British Design in 2012

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Video Transcript

Jay Osgerby, BarberOsgerby

We wanted to design something which felt like a piece of sporting equipment, something which felt tensile, tactile and useful. We were fortunate in the case of the torch that there’s a hell of a lot of history.


Edward Barber, BarberOsgerby

Yes we were really keen for the project to have a very strong narrative to it. It had to relate to the relay in a very strong way so various aspects of the brief directed us towards the shape of the torch and the whole pattern of the torch as well. And in fact LOCOG gave us a brief, an eighty page document which outlined the history of the games, including previous torches but also things like the performance criteria. It has to work in sub zero temperatures, it has to work at high altitudes and really strong winds.


Jay Osgerby, BarberOsgerby

This torch has been tested in the BMW wind tunnel in Munich at up to speeds of I think up to 70miles an hour. The design of the torch encompasses 8,000 holes which represent the 8,000 runners, and the triangular form of the torch which represents the three times the Olympics has been in London. And also the Olympic motto which is faster, higher, stronger.


Edward Barber, BarberOsgerby

Designers are working behind the most important companies in the world now and I think it doesn’t matter where you go in the world you’ll find a British designer working there, whether it’s in architecture, industrial design, fashion design or graphics, we are everywhere. And so there’s not really a sense any more I don’t feel of British design, it’s a good design but it’s a global thing it’s not restricted to Great Britian any more.


Margaret Calvert

I’d started working with Jock Kinnear, he was my tutor at Chelsea and he just came and said, ‘Oh, I’ve got this job and I need someone to help me as an assistant’. There was this committee set up by the government with Sir Colin Anderson as the chairman to redesign the motorway signs, not the roadsigns but the motorway signs. And we started a logical system how to put all the components together to actually get it working. There was no thought of extending it to all the roadsigns, the whole system, but a really bright civil servant called TG Asbourne, he was the one suggesting to Jock, why don’t we extend it to the entire network. I mean that was staggering really, we never thought it would ever go that far. The most difficult one actually was the children, the school children crossing. It was a very difficult one to draw, the human figure is not easy and I spent a very long time on that. I based the child on my idea of me as a seven, eight year old.


Andrew Stevens, GTF

This is a particularly tricky problem or interesting problem for this show because it’s over such a wide time span. There’s so many different styles, aesthetics. To that sense often with an exhibition that’s more focused, you’ve got an aesthetic to play against or take from but here we had to find something that would sustain itself through sixty plus years of design.


Paul Neale, GTF

And could adapt a language, it could create a common thread through the whole exhibition but at the same time could adapt which is done through pallet and colour from space to space responding to the different periods. It has to have a degree of neutrality to it so it doesn’t contradict any of the aesthetics of any of the individual periods. Having said that we had to choose something and we didn’t want to choose Helvetica and there did seem an appropriate choice in a typeface design by Margaret Calvert of Calvert and Kinnear, the creators of the road signeage system, one of the exhibits here, who also created the typeface for the Intercity 125 programme.


Andrew Stevens, GTF

It has a clarity and a strength and in that sense it’s easy to read and as Paul says, in that sense it’s got a kind of neutrality to it, it doesn’t fight too much and it seems to have a conceptual link, that idea of a little bit of a thread of the state and good design running through there but is still something people connected to. Everyone caught the train and everyone saw the ads and it was a part of everybody’s daily life as well.


Paule Neale, GTF

Purposefully it’s quite a workman like typeface but it does quietly express a mood like lots of typefaces do, it’s not in your face but it is generally reminiscent of British public design and there are different areas of British Design I think we are particularly good at, designing a public space, like some of the work in this exhibition. The work of Ken Grange, modest forms, quite workmanlike, very well designed, quietly elegant.


Kenneth Grange

I was asked to design the inside of a pavilion and I had virtually finished my job and I said, foolishly in a way, but I said this would be a marvellous job if the cameras and products weren’t so damned ugly. And a man on my left who was busy unpacking, he was obviously something to do with the display arrangements and he said, ‘Well that’s very interesting, what would a designer charge a firm like Kodak to design a camera’, and I said, ‘Well, I don’t know’, I hadn’t thought about it at all, I hadn’t done anything like that in my life and I said, ‘Well I don’t know, a few hundred pounds’, and that was it. I went back to London and the following morning the telephone rang and I’m on my own in my own little bedroom come studio and the man said I am head of development at Kodak and I understand you are going to design a camera for us, and that was it. That’s absolutely a true story and from then on a whole raft of products came from them.

This was the first camera I did for them, called the 44A which is a very strange looking thing today, but it was successful and it then lead to forty odd years of designing cameras for them, and in particular this one which is the one which is in the show. And what it does is tell you how if you have some success and if you have a good relationship with a maker, he begins to trust you and begins to listen to you. I’ve been thinking about who I really admire in these days and I think it’s a very tough call because there are plenty of very good designers we have here but I think of all the designers I know we have around who I think are a big influence, as well as being a big single as it were practitioner today is Thomas Heatherwick. I think Thomas is an exceptional man in the scope of his skills, the scope of his intellect. He’s very accessible, and by no means a prima donna but he absolutely and consistently surprises and staggers you with the scope of his thinking and the scope of his vision.


Thomas Heatherwick

Getting the chance to design the bus was so special for the studio because London’s transport authority hasn’t commissioned a bus design for over fifty years. It felt that there were all these challenges and opportunities where we want to get wheelchair users in to buses and we want to get mothers with buggies and we know to be reliable with the quantity of traffic on London’s streets. We can’t just have one door to a bus so everyone just waits in a queue, we need a bus with three doors so people can quickly load and unload. It comes down to all the details. What are you going to press, what’s the bell push to stop that bus, and what are the steps that you’re going to walk up, and how’s the window, where’s your elbow, do you bash your head on the end, so our sense was that it was going to be a collection of detail and it wasn’t just going to be about one idea. We needed to have a philosophy that could permeate through and inform all of these details.

When I think of British design, I find that somehow one is talking about people from all over the world who have chosen Britain to base themselves. A lot of modern history has been rooted in what has come from the United Kingdom and so it doesn’t feel like a shallow layer of superficial thinking and institutions like the Victoria and Albert Museum constantly put things in huge contexts and that’s a very soulful backdrop to work around and within.


Among the strongest emblems of the Olympic Games is the transferral of the Olympic flame from torch to cauldron. This film takes inspiration from that aspect of the Olympic opening ceremony, beginning with the designers of the 2012 Olympic torch, Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, incorporating British designers Margaret Calvert, Graphic Thought Facility and Kenneth Grange, and ending with the designer of the 2012 Olympic cauldron, Thomas Heatherwick.

This film takes inspiration from the Olympic opening ceremony, beginning with the designers of the 2012 Olympic torch,  and ending with the designer of the 2012 Olympic cauldron...