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Genius of Design (doco – ep #4)

19 July, 2010

Genius of Design : Episode 4: ‘Better Living through Chemistry

NB: This is out of order – I haven’t watched Ep 3 yet which seems to be about the WWII design.

Getting into the more boring, but enlightening mid-20th century design. I’m not going to rehash the episode (watching TV conscientiously shows me how tiresome it must be to be a TV reviewer – you can’t relax because there’s too much noteworthy (or not) stuff)).

Anyhoo, my highlights and ‘huh…!?’ moments:

  • Braun, form-follows-function – economy of form, functional-high-tech German design, ‘it should be what it should be, and no more’ Dieter Rams
    (image via Gizmodo showing Braun’s influence on Apple)
  • Motorway signs, design and typography by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert –  I love that the typography for something this mundane and functional was thought about, considered  and designed. I also love that Margaret Calvert modeled the children crossing on herself, and with her in the lead – it’s nice we can do those little things in design that mean something to us personally.  It was all about a functional tradition – first, what needs be known, then how can it be seen in what order. Fitness/simplicity for purpose, fit for everybody.Somewhat randomly, for a keyboard is a designed object, it made me think of when a friend and I tried to guess back in 2000 what the next hot keyboard symbol would be (@ was coming of age) I voted on ~ dammit should’ve picked #.

  • Verner Panton’s S-chair. A marvel of single-mould plastic engineering – a precursor to the ubiquitous plastic chair we all hate. Ultimately a failure commercially and longevity-wise (cracking plastic). So is the concept worth as much as the actualisation of the concept if the actualisation fails? I think yes. The value of the thinking and the trying and the experimenting and the so-called failing is part of the discovery of the better.

  • Sony – in reference to Braun’s simplicity, but the step further taken with the miniaturisation of things and how miniaturisation + electronics + plastics has changed the way we live. That the gadgets we use (epitomised by Sony) were for lifestyle, not just function (more Braun’s ethos). Their use promised liberation, Stephen Bayley said the invention of the walkman gave us a new human experience, its use creates a separate reality for the user. I think he’s right. And it made me think of my third walkman, tucked away in it’s special never-throw-away-drawer. Coolest walkman ever – subtle function, coloured buttons, size no bigger than a cassette, reverse button so you didn’t have to turn the tape over, cool metal feel. Loved it. Loved what? Loved it’s design and it’s functionality and it’s cool factor – in that order.

  • The episode ended on the notion that the aim of design is to sell things. Hmm. Is service design selling something – in the public sector is it selling ‘ease of mind’ – ‘ability to do the right thing’? I’ll be intrigued to watch episode 5 to see if my opinion on design to sell stuff holds up for my context.

Postscript: I was reading through a design magazine this week (flicking through for nice pictures to honest) and there was a review for the book 60 Innovators Shaping Our Creative Future (Thames & Hudson) open at a 11. Sou Fujimoto (bottom image). I was struck by the image and the statement “Creating in-between spaces that suggest new possibilities for how we might live” and I thought about this episode and how Joe Colombo with his ‘total functioning unit’ (top image) and Verner Panton’s ‘landscaped interior’ (middle image) were also looking to maximise in-between spaces, were also Innovators trying to shape our creative future. At first I thought, “that’s not original!” and then I thought, Verner’s and Joe’s visions are a demonstration of concepts not actualised, but concepts of worth because of the universal ideas they represent. Sometimes design is about getting past the “but we’ve done that before” bleats and trying something again in a different context and time. I know this isn’t the most revelatory statement, but there’s something here that I need to dwell on in my mind. Something about repetition and creation, something about trying as doing, something meaningful to public sector design where innovation maybe duplication in relation to time and environment.

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