Title: Point of View
Pages: 26 - 27
Text: Point of view
West German design makes impact in Britain
Gute Form, the exhibition of products by the West German light engineering industries which was held recently at The Design Centre in London, was a remarkable demonstration of refinement in design and quality in manufacture. Organised in association with the Ratfur Formgebung, the West German counterpart of the ColD, the exhibition was held under a reciprocal arrangement whereby selected British goods will be shown in Germany at a later date.
Such exchanges between countries can only be beneficial. Certainly the detailing of these immaculate products from German factories struck a note of admiration, and not a little concern, among our own designers and manufacturers who took time off to visit the show. For though most of them are familiar enough with German competition in their own particular fluids, the impact came from the consistency of approach over a wide range of industries.
This consistency has been described,
somewhat unkindly by some critics, as the 'Braun look', but closer examination of the products in the exhibition showed this to be a superficial view.
Undoubtedly, there was an abundance of austere, box-like forms, and of grey and white finishes. What was more to the point, however, was the apparently universal concern to find the most direct, the simplest, the most unified and uncluttered solution to any given problem - an approach admirably expressed by Professor Bode's whiter than white display, which made an emphatic contrast with the normal type of Design Centre exhibition. Underlining and reaffirming this approach to design was a quality of workmanship and finish which must have caused some reflection among even the most complacent of British manufacturers.
That the exhibition presented a rosier picture of German design as a whole than in fact exists is understandable. Mia Seeger, the Ratfur Formgebung's director, spoke of the less satisfactory aspects in a paper given at a lunch time meeting of the Design and Industries Association, which had been arranged to coincide with the exhibition.
To a large extent, she said, design in Germany is still "industry's concession to the consumer"; the majority of firms still lack a "positive attitude" to design.
What she meant by a positive attitude to design was clearly demonstrated at the same meeting by Dr Traugott Malzan of Braun AG. He described how the company's policies had led to its sales being quadrupled since 1955. Design, he said, is a very contagious disease. Gradually, over the years, the logical thinking behind the products had infiltrated the whole company, so that today the same reasoning dominates all Braun's activities. He gave one warning, however - that good looks alone will not sell a product. To be successful, it must have technical superiority, be designed for maximum ease of use and be directed at the right markets. The success of the Braun kitchen mixer was attributed to a thorough programme of research into user needs which led to a substantial reduction in the time needed for cleaning and maintenance.
The Braun story is indeed a positive attitude to design, and deserves imitators everywhere.
A steely look at industrial design
The European Coal and Steel Community is an organisation concerned not only with the prosperity of the coal and steel industries, but also with the well being of all those who work for them. It was, therefore, especially heartening for those who believe that design has an important contribution to make to industry and to living standards generally that industrial design should have been chosen as one of the main subjects of the second Steel Congress, held recently in
An international panel of industrial designers, chaired by Professor Misha Black, gave papers discussing projects which ranged from routine utilisation to advanced experiments with steel. After an introductory paper by Tomas Maldonado, the main speakers included Nuccio Bertone, Richard Latham, llmari Tapiovaara, Henri Vienot, the late George Williams and Marco Zanuso. Their subjects were numerous: lightweight stainless steel for trains and mach 2 airliners, transparent buildings of porous steel sheet and American cooking pots made of everything from steel to new
materials derived from the aerospace programme. The subject of industrialised building attracted most discussion, one of the floor speakers giving a sketch production breakdown for the manufacture of a steel building 4,000 ft high.
It is perhaps typical of such a large meeting that the number and scope of the prepared papers at times hampered free argument between steel men and designers. That this confrontation took place at all, however, is clear evidence not only of the present status of the designer, but of the calibre and sophistication of the steel men of Europe.
Learning to think with our eyes
In Moving Education Upstream (DESIGN 200/17),wetookupthethemeoflastyear's SIA conference at which Britain was soundly castigated (by John Gloag) for being a visually illiterate nation, and where it was argued (by Jonathan Miller) that design education should begin "much further upstream". How quickly, it was said, would all those excuses for bad design disappear if design could be accepted as unquestionably in the secondary and public school curricula as mathematics, English and geography.
At the moment, there are two developments aimed at bringing design to the attention of schools, both of which are concerned with teacher training. The first of these developments is already under way at Hornsey College of Art; the second will come in to effect at the Cardiff College of Art next autumn.
Hornsey's work concerns about 25 students taking their Art Teacher's Certificate at the college; one day a week throughout a year's training is now spent in learning
What price better farm buildings?
The Appearance of Farm Buildings, the theme of the recent Farm Buildings Winter Conference, is a subject of considerable interest to planners and all those who care about amenity and the landscape. Understandably, however, it has been of marginal concern to the Farm Buildings Association up to now, since the association's efforts have been mainly concentrated on the establishment of a Farm Buildings Centre. The association, and its present chairman, Colonel John Tritton, are therefore to be congratulated on inviting three knowledgeable speakers to deal with the particular problem of the appearance of farm buildings in the landscape: R. I. Maxwell, Norfolk county planning officer, R. Stratton, land agent from Cornwall, and John Weller, architect and author of a recent book, Farm Buildings.
Mr Maxwell attributed most of the muddled nature of many groups of farm buildings to the lack of forward planning by farmers. Results in terms of both function and appearance were likely to be much better if a plan existed, even if it had to be altered. Like many others in the audience, he had more faith in the observation of principles of to learn about design and environmental studies. Their course at Hornsey is also being used as a piece of research into how these subjects can best be taught; and this is done by sending the students to a number of north London schools where they try out various teaching methods. The projects the students have initiated in this way include a film about three London shopping centres, and an analysis, leading to a completely new design, of an electric kettle carried out by sixth form scientists. Hornsey is now planning to expand this kind of training to fully qualified teachers next year. They will attend the college for a full time course lasting one term, and it is hoped that a new, one year course will be established, reading to a special certificate for teachers qualified to take classes in design and environmental studies.
The development at Cardiff also concerns fully qualified teachers, who will attend a two-term course to test the value of design as an extension of the art/crafts studies in secondary schools, and spend one term at the college, and the second term following up their studies in their own schools. The
intention of the course is to acquaint the teachers with the attitudes, problems and opportunities which work in industrial design provides. This will be done through three main studies: man-made environment; design methods; and human factors affecting design concepts. Both the study of the environment and of design methods will include collection and analysis of data, followed by a synthesis and course of action, while the study of human factors includes an introduction to ergonomics and such concepts as the closed loop cycle, and display and control techniques.
Whatever is learnt from the various courses, their most important contribution should be to encourage those taking part to use their eyes, and to think about what they see, whether they are studying a house or shopping centre in depth, or watching a man turning a piece of metal on a lathe. Only by doing this can Britain's visual illiteracy be broken down; and if the teachers can pass on their new habits to the children in their class, they will be laying the foundations of a heightened visual consciousness for a whole generation.
proportion, colour and siting than in the imposition of controls. Belts of trees, he emphasised, are not a substitute for good design, and the repetitive nature of industrially produced components can be used to the advantage of a building's appearance.
Mr Stratton suggested that a more informed demand for buildings from farmers would be a great stimulus to improvement, and this did not mean the satisfactory results could not be achieved economically. Carefully considered lay-out was the basis of a satisfactory functional solution, but he made many practical points about siting, choice of materials and the relation between tone, shape and landscape, which he illustrated with an excellent collection of colour slides of foreign farm buildings.
Mr Weller stressed that the problem of appearance related mainly to manufactured buildings, and quoted some of the conclusions of the ColD Farm Buildings Advisory Panel on the shortcomings of the industry's current products principally the lack of co-ordination of such matters as the junctions of materials. This must be solved on the factory drawing board, where design represents only a minute proportion of total costs. He forecast an
increase in the size of buildings so that many would in fact come under existing planning control, and believed that they would be sited nearer the urban market centres.
He suggested that one of the reasons for poor design standards was that manufacturing runs were too short - too many people making too little. Another reason was the lack of precision about agricultural requirements for buildings of the larger kind, and the absence of a group client such as had made possible building systems like CLASP. Everyone was pleading poverty farmers, manufacturers and even the Ministry of Agriculture- and this made investment in development difficult. It was time makers, users and designers really put their heads together to establish better co-operation.
It was encouraging to find such a large audience for the subject and to hear informed discussion among farmers, manufacturers and various professions on the relationship between a progressive agriculture, modern building technology, and the requirements of amenity and planning in the interest of the community at large. It is doubtful if such a profitable meeting could have happened five years ago.
1 Cooks in boaters in the Swiss Cottage Golden Egg. In the majority of Golden Eggs cooking is carried on where it can be seen - 4pm the restaurant. This inevitably requires efficient ventilation to avoid food smells.