Designers win medals too

Friday, September 19th, 2008

This is something I wrote for the study guide for my Design History, Theory and Practice (DHTP) module which starts next week. The first lecture asks “what’s the point of DHTP?” and I try to head off the usual complaints about having to write and read and go to the library. I’ve found spending the first lecture on making the case for approaching design from an intellectual point of view not only saves time later, it tends to improve attendance and grades!

Plus, I happen to believe in it.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics offered a showcase not just of excellence in sport, but in design as well. Everything from the equipment being used to the garments being worn was designed. Ask the average person what we mean by this and they will undoubtedly talk about what things look like – the ‘style’ of the outfits, the shape of the bikes and so on.

brennan_sydney_main.jpgBut to take a view like that is to miss what we might arguably call the ‘real’ design, the design that’s the product of years (if not decades) of intense research into textiles, alloys, aerodynamics, ergonomics and more. When people talk of the millions of pounds spent on sports in the UK, they may think that all gets spent on training. But it doesn’t. Chris Hoy’s bike, Rebbeca Adlington’s swimming costume, Charlotte Burgess’s bow, and Deborah Brennan’s wheelchair are all the result of investment worldwide in design research.

And then there are the games themselves – everything from the obvious opening and closing ceremonies to the transport networks, the global television feeds, the ticketing systems, the catering, even the queues — all designed.

Design history and theory are no longer simply endless slideshows of the great and the good; pictures of this designer and that piece. Over the next three years you’ll be exposed to, and encouraged to discover, not what’s gone before but what’s possible. DHTP is about the future as much as it’s about the past. It’s also about broadening your view of what design is, from the ‘man on the street’ idea of design as style to something a little more ambitious and all-encompassing. And it’s about encouraging you to pursue a role in the cutting edge through your own research.

If I get the time, I’m going to do a video to go with it too…

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