Archive for the ‘dundee’ Category

Accidental bike ride

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Tayport to St Andrews and back
Find more Bike Rides in Fife, United Kingdom

I went for a bike ride the other day and decided that instead of the usual ride to Tentsmuir Sands through the forest near where I live that I’d head on to Leuchars. But when I got to Leuchars it felt too easy so I decided to carry on – to St Andrews (home of golf!)

The weather was pleasant and warm, I had plenty of water with me and even thought I’d never cycled that far, or that way, before I reasoned that as I was on part of the national cycle network I couldn’t really go wrong (plus I had my iPhone with me so if I got lost I could locate myself on Google Maps).

It was a fairly easy ride through a couple of small Scottish towns. After Tentsmuir Forest it is, for the most part, a mix of small suburban districts and cycling alongside a small motorway – not much to see really until you get to just outside St Andrews when you once more begin to see the coast.

What was odd was that even though I’d cycled quite a long way, all I’d done was cycle inland a bit, following the estuary, cross the bridge and then cycle east again, which meant that just as I was reaching the outskirts of St Andrews I could easily see RAF Leuchars across the water, which made my achievement much less impressive!
(Cycling near the RAF base is quite impressive as aircraft regularly come in to land. Last week at the beach I’d seen about four or five come in to land in close formation, sweeping out across the North Sea and back in again. On this ride two flew just a few hundred meters – if that – above my head – again in close formation. RAF Leuchars lost a plane a couple of weeks ago when it flew into a mountain near Glasgow and even though it looks like they’re going slowly from the ground, it must be a case of split-second timing inside the cockpit).

Anyway, just as I was reaching St Andrews I could see dark clouds looming from the south and realised why all the cows had suddenly started lying down when I was cycling through the fields just outside Leuchars. It began spitting at first but as I got in to St Andrews a steady drizzle started. Fortunately I’d packed my raincoat and went off to find a café to have lunch and a sandwich.
St Andrews isn’t short of nice independent cafes but of course I ended up in Starbucks! As it turned out, I was served by one of my own students! Small world…
I could see outside that the rain was now quite bad so I went back to the bike and got my waterproof(ish) trousers out, intending to change out of my shorts. Which meant finding another café…

The cycle back was in the rain which didn’t feel so bad but when I got back to the forest I took a wrong turn and ended up getting a bit lost, finding a small group of houses and following a minor road/track figuring it must end up in civilisation. I stumbled upon a bridge standing in the middle of a clearing. It didn’t connect to anything, just an old brick bridge on its own. Turns out it used to be part of the railway line that led from Edinburgh to Tayport, back when it was called Ferryport-on-Craig and was the main route to the north. Before the Tay rail bridge was built you had to get a ferry (while still on the train). After the bridge was built the line became less important (until the bridge fell down, of course) and eventually it disappeared, leaving just the bridge standing alone in the forest. I’ll go back and take a picture next week maybe – it’s very strange.
It turns out I’d ended up in a nature reserve and in better weather I’d have gone looking for deer and highland cattle, but as it was I was now feeling rather wet and despite it only being about 4pm the light was very poor. So I kept cycling and found a row of telegraph poles and cycled under them for a while, coming out at a farm and onto the road just south of Tayport. Home at last.

When I got in I realised quite how wet I was – absolutely soaked to the skin. But feeling quite good. A few minutes later, after a shower and a change of clothes, though, I sat on the sofa and my body caught up with what had just happened…

45km or 28 miles. That’s nothing to some cyclists, of course but considering my longest ride up to that point was about 18km, it’s quite a leap. Three hours, excluding the rest at St Andrews.

So, a somewhat unplanned adventure but a good one – fairly flat and easy. I intend to do it again when the weather improves (we’ve had a week of sun and showers after a couple of weeks of hot sunshine when, of course, I mainly sat around). But I also fancy trying a few other local rides. The Salmon Run goes from Dundee to Dunkeld via Perth, following the Tay and the route the famous Tay salmon take. There’s also a ride from here to Arbroath where the Smokies are produced (I could follow that route up to Aberdeen and then on either to John O’Groats or take a ferry to Orkney, but I think that would be a bit too much!). And the route to St Andrews carries on to Edinburgh and beyond in to England. You can see all the routes in the National Cycle Network at Sustrans’s website. But all those routes are trickier, over hills and a mix of on- and off-road.

I had planned to use my holidays for this but they seem to have flown by with little achieved – which is of course the point of a break. But there’s still plenty of summer left so time to do a few of these rides yet.

Overgate Scene #1: On Seeing A Fat Girl In Bright Yellow Lycra

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

A poem I wrote while waiting for my friend in Dundee’s Overgate shopping mall.

A rather large girl and her friend walked by, inspiring me to verse.

It’s not anti-fat, it’s anti Lycra and skin-tight jeans.

You’re a great big yellow idol
To the north of Gregg’s and O2,
And you made me lose my appetite
When you lumbered in to view.

I wonder what you’re thinking
When you dress yourself each day.
You clearly do not worry
What others have to say.

You waddle by oblivious
To your sin against good taste,
As you dig in to your pasty
Letting nothing go to waste.

It’s not so much the rolls of fat
Like some gross lemon jelly;
It’s the way the cloth rides up your side
Showing off your fearsome belly.

And I see you have a skinny friend
Who’s no oil painting either.
But she stands a chance of pulling guys
With a slug like you beside her.

As you pass your ass strains at the seams
Of your skin-tight denim trousers,
And I wonder if you really think
That your taste in fashion wows us.

May he who invented Lycra
Burn forever in hell’s fires
For the crimes it’s since committed
On girls’ fat round spare tyres.

The Studio Unbound: Social Networking in Design Education

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

The Studio Unbound: Social Networking and Design Education from Jonathan Baldwin on Vimeo.

University of Dundee Master of Design student Lauren Currie, and design writer Kate Andrews explore the power of online social networking, and demonstrate the tools students they use to move ideas forward, form networks with practitioners around the world, and build a reputation before and after graduation.

“For the designer to become a producer, she must have the skills to begin directing content, by critically navigating the social, aesthetic, and technological systems across which communications flow.” (Ellen Lupton, 1998).

In highlighting the creative people all over the world using social networking to their advantage, Lauren discusses the dynamic, conversational value of online networking and shows how ideas of teaching and learning need to move away from the confines of the studio towards other, often ad-hoc and virtual, venues.

Joining from London via video conferencing, Kate Andrews, design writer and networker extraordinaire, shares her own insights into the potential offered by new technology.

Focusing on the new possibilities and opportunities the digital world presents, this talk will demonstrate that the world has changed and is changing, and that design courses must change with it if they are to stay relevant.

Design versus innovation

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

I’ve posted a long (and typically, I hope, controversial) entry over at Design Cultures on the debate between design and innovation. I’m experimenting to see if a more provocative approach to that student-oriented blog will get them more involved rather than passive readers.

We’ll see…

Here’s a choice extract for you:

“Why do we still see the ability to draw a naked woman as the primary qualification to be a designer?”

Head over to see the rest and please add your comments!

Pickle the Hunter

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

I had a couple of friends over for dinner the other weekend and I got up early to make a Summer Pudding and tidy up (two women = very critical).
Having a break I heard the cat come in through the bedroom window (it was the last warm day of the year and I was taking advantage of it) accompanied by some muffled miaows.

I didn’t think much of it and carried on watching Quincy. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw Pickle with what looked like a kitten hanging limply from her mouth. Except it wasn’t a kitten. Oh no.

I think this was her contribution to the dinner party. I should say that a) I live on a harbour not a waste dump, b) it was very clean, c) while filming I’m also thinking how the hell I’m going to get rid of it and d) it was actually quite tasty in the end.

Autumn lecture programme

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Here’s my Autumn semester lecture programme in 3D. Click on the link for a higher definition version. Of course it looks better in the flesh on the big screen 🙂

(The timeline was created in the rather clever program Timeline)

University of Dundee Design History, Theory and Practice lecture series from Jonathan Baldwin on Vimeo.

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…

Chinese Cooking

Monday, August 25th, 2008

After the Olympics closing ceremony yesterday, my friend Qin cooked me dinner – quite an honour! I thought I’d capture the moment so that anyone could follow along at home:

In case you’re wondering, it tasted lovely. 🙂

HSBC. The World’s Dumbest Bank?

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

Spotted this ad in Dundee today. A few points spring to mind. Firstly, it’s a crap ad (sumo wrestlers do budge – it’s the whole point of the sport. In fact they don’t half get a wriggle on sometimes…)

But most importantly, given the strapline “The world’s local bank” it should perhaps be pointed out to whoever at HSBC signed off on this space being hired that, erm, there is no HSBC branch in Dundee.

In fact, the ‘local’ branch is a half hour drive away in Perth. Might as well be in Japan – which is the only thing that might help this ad make some sort of sense.


Sunday, April 13th, 2008

In New Paltz, New York last week I gave a presentation to senior students there on the Master of Design programme at the University of Dundee. One of the core philosophies of the course is its concern with ‘design for a changing world’.

I illustrated this by showing a satellite image of the campus, courtesy of Google Earth, showing the proximity of the University’s life sciences building to my own office in the College of Art and Design.
On the image I placed two labels, one saying ‘Anti-cancer gene discovered here’, the other saying ‘my office’.

The point I was trying to make was that when it comes to the word ‘creative’, surely it’s the people who work on cures for cancer, among other things, who are engaged in true creativity? Designing logos and leaflets doesn’t really compare at all.

It was interesting to note the vigourous nodding of heads at this. I felt like someone explaining this new thing called fire to a group of people bathed in electric light.

At the start of the academic year I asked my new undergrad students to choose a term from a grid I presented on the screen – terms such as ‘ageing’, ‘poverty’, ‘ethics’, and ‘disability’ – and consider how their own disciplines were affected, or could affect, that particular area.
After a few minutes I asked what people had written.

“What do you study?” I asked one.
“Graphic Design”.
“And what did you choose from the grid?”
“So how can graphic design intersect with disability?”
“Well graphic designers can design the signs that go on toilet doors so you know which one is for the disabled”.

Now it’s easy to laugh at that, and to dismiss the student, but remember this is someone starting out and, to be honest, that’s how graphic design represents itself. In the last lecture of the year I ask students to return to that exercise and ask themselves if their ideas have changed – if they have, I’ve done my job properly.

To a lot of people,’creativity’ and ‘creative thinking’ means exactly what that student said: coming up with good-looking ways to communicate a fact. You’re disabled, you want to know which toilet is for you, here you go.

What I think we’re trying to do in Dundee (and I’m speaking entirely for myself here) is to change that idea: creativity and creative thinking are about changing attitudes to disability, not designing ways to describe it; about designing the world in such a way that a disability is simply a physical condition, not a way of life or an obstacle.

Can graphic design do that? That’s an interesting question – one that makes it ripe for that type of study. The Masters programme is more interested in the question-asking than the answering (although if the questions are answered, that’s great of course) and this makes it an exciting course to work on.
Being in Dundee means we’re well-placed to interact and work with other disciplines: medicine, law, economics, education, computing, engineering. And in doing so we’ve in part got rid of the one thing that stops interdisciplinarity happening: disciplines.
So although we occasionally describe a Masters student by the discipline they studied at undergraduate level (graphic designer, textile designer, architect, weaver etc) we don’t ask them to identify a problem and say “How can I, as a graphic designer, tackle this?” We ask them to say “How can we, as designers, help tackle this?”
Because designers shouldn’t be constrained by disciplinary boundaries, they shouldn’t work alone, and they shouldn’t claim to know better than anyone else.

Personally I think it’s a shame this level of thinking has to wait till Masters, but until the creative disciplines start being creative about their own practice, I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon.

When I was a child I used to be taken to Mass and week after week read the words on the order of service. The longest of sections was the Credo (“I believe”). It wasn’t until I was about 13 or so I realised this thing actually consisted of words and sentences, rather than just sounds (Vatican II really not working in my case), and I began to wonder if I actually did believe in these things at all. When I started teaching design I found colleagues telling me how they taught and assessed. Unlike them I’d never gone through ‘art school’ and so my first reaction was to think “why on earth do you do it like that?” They were reciting the credo, enacting the rituals, despite the fact that the world had moved on and it was clear that few of the methods worked anymore (if they ever did).

While at New Paltz I met the inspirational head of the print-making course. He was lamenting the burden of tradition within his own discipline. I asked him if he knew anything of the English Reformation. At the time, crowds of people went through the medieval churches, cathedrals and abbeys ripping out and smashing statues, icons, stained glass and anything that smelt of Popery. It is widely held to be one of the biggest acts of cultural vandalism the world has seen, and something that set it aside from the more general reformation happening on the continent. Yet it also meant that as far as English crafts were concerned, everything had to start again – there were no models to work from, no statues to copy or paintings to emulate.
This, in part (and until European methods of teaching art and craft invaded our shores) explains why English craft, thought and science developed the way they did. Unburdened by tradition, without the constraints of paying deference to all that had come before, the English Reformation, for all its evils (and there were many) paved the way for innovations we take for granted.

(An historian of the period would no doubt go ashen faced at my summation here but, hey, I’m being ‘creative’!)

Design education needs that reformation, a bold sweeping away of tradition. It needs to stop being so disciplined and learn to embrace the mess of fuzzy logic, intuition and sheer creativity that comes from letting go of the past. Whatever was true of design in the 19th and 20th centuries is no longer so true today. We are no longer the ‘creative disciplines’ because we like tradition too much, and see skills as rituals rather than a grammar – like people intoning a Mass without understanding the meaning of the words they’re saying. Or teaching in a certain way without wondering if it does more harm than good.

We can’t wait for a Martin Luther or Henry VIII to turn up and change things. We can do better.
Subject area aside there is one thing that separates the ‘creative disciplines’ from the truly creative disciplines: they eat their own young. By which I mean they identify their best students and they keep them. They continue teaching them, they let them do research, they show them how to teach. And then they let them loose on students and start it all over again.
In design, we identify our best students, spend ages on them so they can win an award or two, help them get jobs at prestigious firms and then either get them in every so often to give guest talks and praise us (after all, we must be good cos look what happened to them) or we wait thirty years until they’re burnt out and then ask them to come and teach when they repeat the rituals they went through (after all, they must be good cos, etc etc).

This myth, that only practitioners can teach, has to be ended.
Our Martin Luther is sitting in our courses right now. And there’s more than one…