Archive for June, 2007

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.

Memories as jewellery

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

We had our degree show a few weeks ago – my first up here. I always find degree shows a mixed affair for various reasons: you can never get to see everything, they’re sad (especially if you know the students well), they’re happy, they’re packed, they look depressing when the crowds go, and finally they tend to reduce students’ learning to ‘look at me’ – seeing all that work with no context is problematic. I’ve been to some shows where the work looks great, but you wonder what the student learnt in the process. Similarly I’ve seen some shows that on the surface look a bit rough but you know the students have been too busy learning to polish the work. I think that’s fine, but I know others think the show is everything.
As we come up to New Blood (D&AD’s student show), New Designers and Free Range, where hundreds of design students will show off their work in London, I think anyone visiting with the idea of recruiting needs to make sure they look beyond the work on the wall – it’s the ideas that count and the thinking behind them.

Since moving up to Scotland I’ve had to learn an awful lot about fields of design outside my own experience. Teaching jewellery and textiles students isn’t so different from, say, graphic design students, and the concepts I cover are equally – if not more – applicable to them. But the examples I show to make points tend to come from graphics and advertising (often because those fields are the most ‘obvious’ examples we encounter day to day). This causes problems though as some students will reject ideas if they think it only applies to graphics.

Wandering around the jewellery show the other week I was struck by a few students’ work in particular, and by how they (maybe without knowing it) knocked on the head the idea that theory and practice have nothing to do with one another, or that teaching design students stuff from other disciplines isn’t worthwhile (something Paul Rand rather bizarrely claimed in ‘Design, Form, Chaos’).
One student had been inspired by images of bacteria and germs, another had created shapes that were straight out of omnidimensional mathematics, while another, Kate Pickering, had examined the idea of memory to create a range of pieces.
The two images above show some of these. The vials contain (I’m told) her blood, sweat and tears (don’t ask! The ‘blood’ one was missing when I saw the exhibit but a red stain on the floor suggested what had happened to it…).

The idea behind the second piece, ‘Heart to Heart’, escapes me for the moment (my own memory being a bit temperamental at the moment) but I do remember being intrigued by it. In a way, it’s the fact that I can’t quite remember the meaning, but I can remember the feeling, that I like.

There were some other pieces, not shown, that took me back a bit. Kate had some items that looked like vials combined with a censer, one of those incense holders they swing in church, and they contained items linked to people (lovers, friends etc). They reminded me of the relicry in my old school, a convent in York, that contained items like the bloodstained robes of martyred saints and, most chillingly, the actual hand of St Margaret Clitherow (below) who was executed in a particularly nasty way on the banks of the River Ouse in York.

Kate had, perhaps unconsciously, produced modern pieces that have a long tradition and that mix memory, emotion and (to me) a little bit of a chill factor.

I’m going to show these images to new students next year because they are great examples of how ‘contextual studies’, far from being irrelevant to design practice, can be a source of ideas and depth. If Kate decides to take this idea further there is a wealth of literature from fiction to cutting edge research that could inform her ideas.

Kate is showing at New Designers in London from 5-8 July, along with her classmates and others from here and around the UK. Worth a visit if you’re nearby. (Week 2, 12-15 July, includes graphics, illustration, product design and more.)
Kate’s email address: kate-pickering at hotmail dot co dot uk

Survey: Most youngsters ‘hate’ 2012 logo

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

See the list of links on the left side of this page for some of The Guardian’s coverage of the London Olympics logo.
Here’s the latest – a report on a survey suggesting the logo hasn’t hit home with the group it was supposedly aimed at:

Almost 70% of 11- to 20-year-olds dislike the youth-targeted London 2012 logo, according to a study.
The logo, which aims to tap into the youth market with a multimedia design, has come in for heavy criticism since being unveiled last week.

Now, a Q Research survey focusing on the core market London 2012 is hoping to attract – 11- to 20-year-olds – has found that 68% of respondents said they ‘hate’ the design, with more than half saying it was because it did not say anything about the capital city or the UK.

While 75% of the 431 respondents said they were ‘excited’ about the Olympics coming to London, just 30% of 11- to 16-year-olds and 35% of 16- to 20-year-olds said they ‘loved’ the new design.

The survey group was asked why they thought so many people do not like the new logo, supplying a response from a list of four answers.

In responding to these options, 30% said it was because the design ‘doesn’t say anything about the UK’; 24% said it ‘doesn’t say anything about London’; 32% simply said it ‘wasn’t a very good logo’; and 14% thought it was because adults do not understand it.

A second question asked if the logo – designed to be usable online – actually looked better in print or on the internet.

In reply to this question, 30% agreed that it looks better online, with just 11% saying it looks better printed in magazines, newspapers and posters.

‘We were pleased to see more than three-quarters of the young people we surveyed were excited about the Olympics in London,’ said the Q Research executive chairman, Dr Liz Nelson.

‘Our survey respondents had clearly given the matter of the logo itself a lot of thought, and their comments showed quite a sophisticated level of understanding design and marketing and its purpose.

‘For instance, more than half of respondents said they didn’t like the logo because it didn’t say anything about London or the UK.’

The survey asked a range of questions of 11- to 16-year-olds and 16- to 20-year-olds between Friday and Sunday.

Views were largely negative in an ‘open-ended’ response part of the survey, where respondents said what they thought about the logo.

One respondent, Lee, 15, said that it looks ‘like a kid made it’ and that while the ‘designers thought it would attract MTV viewers it doesn’t’.

This contrasts with supporter Tamsyn, 15, who said: ‘I think it’s a brilliant way of introducing the newer generations to the Olympics because it’s quite a modern design.’

Several respondents were also concerned with the fact that it cost £400,000 to develop.

Seventeen-year-old Matt said it ‘makes London look like it has no design talent to do the promoting’.

However, Caron, 17, took a much wider long-term view of the whole logo issue: ‘It doesn’t make a difference, the Olympics in London is an amazing thing.'”

(Via The Guardian.)

Incidentally, I saw the logo printed in The Guardian yesterday and found myself thinking ‘meh, it looks okay’, but then I looked again and realised that I was mistaking familiarity with enthusiasm. I suspect this is what supporters of the logo are doing too. Saying we’ll ‘get used’ to it is hardly a ringing endorsement. I might get used to a boil on the back of my neck, doesn’t mean I want it there.


Saturday, June 9th, 2007

Wait til you get to around five minutes in…

Photosynth website

Two designers talk about the Olympics 2012 logo

Friday, June 8th, 2007

Click to listen to Adrian Shaughnessy and Jessica Helfland talk about the 2012 logo

(Via Design Observer.)

Not joined up thinking

Friday, June 8th, 2007

As part of the Dundee Literary Festival, top children’s authors Philip Pullman and Jacqueline Wilson (Britain’s Children’s Laureate) are appearing later this month.

I told a friend of mine whose ten-year-old daughter recently did a talk at school on Wilson, and whose slightly younger son is a huge Doctor Who fan and would undoubtedly enjoy Pullman’s ‘Dark Trilogy’ books in a couple of years.

Unfortunately (and rather oddly) the talks are during school hours, so my friend asked the kids’ school if they could be excused for a few hours to go and attend the talks. Given that it’s the end of term and nothing new is being covered in the curriculum as everyone winds down, it would appear to be a reasonable request, notwithstanding the status of the speakers.

The answer? “No”. Apparently listening to two of our foremost authors isn’t viewed as being educational enough.

Your place or mine?

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

You can’t make this stuff up: Epilepsy fears over 2012 footage

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

A segment of animated footage promoting the 2012 Olympic Games has been removed from the organisers’ website after fears it could trigger epileptic fits.
Prof Graham Harding, who developed the test used to measure photo-sensitivity levels in TV material, said it should not be broadcast again.

Charity Epilepsy Action said it had received calls from people who had suffered fits after seeing it.

Organisers London 2012 said it will re-edit the film.

The new logo for the event, which is a jagged emblem based on the date 2012, was unveiled on Monday.

A London 2012 spokeswoman said the health concerns surrounded a piece of animation shown at the launch, which was recorded by broadcasters and put on the official website.

Emphasising that it was not the logo itself which was the focus of worries, she said: ‘This concerns a short piece of animation which we used as part of the logo launch event and not the actual logo.’

She said the section of footage concerned showed a ‘diver diving into a pool which had a multi-colour ripple effect’.

The spokeswoman said: ‘We are taking it very seriously and are looking into it as a matter of urgency.’

‘Suffered seizure’

Prof Harding is an expert in clinical neuro-physiology and he designed a test which all moving adverts need to undergo to check they will not trigger a reaction in people with epilepsy.

He told BBC London 94.9FM: ‘It fails the Harding FPA machine test which is the machine the television industry uses to test images.

‘And so it does not comply with Ofcom guidelines and is in contravention of them.’

Christopher Filmer rang BBC London 94.9FM to say he suffered a seizure while watching the footage on television and his girlfriend also suffered a fit and needed hospital treatment.

‘The logo came up on TV and I was thinking about the 2012 Games and then I was out,’ he said.

Epilepsy Action said the images could affect the 23,000 people in the UK who have photosensitive epilepsy.

It said it had even triggered breakthrough seizures where people have a relapse after being seizure-free for a long time.

A spokesman for the charity said: ‘The brand incorporates both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which is ironic as the latter is a showcase for athletes with disabilities.

‘People can strive for years to gain seizure control and it is important that nothing puts this at risk.’

(Via BBC News.)

2012 Olympics Logo Revealed…

Monday, June 4th, 2007

So this is the logo for the London 2012 Olympics. And this is the explanation.

I’m saying nothing.*

You can, however, read what ‘the great British public’ are saying on the BBC’s ‘Have Your Say’ page.

*That’s cos it’s shite.