Archive for the ‘Design’ Category

Design thinking

January 10, 2014

The ultimate union of function and beauty: lyre-back armchair by Thomas Chippendale in the Library at Nostell Priory. ©National Trust Images/John Gibbons

The ultimate union of function and beauty: lyre-back armchair by Thomas Chippendale in the Library at Nostell Priory. ©National Trust Images/John Gibbons

I have been reading a thought-provoking book by Alice Rawsthorn entitled Hello World: Where Design Meets Life, analysing the pervasive presence and multi-facted role of design.

Fit for purpose, 1950s-style: melamine picnic set in the Butlers Passage at Tyntesfield. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Fit for purpose, 1950s-style: melamine picnic set in the Butlers Passage at Tyntesfield. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Rawsthorn shows how ‘design thinking’ (in David Kelly’s phrase) can help us to analyse problems, find solutions and persuade others to adopt them. She persuasively argues that design is not just high-end styling, but also includes aspects of psychology, sociology, communication and politics.

Shaping and shaped by the means of production: two engine-turned creamware vases produced by Josiah Wedgewood, in the Library at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Shaping and shaped by the means of production: two engine-turned creamware vases produced by Josiah Wedgewood, in the Library at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Josiah Wedgwood was engaging in design thinking when he brought together kiln technology, aesthetics, logistics and marketing to create and sell his eponymous ceramics. But so are the street traders and itinerant technicians of present-day Beijing when they customise their battered tricycles to suit their individual needs.

Functional, beautiful, but potentially deadly: mid eighteenth century pistol at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Functional, beautiful, but potentially deadly: mid eighteenth century pistol at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I don’t agree with everything Rawsthorn posits in this book, but that is partly what makes it an engaging read. She equates good design with moral integrity, which I find slightly problematic. Weapons, for instance, though intended to wound or kill, can be both aesthetically beautiful and technically efficient. I think they can be called ‘good’ from the point of view of design even if one might call them ‘bad’ from an ethical perspective. It seems to me we need to treat moral virtue and design quality as two separate issues – without denying the importance of either.

Is it design or is it art: carved wooden finial in the shape of a sea monster, on the Oak Staircase at Clandon Park. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Is it design or is it art: carved wooden finial in the shape of a sea monster, on the Oak Staircase at Clandon Park. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

One the other hand, when Rawsthorn states that design and art can never be the same thing – because the former always has a function whereas the latter doesn’t necessarily have one – I don’t agree with her either. I tend to think that even ‘fine’ art fulfills all sorts of functions, it is just that they are slightly more abstract or intangible than those of design. Moreover, we live in an age when art and design seem to be increasingly resembling each other, and to her credit Rawsthorn describes some fascinating examples of that tendency.

Humble functionality, timeless beauty: mahogany 'Windsor' armchair, c.1760, in the Hall Gallery at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Humble functionality, timeless beauty: mahogany ‘Windsor’ armchair, c.1760, in the Hall Gallery at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

But I am fully in agreement with the author about the list of qualities she thinks design and designers need in order to break free from the limitations of elitism and preciousness that have become associated with this profession. Rawsthorn argues that design needs more openness and empathy and that it needs to combine boldness with humility. It strikes me that those virtues are equally relevant to the museums and heritage sector.

Incarnations of an oak leaf

January 8, 2013

National Trust oak leaf logo designed by David Gentleman

The latest issue of the National Trust magazine includes an article about David Gentleman, the designer who in 1982 created the National Trust logo that we still use today.

The original 1936 National Trust logo on a sign at Derwentwater, Cumbria. ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris

The original 1936 National Trust logo on a sign at Derwentwater, Cumbria. ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris

The original National Trust oak leaf logo dates from 1936 and was designed by sculptor and designer Joseph Armitage. It was slightly more attenuated, in tune with its time, but already had a strong symbolic presence.

Sign at Nanjulian Farm with David Gentleman's post-1982 National Trust logo. ©National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

Sign at Nanjulian Farm with David Gentleman’s post-1982 National Trust logo. ©National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

By 1982 it was thought to be in need of an update (a ‘brand refresh’ as we would call it today). The commission was given to David Gentleman as he had already designed a series of successful posters for the National Trust during the 1970s. They conveyed the organisation’s changing identity through their refreshingly modern, semi-abstract style.

National Trust logo in chocolate powder. ©National Trust Images/William Shaw

©National Trust Images/William Shaw

For the new version of the logo David Gentleman went back to nature for inspiration, collecting oak leaves on Hampstead Heath. He then carved a number of designs in boxwood, ending up with one that was elegantly simple and yet still botanically feasible.

National Trust logo in new branded colours

The subtle harmony of the design reinforces the symbolic messages around Britishness, heritage, nature and growth. Recent National Trust brand updates have only made the Gentleman design more prominent, and it now features in a rainbow of colours.

David Gentleman has just published his latest book of almost ukiyo-e-like drawings, entitled London, You’re Beautiful. And images of his Camden studio and his and his wife Sue’s Suffolk cottage (very ‘English wabi‘, both of them) feature in Ben Pentreath’s recent book English Decoration.


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