accidents in the city.”
Driving in Greece is not for the faint-hearted. More than 2,000 people die on the roads annually; another 4,000 are seriously injured in 22,000 car accidents a year – one every 24 minutes.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London even highlights the issue in its travel advice for Greece.

This month, drivers faced a new highway code, with fines of up to €700 (£490) for ignoring a stop sign or running through a red light.

The adverse effects of billboards have been highlighted due to the efforts of an Athenian lawyer, Athanasios Tsiokos, who killed his son when he crashed into a billboard on a busy avenue in the capital. He has since campaigned to punish advertising companies, and this year his complaint was upheld by the State Council, which ordered the billboards removed.

Municipalities have begun dismantling them. “This is an issue of public safety and it only happens in our country,” said Aris Stathakis, MP for the ruling New Democracy party. “All the dangerous advertising billboards have to be removed.”

The campaign has not been easy. Corrupt local government officials have long ensured that billboards have flourished. Recently, campaigners have woken up to find that those removed frequently have been re-erected overnight.

What children do when allowed to design their own schools

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

Mike Baker, the BBC’s former education correspondent, writes in The Guardian (19 June 2007)

My favourite broadcast news report was compiled not by a well-funded TV crew, but by a group of middle-school pupils from Bedfordshire. I suspect it caused more embarrassment at the Department for Education than most stories. The government had just produced an expensive, computer-generated design for the latest school buildings. The DfES released it as a video. It looked fantastic: acres of plate-glass, banks of laptops and vast plant-filled atriums. And virtually no pupils.
I, then at the BBC, ran the story on the breakfast television news, using the DfES footage. I tried to balance it with commentary about the more mundane reality of most school buildings but, inevitably, pictures were more powerful than words.

Later that day, a videotape arrived. It was a counter-blast video made, without any adult prompting, by a group of irate pupils.

It was brilliantly done. Pupils pointed out the ivy growing through the science lab ceiling and the piles of disconnected computers in a storage cupboard. That was the power of the pupil voice. We should listen to it more often.

I must confess that, in the past, I have been sceptical about the concept of pupil voice. Why listen to those with so little experience?

But I was wrong. Pupils are the real consumers of schooling. They know what is going on and they recognise what works for them. This was brought home to me on a recent visit to Alder Grange community and technology college in Lancashire. As I toured the school, I was struck by the bareness of the walls. Was this evidence of a school that lacked the vitality to provide interesting wall displays?

No. It turned out there had been a deliberate decision to clear clutter. Why? Because in the classrooms it distracted the pupils from learning and in the corridors it made the space feel narrower. And who said so? The pupils.

The wisdom of consulting pupils is spreading. The Sorrell Foundation Young Design Centre has just opened an exhibition that invites pupils’ views on school design. Their ideas tend to be practical and sensible. Their most common concerns relate to issues such as unsafe toilets, unwelcoming canteen facilities and lack of social space. At Alder Grange, pupils asked why meeting areas could not have sofas and tables – “grown-up” furniture.

Nor is the pupil voice relevant only to buildings. If we are serious about wanting to teach young people about citizenship, they should be able to see it in action in schools. That means more than just asking their opinions. It also means giving pupils responsibility to implement them.

At Alder Grange, I sat in on a meeting between the school management and pupil leadership teams as they discussed how the pupil council was working. To my surprise, it has responsibility for disciplinary matters; it decides, and imposes, the scale of punishments. Surely, I asked the staff, miscreants must resent being disciplined by their peers? Apparently not – not least because the council is elected by all pupils.

There is plenty more scope for pupil voice. Take personalised learning, for example. According to a government-commissioned report last week, many schools still do not know what the phrase means. Yet I have seen pupils in Bristol helping to design a curriculum and learning style that suits them.

Of course, like adults, pupils don’t always do what they know is best for them. But would we deny adults a say in the way they work because they occasionally spend too long chatting at the water-cooler? After all, how often have you thought that you could tell management how to improve your workplace?

It is time to turn up the volume on pupil voice.