Title: Point of view
Pages: 24 - 25
Text: Point of view
Cold comfort for exporters to America
The British Trade Centre in New York, launched with a flourish earlier this year, has come in for some sharp criticism from a visitor who has sent the following letter to DESIGN, after seeing the first display.
"The recently opened British Trade Centre in New York is a grievous disappointment to anyone who cares about the progress of British design.
"If I did not see DESIGN, I would get the impression that British design had not taken a step forward since I left England 15 years ago. Indeed, I would think it had regressed, because in those days one could at least take pride in the standard of British exhibition display. In the new trade centre there is a complete absence of unity in overall display design. On one wall, about 15ft long, I counted five different designs of show cases, none of them having the slightest visual relationship with the others.
"But the merchandise itself strikes the weakest note. As an interior designer, I was naturally interested to see what was being shown in this field, but there was nothing to spark the slightest enthusiasm. The most depressing exhibit was the display of carpets, which seemed to be almost perversely chosen to demonstrate the sterility of design in the British carpet industry.
"It is hard to imagine that any prospective American buyer who visits the centre will have the desire to return, or that this halfhearted, naive attempt to promote British trade can do anything but bring discredit to British industry. And all this just now!
"The sad thing is that one knows Britain can do so much better."
The letter was written by Claud Bunyard of Boston, Massachusetts, who has occasionally contributed to DESIGN (see, eg, Office design in the USA, DESIGN 1 85/52-59).
Sited at 10 West 49th Street (a part of the Rockefeller Center complex), the centre is sponsored and operated by the British American Chamber of Commerce and supported by the Board of Trade, the CBI and other commercial organisations in Britain.
A recent display at the British Trading Centre
New perspectives on old furniture
Claud Bunyard's strictures about the British Trade Centre in New York, see note above, came at a time of remarkable goings-on at the centre's opposite number in London the United States Trade Center in St James. Here, presented with elaborate aplomb, was an exhibition of American furniture arranged by the canter in conjunction with Harrison Gibson, the retail group which has been successfully selling US furniture at its llford store during the past two years.
The display must have been quite a shock to anybody naive enough to associate current American design automatically with a slick and modern look. This was a very different kettle of fish. "A far eastern group true to the traditional concept of Oriental design," said one of the captions, which was just as well, really, considering the myriad
styles that confronted the eye. The Americans are nothing if not versatile, and a couple of paces were all that was necessary to change the scene to "an exciting and imaginative blending of all the best of sixteenth century England with the convenience and function of twentieth century American living"; or to sample "an irresistible invitation to go country Spanish".
"It's their sense of design," explained one of the Harrison Gibson attendants to a lady who was searching for the key to why it all looked so... so, different.
She might have found a more enlightening, and longer, explanation had she gone to the American embassy, the evening before the opening, to hear Melanie Kahane talking to a design-minded British audience. Miss Kahane, an interior designer, had been brought over by the US government to give the Trade Center exhibition a proper send-off.
New Perspectives in American Interior Design and Furniture was her advertised theme, and perhaps it was fortunate that she started off by saying that this wasn't exactly what she was going to talk about, for the perspectives were hardly new, though they were certainly unusual. One questioner expressed the feeling of many in the audience when he said he had come along hoping to see something of modern American design, and wondered why Miss Kahane had used so much antique furniture in the examples she showed. She replied that she liked old furniture and guessed there was room for both kinds of taste. And when the questioner persisted that he would have thought that modern buildings called for modern furniture rather than antique, she said, as though justifying it, "but it's all reproduction anyway".
How to beat the motorway pile-ups
It seems possible that at least some of the accidents which have occurred on the roads this year may have been due to road signs. Recently, indeed, we gave examples of how some road signs are being improperly used, and how others are misunderstood by the public. (Perhaps we should also report that the upside down arrows outside Buckingham Palace have now disappeared.)
But there is something else which can be said against road signs, and that is that in certain cases they are neither sufficiently visible nor sufficiently versatile to give the motorist all the information he needs. Anyone who has driven in fog, for example, knows how difficult it is to read signs even if they are only a few feet away; and in the case of an accident, even additional flares have been unable to prevent bad pile ups on the motorways. In an age of fast flowing and dense traffic, some other system is needed, particularly to give advance warning of unexpected hazards ahead. And it must be designed to work effectively under all road and weather conditions.
Such a system was demonstrated in the grounds of Lord Montagu's house at Beaulieu recently. Known as the IST (inertia switch transmitter) automatic motorway warning and control system, it has been under development by Hornblower (Patents)
Ltd for the past 18 months and consists, basically, of a short wave radio link between vehicles, warning lights and sirens along the road, and the police (or any other service which could be of help in an accident).
This link is achieved by having an inertia switch transmitter, which runs off the battery, fitted to every vehicle. The transmitter comes into operation either when the driver turns it on (in the event of trouble of some kind) or automatically when the vehicle is in a collision. The transmitter's signal is then picked up, at distances of up to about a mile, by the master beacons that are spaced at quarter mile intervals along the motorway. They immediately flash an amber light and, when visibility is poor, sound a horn. At the same time, the signal is picked up by pedestal beacons, also placed along the motorway, which are linked to the nearest police HQ or patrol car.
The pedestal beacons also contain master switches which can be used by the police to turn on red lights at the master beacons, or switch the whole system off once the situation is under control. And finally, the vehicle's transmitter signal could also be picked up (as a regular bleep bleep) by other vehicles in the vicinity if they were fitted with receivers. In this case, the bleep bleep would get louder the nearer they got to the accident, and softer as they moved away from it. Using all these devices, it seems that there would be ample warning of an accident even in fog, with visibility down to a
The IST automatic warning and control system is an example of applying modern techniques to cope with a modern problem, and its thinking is no different in principle from that which has led to the development of automatic landing devices for aeroplanes. It is also very versatile: its master beacons, for example, would be justified on a motorway but too expensive on ordinary roads. But on ordinary roads, receivers in vehicles could still give advance notice of an accident, or even of a man changing a tyre on a busy but narrow stretch of road half a mile ahead. And until roads are fitted with automatic steering and engine control, the IST system seems the most advanced method of control there is.
The IST system would, of course, be completely effective only if all vehicles were fitted with the devices, and thus, altimately, its adoption rests with the Government. It is to be hoped, therefore, that it will be urgently studied by the Ministry of Transport and the
Road ResearchLebus' chief Laboratory
Making room at the top
"It is of the utmost importance that design should not be subordinate to other sections of our company. Our success in the future depends to a great extent on this function being a part of top level management."
Harris Lebus' chief executive, L. A. Grosbard, was explaining why his firm had taken the unusual step of appointing two of its staff designers to the boards of their respective companies. Cyril Rostgaard, chief designer at Harris Lebus' furniture factory, has been appointed to the board of Lebus Furniture Ltd; and Harry Whittaker, chief designer at the upholstery factory, has been appointed to the board of Lebus Upholstery Ltd.
These changes are the result of an organisational shake-up which is unusual in the relatively small scale, craft oriented
furniture industry for its swiftness and decisiveness. Grosbard - who earlier in his career was an industrial officer with the ColD - joined Harris Lebus, the Lebus group's holding company, at the beginning of this year, and since then he has busied himself in reorganising the firm to try to bring in new life and new ideas. His business career has been backed up by extensive experience in design and engineering, and he therefore has the ability to look at the market in a way which is both objective and sympathetic to the important part design can play in selling to mass markets. He seems to be determined to increase Harris Lebus' share of the market by giving design a new status in the firm, and by putting a professional and specialist outlook into its management.
Grosbard will bring new design insight to the board of Harris Lebus, and his interests will presumably be emphasised by the newly appointed board members. For
example, Lebus' product and market selection has previously been done by a nondesigner. But Rostgaard's responsibilities for Lebus Furniture will now extend to writing a design programme for himself, selecting markets to aim at, and so on. Similarly, Whittaker's responsibilities at Lebus Upholstery will also expand -though less dramatically, for he is already working as a production methods expert as well as a designer.
The impact of these moves should be felt throughout the Lebus range. The company believes that the mass market is ready for more progressive furniture design, and is therefore aiming at providing both better design and better quality. The results will be worth watching and, if successful, will provide a useful lesson for other industries.