Archive for November, 2007

Intersections podcasts available

Friday, November 16th, 2007

InterSections podcasts are starting to appear – essential listening for anyone interested in the future of design.

The conference was a gathering of hundreds of designers and design users to talk about how the different disciplines are breaking down traditional barriers and contributing meaningful solutions to real problems.

The first two are from Tim Brown of IDEO and Richard Seymour of Seymour Powell.

Click this link to subscribe in iTunes.

24 – lost pilot from 1994

Saturday, November 10th, 2007

If you ever used AOL back in the 90s (I was a Compuserv user – same sort of thing) this video will bring back painful memories of not being able to use the phone and the internet at the same time, life before the world wide web, hourly charges, annoying ‘friendly’ voices and ‘channels’.

Campbell on Branding and Innovation: Oh?! Design school? That’s cool!

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

A student on the Institute of Design’s Masters in Design Methods writes:

Many people still think of design in terms of creating logos (graphic), cars (industrial), or the good ol’ haute couture (fashion). These all fall under the broad umbrella of big D Design, but for a marketing manager at a Fortune 500 to leave to work on what many envision is a degree in making logos and pantsuits doesn’t really make sense to a lot of people. So to make sure they don’t have a mental image of me appearing on Project Runway, I inevitably fill in the pause after ‘That’s cool!’ with a five-minute explanation of what design-centered thinking, planning and strategy is, how that leads to innovative products, services, business models, and ultimately revenue to a company, and how it’s the Future of Business, and that programs like ID are years ahead of mainstream business, fancy MBA programs and super narrowly-focused ‘design as a trade’ schools. Not surprisingly, I often end up boring people. In fact, I might have just lost some of you readers.

Therefore, I thought I’d try my hand at writing up a brief explanation of design in the context of the program I’m attending. A quick way to get the gist across when I tell someone what I’m currently up to. Here it goes:

Design is a strategic way of thinking that places the user at the center of all decisions, using an iterative approach to deliver on unmet needs that creates real value for users and thereby for the organization.
Does that work? Is it too light on conveying the power of design? Is it too vague? What do you think?

Forget the wall of fame. Design schools need a wall of shame for real inspiration.

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

This video of Bruce Nussbaum (from here) is interesting for several reasons, but it really strikes home with me for one in particular.

About a year ago I went to a teaching and learning event in Dundee which attracted colleagues from all over Scotland. The event was quite successful with people being quite imaginative about changing the way they teach design, and approach the subject.
But late in the afternoon the discussion turned to the environment in which we teach. It was suggested that the traditional art school, with its plaster cast statues everywhere, its portraits of famous designers and pictures of ‘classic’ designs, sent out completely the wrong message to students in the 21st century. Why not replace the sculptures with plasma screens showing what was going on that day, or showing video of design in action? The presenter went on with some pretty good ideas for turning design schools in to modern, energetic environments rather than fusty old museums to the 19th century way of doing things.

Somewhat predictably, the idea was shouted down pretty vociferously. A colleague from an august institution in a city that rhymes with ‘has go’ went quite pale at the suggestion. “Those statues are what tell a student they’re entering a place of creativity” he said. “They’re inspirational”.
Really? I found them quite off-putting. Certainly I wouldn’t walk in to some of the design schools I’ve visited and think “wow, this place is forward looking – this is the place for me to learn how to innovate and tread the cutting edge”. Instead I’d think “blimey, I’ve walked through a time warp”.

The equivalent of Nussbaum’s swapping of the CEO’s photos would be to rip down anything that spoke of the past without criticism, and replace it with images of the present. And not ‘great’ design – ‘crap’ design.
Get rid of the photo of the Bauhaus founders and their chairs and lamps. Get rid of the William Morris prints and furniture. Throw away the plaster cast sculptures and the Neville Brody posters.

Instead lets get photos of children learning in schools that haven’t been updated since the 1960s, of people using cars that are creating smog, of kids slaving away in China to produce the textiles we design, of towns gridlocked by congestion, of factories blotting out the sun, of people waiting in villages for buses that never turn up, of individuals in wheelchairs who can’t get into places they should be able to get into, of farms that have been rendered barren because the dye from the local denim factory has left a thick crust everywhere…

Those are are the questions we face as designers, the challenges. And through the door, on the courses, would be the answers, taught by people who are angry that the world is the way it is and determined to educate the people who will change it. Screw ’employability’ if by that you mean entry level jobs just repeating the mistakes on that wall of shame. We shouldn’t be happy if our students get jobs like that, we should be ashamed.

It’s the only way to change the mindset of those who practice, teach and study design. Stop looking to the past and start looking to the present and the future.

It’s too easy to get a degree in design

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

Richard Roty on Foucault’s (inadvertent) influence on English departments:

“I think that the English departments have made it possible to have a career teaching English without caring much about literature or knowing much about literature but just producing rather trite, formulaic, politicized readings of this or that text.”

Substitute ‘design’ for ‘English’ and I think you get a pretty good analysis of the problem facing design education generally:

I think design departments have made it possible to get a degree in design without caring much about the design process or knowing much about how design works or affects people, but just producing rather trite, formulaic, aesthetic things with an eye on entry level jobs and the odd D&AD award. A degree has to mean much more than that

Too much focus on ‘making and displaying’ means the world is full of technically competent artworkers or prototypers or craftspeople, but who don’t understand the enormity – or potential – of the design process as a whole.

As I said elsewhere, making is to design what voting is to democracy – they’re just tiny parts of big and complex processes, and just as democracy can exist without everyone voting, so design can happen without someone making something.
I’m not sure why design education is still stuck in the idea that a student should be assessed (or even allowed in) based on technical skills rather than thinking skills.

(Via Foucauldian Reflections.)

Eurobad ’74

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

In my first job I occasionally had to spec up interiors for photo shoots for bathrooms and kitchens. It was an interesting process, especially if I got to go to the shoot (though we had a ban on the use of models, so no fun there I’m afraid!)

When cleaning out an old filing cabinet I found an ancient catalogue from the late 70s, full of brown and ‘avocado’ bathroom suites (and, much to my annoyance, the occasional half naked model – why were the 90s so prudish??). The interiors and the kitchen and bathroom suites were awful, much like those presented on Eurobad ’74 “an exhibition of Europe’s worst interiors of 1974”.

Some of these, if you still have them in your home, are probably fashionably dated now. I think I developed my hatred of brown and orange from having to grow up in the 70s. Never mind, the 80s would bring rescue in the form of… grey.

Incidentally, one little snippet of info I can bring you from my experience in the plumbing trade is this: the most popular choice of bathroom suite colour is… white.

Via It’s nice that. (a site run by two of my former students, incidentally!)

Art of freedom

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

Jeremy Mulvey (Cambridge School of Art) on the drawbacks of the traditional art education model:

Unfortunately … there were a number of key problems… The new empty curriculum and emphasis on the student’s subjective responses left the staff with the problem of how to teach such a course. … From what others have told me, it is clear that some tutors found effective ways of teaching the new open curriculum and of encouraging students to flourish, students mostly unfamiliar and unprepared for such a style of education. But I think these tutors were few and far between, certainly in the early days.

For the most part, it seems, the staff, bereft of a coherent teaching strategy for the new curriculum, fell back on a number of tactics. Firstly there was the ‘macho crit’. The students would be allowed to do what they wanted for a few weeks. Then towards the end of each term there would be a big gathering of staff and students. The students’ work would be examined in front of the others and clear examples of success and failure pointed out to the year group. It seemed that the educational idea underpinning this was that a hard-hitting attack would encourage the students. Angry observations and insults were exchanged. It could be frightening.

According to Roy Trollop, who was a student in the 50s at St Martins Art School and who later became Head of the Fine Art Department at Central St Martins School of Art, the first ‘macho crit’ was imported from the United States in 1963. An American abstract expressionist came to St Martin’s Art School to show his art and stayed around to discuss the students’ work. He launched into a scathing attack on the work as a whole and any individual who contradicted him. …

Clearly, a number of tutors saw in the performance that took place that evening in St Martins … something very potent. It offered them a useful way of containing the daunting freedom that students and staff encountered as a result of the new curriculum. … I suppose the ‘macho crit’ was meant, at best, to be a bracing experience. At worst, it could feel as though you had got caught up in a modernist boot camp.

Another tactic was ‘huddling’. There was a significant level of alcohol dependency amongst most of the tutors I came across. Discussions about aesthetics would transfer from the studio to the college bar or a nearby pub. Often the topics were complex to begin with but got cruder and more heated as the evening wore on. I suspect these occasions could be very useful opportunities for gaining insights if you got invited to them. But a degree of huddling took place: only students the staff felt comfortable with were taken along. More importantly, these ‘fatherly chats’ or ‘family rows’ meant that the tutors were undercutting the potential openness of the new fine art course by trying to mould students in their own image.

The onslaught of identity politics of the 70s and 80s dented this form of cloning a little. Alcoholism in art schools diminished for some reason in the late 80s, and as it did the occasions for huddling became fewer.

The notion that teaching staff’s job was to identify the students as ‘exceptionally talented’, ‘talented’ or ‘not talented’ was still prevalent in the 60s. A greater clarity about the universality and flexibility of human creativity emerged with post-war psychology and sociology. This greater understanding began to take hold in higher education in the 80s and increasingly marginalised the practice of ‘labelling’ students. The ‘open model’ of the fine art curriculum inherited this practice from centuries of art teaching. Moreover, the idea of teaching as a process of selection and grading of people rather than performance was contrary to the democratic spirit and thrust of the post-war education agenda.

I think a lot of these methods still dominate – the filtering process, the favouritism, the bullying crit, the ‘toughening up’, the macho culture… It leads to a precious and precocious ‘me me me’ sensibility and that’s completely alien to design. But it also leads to articles like this one from A Brief Message, where the idea that designers should be asked to think rather than just make seems to be a direct attack on the very essence of what it is to be a designer.
It’s very nice to be a maker, lost in your own little world, cutting things out and sticking them together. But if it doesn’t help people, or change the world for the better, well I’m sorry but that’s not design. That’s pissing about.

Wolff Olins: Have they given up?

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

This new logo for Wacom has apparently been designed by Wolff Olins, creators of the appalling 2012 London Olympics logo.

Mmm… time to let the work experience school kid go, and bring the proper designers back?