Title: Point of view
Pages: 28 - 31
Text: Point of view
Railway signs that are not quite good enough
Anyone using the main terminal stations in London, or a number of those recently rebuilt or redecorated elsewhere, will have noticed a host of new signs, beginning with the name of the station itself and ending with directions of all kinds - left luggage, way out, ticket waiting room, buffet and so on.
Indeed, the effect of some of these signs is tremendous: the huge sign at Charing Cross, for example, completely dominates not only the station facade, but also most of the surrounding area, and the impression it creates is not made any better by the flip flap clock in the middle which seldom, if ever, works. But apart from such errors as these, most of the new signs have brightened up stations considerably: the lettering, designed by Kinneir Associates, is simple and extremely easy to read; and the signs generally manage to stand out from their surroundings, so that they are easy to find and, once found, state their message clearly.
The trouble is that despite the detailed manual on the design and use of signs for those responsible for their implementation, many of the new signs are incorrect: they are too big or too long, or have letters or words wrongly spaced and direction arrows in the wrong place or upside down. And since BR's sign system has been so carefully designed, it is a shame that it should be misused.
Much of the trouble stems from the fact that the final responsibility for putting up signs in railway stations rests with many different people, and not with BR's own design panel. All the people concerned have not yet made themselves thoroughly familiar with the instructions.
Then again, the signs are made by independent manufacturers, some of whom follow the manual, but many of whom don't. In the army, this particular problem has been overcome by setting up a central sign making office at Aldershot, which is responsible for all the military road signs (they have also been designed by Kinneir Associates). But although a similar procedure has been considered for the railways, it may finally be decided that it would be too difficult and expensive to operate. Instead, the design panel may now set up a small sign drawing office, which will produce detailed specifications to regional requirements and then send them to manufacturers in the
1 How a sign can go wrong. The depth of the blue fascia panel overpowers the building, the symbol is tacked on at the end, there is too much space between the words and the letters are too thick.
2 Ealing Broadway: this looks like motorway lettering, and is crudely used too.
3 Inside Charing Cross: advertising and direction information mixed up on the same sign. 4-5 Ealing Broadway signs, fail to comply with the system of standard signs on standard planks. Manchester Piccadilly, 5, shows the system properly and effectively used-one piece of information per plank.
usual way. If this is done, the correct implementation of BR's sign system should then be possible.
In a sense, the partial success of BR's sign system is typical of a lot of the work so far done by BR's design panel. Broad policy has been laid down for signs, liveries, uniforms, the architectural treatment of stations and so on, but the job now facing the panel is to see that the policies are properly carried out. This may well prove to be the main task of BR's new director of industrial design, whose appointment is expected to be announced shortly. He will succeed the late George Williams, who with Christian Barman, set the work of the design panel in motion.
How the plastics industry can increase productivity
Designers must find it difficult up with all the new developments in the plastics industry. They are the outward signs of an industry which doubles its consumption of raw materials every six or seven years, and is, one would think, highly geared to change. But curiously enough it is developing its own form of built-in conservatism.
Take the case of uItrasonic welding. This is a technique which followed the welding of pvc sheet by radio frequency heating - an extremely satisfactory method of doing the job, since sewing the sheet by traditional methods soon led to tears. Indeed, the improvement of pvc materials and the co-operation between manufacturers of welding equipment and the raw material suppliers has led to the kind of clothing which is all the rage in Carnaby Street.
One of the outcomes of the successful welding of pvc was that Philips and Redifon combined their technical resources to form Intertherm Ltd. a company which has worked with M.E.L. Equipment Co Ltd (a Philips subsidiary) to produce ultrasonic welders which are sold all over the world.
These machines do away with many of the awful snags which arise from joining plastics by traditional methods. Nuts and bolts, for example, often cost more in terms of materials and labour than the materials they join; spin welding can only be used on circular shapes; and glueing is hazardous, messy, takes a long time to set and uses a lot of hand labour.
However, despite the obvious advantages of ultrasonic welding, Intertherm has found that the biggest obstacle to getting it accepted has come from moulders and assemblers, who believe that a design for an adhesive joint is not ideal for ultrasonic welding and refuse to make modifications in order to improve productivity - even though this can, for example, cut production time from 12 to O.6 seconds and reduce the number of rejects from 20 to 0 5 per cent.
As well as the problem of persuading manufacturers to update their thinking - and Intertherm wryly contrasts the behaviour of Continental firms, who will fly a man over to England at 24 hours notice, with that of British firms who may take months to follow up an enquiry- ultrasonic welding also requires a fresh approach to design.
For example, its highly successful binding qualities may make it cheaper to assemble a set of mouldings from simple tools (and then weld the mouldings together), instead of designing complex tools to perform the job in one slower operation, especially as ultrasonic welding can be used as an automated process linked directly to an injection moulding machine.
In fact, one manufacturer of plastics materials (Du Pont) has recognised this possibility by publishing a guide to materials and jointing techniques, and Intertherm itself now offers a service for industrial designers. Another design aspect of ultrasonic welding is that it can be used to drive in threaded inserts, a far cheaper method of doing this than putting inserts into the moulding tool.
In the plastics industry it seems that what is needed is greater willingness to make the most of the latesttechniques. And ultrasonic welding is one of them.
A sad case of official timidity
One would hardly expect the re-opening of a pub in the City - The White Hart in Giltspur Street - to provide an example of how hospital services could be greatly improved by a little applied technology. But not only did the occasion demonstrate this; a little sleuthing afterwards also showed just how slow hospitals are to accept the new methods, even when demonstrations are laid on to prove how effective they can be.
But to return to the pub. The White Hart has been rebuilt internally and fully modernised by Empire Catering Co Ltd in conjunction with Charrington's, and to celebrate the fact, DESIGN was asked to go along and drink a toast in champagne. Which we did. But leaning over the bar, glass in hand, we espied the bit of applied technology mentioned earlier- a microwave oven developed by Husqvarna of Sweden in conjunction with J. Lyons & Co Ltd. the British distributor. Although the oven can cook food, its main purpose is to re-heat it so that it can be served piping hot: at The White Hart the hot snacks available included shepherd's pie, macaroni cheese, and curried beef and rice. Delivered to the pub deep frozen, they can be served across the bar at less than a minute's notice.
Apart from its ability to re-heat frozen food in only a few seconds, the microwave oven has also been made extremely easy to use. Its controls consist of a series of coloured buttons which are pressed according to the amount and type of food to be heated. Thus all one has to do is to read off a chart, note what food requires which combination of buttons, and act accordingly. So simple is the system that it can easily be operated by a barman working under tremendous pressure. And it has already been installed in a wide variety of places including canteens, motels, BR station buffets, ships and bowling alleys. But not in hospitals.
The attitude of hospitals towards the microwave oven seems deplorable. One oven has already been tried out in a geriatric ward of a London hospital (which, alas, must remain nameless), and all the old people were delighted to get their food served up on a plate and piping hot, instead of having it unattractively presented, and oftn pretty cold by the time the trolleys had been round a couple of wards. But the hospital secretary is reported to have said no, he was terribly sorry, but he couldn't possibly put such a revolutionary method of cooking before the hospital board for at least another two years. And his attitude, apparently, is typical of hospital secretaries and supply officers..
For hospitals (and other institutions) preparing a known amount of food each day, using centralised kitchens and difficult and slow methods of distribution, the microwave oven is ideal. The food can be prepared well in advance, put out on plates so that individual differences in diet can be taken care of, and then held in the ward until each patient is ready to eat. When he is, his food is put in the oven for half a minute, and then given to him - a simple method which cuts down labour and avoids delays. In Sweden, of course, most hospitals now have microwave ovens in each ward.
But in Britain, where the nursing staff are finding it difficlit to cope, the decision even to look into the potentials of microwave ovens is put off for at least a year or so. Instead, there are plans to reduce the nurses' load by introducing a new class of semi-skilled ward orderly to do such things as. . . serving food. And all you need is a snack in Giltspur Street to convince you of the advantages of microwave cooking. If Britain really believes in getting up to date and using manpower efficiently, then here is one aspect of official thinking that needs looking into.
For those interested in creative processes
One of the problems with learned societies that they tend to suffer from inbreeding. Yet even specialists need opportunities to mix with other people who, although perhaps not qualified, may have a contribution to make to the experts expertise; or, alternatively, with experts in other fields who share some common interest. And for this reason, the setting up of the Design Research Society* is especially welcome.
The society has been formed by the organising committee of the conference on design methods held at Imperial College, London in 1962 (DESIGN 166/37). Although that conference was restricted to invited delegates, it was unusual because they were chosen from widely different occupations they included ergonomists, architects, artists and engineers - but were united by an interest in some aspect of design.
Even so, instead of talking about their attitudes towards design, or its end products, the delegates were asked instead to discuss design as an activity. And the society, whose founder members include Professor J. K. Page (chairman), J. Christopher Jones (vice-chairman), Frank Height (treasurer) and Peter Slann (secretary), intends to do the same. Its aim is to provide facilities for the exchange of new knowledge about the design process in engineering, industrial design, the graphic arts and all other creative disciplines "by throwing its doors open to all those who can make a contribution, regardless of their profession or professional status".
As Peter Slann puts it, "There are too many specialist societies for specialists. They do not cover any interplay of ideas between different disciplines".
At the moment, the society plans to concentrate on organising similar meetings to that held in 1962, and the first one takes place this month. The purpose of these meetings will be to discuss subjects such as creativity, computer aided design and design automation, systematic design methods, system engineering and individual case histories, and to see how various design methods can be applied, for example, to architecture, engineering and industrial design. It also hopes to publish the results of these meetings, and the papers presented to them, in a journal.
If all these plans succeed, the society may help to break down barriers between different interests and, by giving people an insight into how others go about their creative work, help to destroy the division which exists between the arts and sciences.
At the same time as the Design Research Society is getting under way in Britain, a Design Methods Group has been set up at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Its members include Marvin L. Manheim of the Massachussetts Institute of Technology,
Professor J. K. Page
Allen Bernholtz of the University of Toronto, and Robert Gay and Gary T. Moore of the department of architecture, University of California, Berkeley (further information is available from Mr Moore). And there are other members working in planning and computer techniques. The group is dedicated to research into methods and theories of problem solving and conceptual design, and hopes to communicate its findings to members and other interested parties through a monthly newsletter and an annual meeting.
*The society's address is Imperial College, London SW7,
Sweden at the Design Centre
The exhibition of Swedish Industrial Design, currently at The Design Centre until September 17, is the second major display of foreign products since the opening of the centre's mezzanine exhibition floor a little over a year ago. The Swedish display certainly makes a contrast to the exhibition of West German products last January, for Ake Huldt's predominantly deep blue colour scheme gives an impression almost of cosy intimacy compared with the Spartan severity of Professor Bode's arrangement of white, black and grey.
In other respects, however, there are some notable similarities. As with the German exhibition the products were chosen mostly from the engineering industries. And as with the German exhibits there is a welcome emphasis on the inventive skills of Sweden's engineers and on the way in which the industrial designer can contribute to them.
Most impressive, perhaps, are the business machines from Facit, the range of generators and switches from ASEA (one of the largest companies in Sweden), the powertools and equipment from Atlas Copco and the highly efficient Hasselblad camera, selected from a world wide survey for use by astronauts in the American Gemini programme.
What comes as both a surprise and a relief to many people is that this is not just another exhibition of Swedish arts and crafts. The familiar ranges of glass, porcelain, metal tableware and textiles, though not unrepresented in the exhibition, are nonetheless relegated to a corner at the back of the display. Many informed people have looked on Sweden's prowess in this field as representing a stage in design history which is already passing, and it is good to see that Swedish designers - like their colleagues in Britain - are turning their attention increasingly towards the heavier industries.
As in Britain, too, the Swedish economy is demanding an increase in exports of manufactured goods. Count Bernadotte, perhaps best known of Sweden's industrial designers, made this clear in his speech at the opening of the exhibition. But, although he sees industrial design as an essential part of making Sweden's products more saleable abroad, he abhors the gimmickry which comes from designs which are entirely sales-orientated. "We try to design", he said, "for the world; and we try to give our design a timeless quality. We do not believe in planned obsolescence, but we are aware that our designs are of today and only hope that they will be just as good tomorrow and the day after. We do not try to adapt our designs for a specific market - but try to produce the best possible solutions".
And now an all-electric city bike
Last JuIy (In Search of the Town Car, DESIGN 211/28-37), we looked at the efforts now being made to design a vehicle specifically for urban use, and in particular at the problems facing the design of a really viable electric car. Since then, the search has been taken a stage further - not by an electric car, but by an electric bicycle.
The bicycle, known as the Winn City Bike, was launched in London a few days after our article was published, is 42 inches long, and is driven by a 1.2 Kwh battery giving it a a range of 10 to 20 miles, and a top speed of 30 mph. Its advantages are that there are no fumes, no starting troubles, no gears, no noise (apart from the belt drive) and no maintenance, apart from recharging the battery. This is done by plugging the battery into the mains overnight, and running costs are estimated at less than 2d every 20 miles. Maintenance is also cut down by the construction: the machine has a totally enclosing plastics monocoque body, and standard interchangeable parts to facilitate repairs and after sales service.
In trying to judge the bicycle's value, and without yet having had an opportunity to give it a road test, we have a number of criticisms to make of the design.
The first, and perhaps the most important, is that the seating position is fixed: there is no adjustment to meet different sizes of rider. Then, and this also affects the control of the machine, it has unusually short handlebars which fit between the knees of a long-legged rider.
According to Russell Winn, who designed it, the short handlebars provide as much control as those of normal length; but on our own brief trial it seemed quite possible that the handlebars could get caught up with one's knees when going round a corner. And finally, the bicycle itself has precious little provision for luggage, even though it is the right sort of vehicle for a woman who wants to take a pile of washing to the launderette, or collect the week's shopping.
There is a side car either for carrying another passenger or for coping with luggage, but this is an extra which many people will want to do without. The bicycle is also quite heavy -140 lb - so that it is not a machine that could be carried upstairs. On the other hand, the designer has kept the centre of gravity extremely low, which helps
The Winn City Bike takes up little space both parked and in traffic.
stability and ease of manoeuvre.
As a machine for use about the town the Winn City Bike has much to recommend it. But it does seem most successful when used with a sidecar, which improves stability as well as making the bicycle much more versatile; and the weight factor, which is unavoidable, suggests that batteries are really unsuitable for anything smaller than a town car. In fact, Mr Winn already has a car under the dust-sheets, and if the bicycle proves acceptable, the car will also be developed for the market.
The logic of this seems a little strange: after all, the success or failure of an electric bicycle doesn't necessarily have much to do with that of an electric car. But both developments help towards finding some sort of transport that really is suited to city life.