The Italian Maverick

For my D&T ‘Pichi Kichi’, I am still unsure whether or not that is actually a real term…, I have been assigned ‘Joe Colombo’ as my designer, so here is a wee initial intro into the man himself.

Joe Colombo is definately an interesting, though in many ways tragic character. Colombo was born in Milan in 1930 and tragically died in 1971 on his 41st birthday after suffering his second heart attack.

Colombo’s design catalogue spans just 20 years, with the majority of his design being created and produced in just 10, after he started his design company in 1962. Prior to this Colombo studied as a painter and sculptor and then as an architect before settling on design. The amount of work he created over those 20 years makes him one of the most prolific designer’s of the 20th centuary.

His designs themselves are also interesting. They have that very stylised, futuristic look  that we have come to associate with the 60’s. Where products are plastic and boldly coloured with plenty of curves and bubbles.

One of the things I find most interesting however is his fascination with the future. A great deal of his design work deals with the idea of the nuclear cities of the future and his vision for how we would live there.

Colombo envisioned a future where we returned to a tribal society, where the family unit was no more and tribes were formed based on similar interests. With this in mind he designed ‘living blocks’, which would be incorporated into vast tribal living spaces to create different living areas. He designed bathing blocks, bed blocks, seating blocks and cooking blocks, these blocks served at the same time as the walls and dividers in the space. These blocks were fascinating because they were pure function!

When I started my look into Joe Colombo, I quite frankly, thought he was a bit crazy, and I didn’t expect to like his designs or agree with his philosophy. But I was wrong. Joe Colombo prized functionality above everything else, he strove to make his designs truly modular and multi-functional, he wanted to design things that people could use in any number of ways, whichever way suited them best! His modular furniture was honestly brilliant and if I had the money (and an actual house…) I would buy one of his ‘Tube Chairs’, because they are fantastic!



Week 11:

This week marked the last of our Design & Technology lectures, our final speaker was GSA Product Design lecturer Rachel Sleight, who again spoke to us about her experiences working in design.

Rachel’s own journey through design was an interesting one, she sure has done a lot and it was clear that her thing was materials. She likes to experiment with them, use unconventional materials for conventional things. And she was very particular about how materials should be treated, they should be left, as much as possible, in their natural form and finish.

Rachel has recently started to experiment with making her own backs and she showed us some fantastic new materials she had been working with. There was a fabric which was made from slate, I’ve no idea how they got it so thin and flexible but it was extraordinary. Then there was cork material which felt amazing, I would buy a bag made out of that any day. Then of course there was leather, lots and lots of leather!

For a time Rachel worked as a designer for Habitat and she spoke to us about the man who set it up, Terence Conran. I had never heard of him before, I recognised his name from having seen it on things in Marks & Spencers, one of my Granny’s favourite shops, one of everyone’s Granny’s favourite shops I think, but I had never actually heard about him.


Man have I been missing out.

Through his design career and through the many shops that he’s set up, Terence has changed British culture enormously. So many of the things that we now take for granted and the aesthetic choices we make in our homes are down to him. Even the way in which home ware is sold to us is because of how Terence started it. I’m telling you, he really is some man!

Terence was the first person to sell duvets in Britain, yes, Terence Conran is the man responsible for our night-time comfort. He was also the first to sell woks and garlic crushers. He taught the British public about Bauhaus style, modular shelving and those ‘pops’ of colour that have become so important to the way we decorate our homes.

It’s crazy to think that one man had such an impact on the mindset of an entire country, that one man changed so much. What’s even crazier is how few people know about him!

I also love his approach. His approach is to aim for timelessness. Why? Well,if something doesn’t date people won’t throw it away so quickly- it’s as simple as that.

One thing we may disagree on however is his opinion on clutter, he is not a fan. Me on the other hand, I am a couple disasters away from becoming a full-blown hoarder. I am an every surface covered in something, don’t throw it away, it might come in useful some day kind of girl and I like it that way. But Terence does have a good quote about clutter that I may at some point attempt to apply to my life, you never know, I may become a minimalist yet!

“A room full of unnecessary clutter is not pleasant to sit in, so clear it of everything. When you fill it again be ruthlessly selective about what goes back in. Your quality of life will be much improved.”

-Terence Conran

So when you go to bed tonight, surrounded by your clutter and wrapped in your warm, warm duvet remember the man who made it possible.

Week 10:

This week we enjoyed the company of our first female guest lecturer, Katty Barac.

Like so many of our other guests Katty is also a GSA Alumni. After graduating she started a design company , “One Foot Taller”, with one of her classmates straight out of GSA (One foot taller because her partner in the consultancy was 1 foot taller than her, top marks for witty name!). The idea of going straight into my own business after GSA is one I find completely terrifying, but hey enough about me…

Katty presented us with her view on what design is and what it’s really like to design things as a career.

From her and her partner’s experience in the world of work Katty believes that success as a designer hinges on constant focusing and refocusing as well as the establishment of personal design ideals.

Why keep refocusing? Why not try your hand at everything, it’s a fun challenge is it not?

Maybe it all depends on the kind of person you are, and how you work best or maybe the challenge isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? There are plenty of designers, and in particular very famous designers who design a bit of everything, Marc Newson for example, who believes that a good designer should be able to design anything. But I suppose the real question is whether being able to design anything is the same as being able to design anything well? And I suppose that’s really the crux of Katty’s point.

Katty began as a kitchenware designer before becoming a bit of a ‘Jack of all trades’, taking any job coming her way. In the end her and her business partner had, had enough and he left to work at Dyson (He now makes Jewellery), and she continued with the business but decided to be a bit more selective about the jobs she took. Now Katty specialises in lighting.

I can 100% see her point about refocusing and specialising. Trying your hand at everything can seem fun but it’s difficult to always be starting from square one, to always be back in a position were you know nothing about the product or area you’re trying to design for. Or at least it seems difficult to me. Don’t get me wrong I don’t want to design the same thing forever, my worst nightmare is the thought of ending up in a car company designing dashboards for years on end- but I would like to design in one area. You know what they say, ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’. 

Specialising also allows people to trust you. Experience in any job is always an advantage, someone is always more likely to hire you to design something if they know that you’ve designed something similar before. If I want someone to design a house I’m probably going to ask an architect not a guy that makes chairs- even if he says he’s a really great and versatile designer…

Refocusing doesn’t mean always going back to where you started, that’s certainly not what happened with one foot taller-refocusing is about deciding where you want to go.

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.”

-Henri Bergson

All in all I really enjoyed Katty’s talk, mostly because I think she was perhaps the most honest guest we’ve had so far and her advice was practical, and I’m nothing if not practical.


Check out Katty’s work if you get a chance, she really does make fab lights!

Week 9:

This week was actually really interesting. Nicholas Ody who delivers lectures on ‘Design History & Theory’ at the Art School came to talk to us about what he considered to be ‘Great Design’.

I have always enjoyed history, I am one of those people who watches historical documentaries for fun and loves books about the war. If I had enjoyed writing essays, who knows maybe I would be an historian right now.

Oddly enough in all of my ponderings of what constituted ‘Great’ design, I completely forgot to look back. I was so busy looking for new things that were advancing technology now or existing products that I had seen in use, that I forgot to look back at the things which were ‘Great Design’ in their time. I overlooked the products and designs which had changed history and which had changed the way we have designed things ever since.

However, it was talking about the Volkswagon Beetle which interested me most. We looked at it with the question of whether or not something’s history should affect if it can be considered great and whether it should matter who designed, promoted or used a product?

For those of you who are not in the know about the Volkswagon Beetle, let me get you up to speed; the Volkswagon Beetle was first conceived in 1934 when Hitler asked Ferdinand Porsche to design an affordable, simple, functional and economical car for the people of Germany. It was called the ‘people’s car’ and was available to Germans via a savings scheme as part of Hitler’s ‘Strength through Joy’ programmes. These programmes were designed to win over, indoctrinate and distract the German population from Hitler’s other activities… Eventually participation in the savings scheme became compulsory as Hitler tried to gather as much money as possible for his war preparations.

Since then the ‘Beetle’ has gone on to be the longest running and most manufactured car on a single platform. Impressive. With the original Nazi logo replaced with the iconic ‘VW’, the history of the Beetle has been overcome and forgotten by most and it has instead gone on to be associated with a number of other things, and thanks to the ‘Herbie’ movies, it has become a popular icon. Quite ironically the Beetle went from being the car associated with the Nazi regime to the car associated with the hippies of the 1960’s, the ‘Love Bug’!

The question here is whether or not the cars beginnings in Nazi Germany should exclude if from being considered ‘Great’, and by extension should design be so closely linked with ethics that we base greatness not only the design itself but also on the morals of the designer and the environment in which it was made?

As far as this goes I’m torn. My heart is saying that of course design should be so entwined with ethics that these things matter! – But my head is saying that, that is not entirely fair, particularly in the case of the Volkswagon Beetle. The car itself was brilliantly designed. It was affordable, practical and economical to run and it was designed to allow easy and cheap repairs and it was air-cooled so that the car wouldn’t suffer as the result of not being stored in a garage. If I’m honest it’s actually a great example of user centered design. It was designed with the express purpose of making car ownership and driving accessible and thus opening up a number of leisure time opportunities.

It’s interesting to see how products once released and out among the public, take on a life of their own, a life I’m sure their designers never foresaw.  It’s strange also how things so often get adopted by a cause or a group of people and how products can become icons associated with a certain thing forever.  For example Apple Macs becoming the laptop of the creative and the hipster, the Golf the car of the boy racer and the Mackenzie tracksuit the signature of the chav.

I think perhaps what makes the VW Beetle so impressive is the way in which it has been reinvented time and time again, it has managed to escape its past and its worst association in a way that many products and often brands are never able to. 



Week 8:

This week we were joined by another GSA Alumni turned visiting lecturer, Robert McCaffrey.

McCaffrey owns a high quality shoe brand designing men’s footwear that is inspired by bicycles and designed for the commute. They are beautiful. His shoes are wonderfully designed with a couple of very novel and yet practical additions and the highest quality materials. They have that wonderful new leather smell and ‘buttery’ feel of good quality, soft leather, and some of the softest suede I have ever felt. What makes them different from every other leather shoe out there was initially the cork sole and rubber pad on the arch of the sole to protect them from getting chewed up by the bike pedal and the stitching on the shoe which resembled old leather handlebars- later what made them really unique was the fold out reflective strip on the back of the shoes, and in some designs the reflective dots hidden in the shoes decorative perforations.

What I really love about his shoes is the practicality of the designs. These are shoes designed for wear, designed, very carefully, to last through everyday wear and the challenges which that can sometimes present. They are a brilliant marriage between aesthetic and functionality.

What was as equally interesting as his shoes, was the story of how they came to be.

Before setting out to design his own range of shoes he lived and worked in Milan designing shoes for somebody else. One day he was out cycling through the Italian hills and decided that he wanted to capture the feeling of that moment, and somehow try to replicate it through shoes. From that moment it took 8 years of design, development and perseverance to get him to a point where he was able to sell them.

It’s really your classic, light-bulb moment kind of deal, an ‘I was sitting under an apple tree when all of a sudden it hit me!’ moment. It’s surprising, in a way, how so many designs seem to begin in a similar a way with a sudden stroke of brilliant inspiration!

But then maybe they don’t… One thing Robert said that I found really interesting and which I never heard told so convincingly was the importance of a strong narrative when it comes to your design. Often it is the story you tell about your design and how it came to be that makes the difference between people believing in it and people passing it by.

We like to believe that as humans we are logical and that we make decisions based purely on fact but we don’t. We like  a little bit more than the pure facts, we like books to have nice covers and reports to have a nice layout and an advert to tell a story- we, contrary to our believes, are not usually led by our logic alone.

So maybe a lot of these tales of sudden inspiration are not as truthful as we have assumed them to be.

If you would like have a wee nosy at some of Roberts, very snazzy, shoes here is his website!

Week 7:

This week was a bit cryptic…

We were joined by Peter McCaughney, who described himself as a ‘collaborative thinker’ an ‘Ideas man’. If I’m really honest his talk was a bit too up in the air and disorganised for my liking, it all seemed a bit haphazard and thrown together- but I think that’s just his style.

Over the hour and a half we covered quite a varied range of topics. Peter talked about designers and Artists he thought we should know about, he talked about designing without self-censorship, giving every idea a chance. He talked about his son and his ‘invisible computer’, he talked about chess and the ‘as if’ principle, where you talk about and expand on your ideas as though they already exist. He talked about a risk assessment method he uses called, ‘playful dystopia’, where he talks about his ideas not only as though they already exist but also in terms of what could go wrong, what would the absolute worst case scenario be? I have to say this method I enjoyed and plan to use, it sounded quite fun.

He also talked a lot about the future. What would our futures would hold? He wanted to know where we wanted to be in the next 10 years, and what we thought might have happened in the world by then, how we thought technology might have changed and advanced.

As far as my own future goes I would like to be working in stage and theatre design. I have always loved the stage and performance and I think that people react and respond to theatre in a completely different way to how they react to any other form of communication. I also think theatre and stage design is really exciting, it’s more about creating an atmosphere or representing something than producing a realistic backdrop,the way it is film. I also think there are so many new things that can be done, and unlike in film it can’t all be done with computers. In theatre digital elements are used to enhance the set, not to replace it.

In terms of the worlds future, Peter talked about new planets, specifically the newly discovered ‘Trappist -1 System’, driver less cars, artificial intelligence, automation and the concept of UBI (Universal Basic Income), to name just a few.

Although I do find these things interesting, I’ve always been slightly exasperated with mans vision of the future, and believe a lot of it to be a form of escapism. New planets for example, I don’t foresee us ever moving to other planets, nor do I think we should- we like to think that we could set up a society on another planet and learn from all the mistakes we made on the last one- we also like to assume that there will be nothing else there, that it will be land for the taking and to hell with any natives.

As for driver less cars and artificial intelligence- why have these become our priorities in technological advancement? What need to they really fulfill and what purpose do they really serve? Do we actually really want them or do we just want to be able say that we have  achieved it?

Finally, we talked for quite some time about the future of automation and the impact it might have. I don’t think we have to look very far to see the negative impact automation of have as it removes far more jobs than it creates, the question for the future becomes where do we stop? At what point to we realise that maybe we can go too far and that the pay off doesn’t always outweigh the consequence.

All in all this weeks lecture was very interesting, if a little overwhelming. It was definitely the kind of talk that required reflection to make sense of everything that was said and to wade through the sheer volume of information.

Week 6:

This weeks talk came from our Tutor Matt and revolved around failure.

“Ever tried, ever failed-No matter. Try again, fail again-fail better”

-Samuel Beckett

Admittedly discussing failure does sound fairly depressing, but like everything else- it’s all about perspective.

Essentially the jist of this talk was that you only really fail when you don’t try, there are always going to be times  when we don’t succeed or at least not to the level we expect to. There will be times when we’ve tried our best, given it our all and it still wasn’t quite enough.

However as I already said- it’s all about perspective.  Nothing is achieved without a degree of failure. It’s by doing things wrong that we learn what works. As designers failure is an integral part of succeeding.

In fact I would argue that the majority of the design process is about failure. We get from 10 ideas to 1 through the others failing in some way. When we have an idea we then move through iterations, using the failures of each set to inform the next. We prototype because we don’t expect the first version to succeed, we prototype so we can find what doesn’t work and what fails so that the next one will be better.

In his talk Matt went through the times in his career when he had felt that he had failed. When his Kickstarter didn’t get enough money, when the company he was working for fell apart, when ideas fell flat and when products ultimately went nowhere.

But with each failure another lesson was learnt leading, ultimatley to success!

I will leave you with some inspirational words which have neither come from Matt nor I;

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

-Thomas Edison

…one more for good luck…

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t – you’re right!”

-Henry Ford

Week 5:

This week we received a talk from a guest lecturer who was visiting from the National Institute of Design in India. As the picture would suggest, his name was Naim Shaikh.

The talk was not really what I, or to be honest anyone else, expected.

We had hoped to hear about design from a unique perspective. We had hoped to hear about design in India, the challenges it faces,  where it thrives and where it aims to grow.

However the talk he gave was fairly generic with a definite sense of ‘rose-tinted glasses’. He told us everything should be shared in positive way and as such he refused to talk about the challenges Indian design faced- that wouldn’t present a very positive image apparently…

A lot of what he said had an air of being the approved government line, which given that the National Institue of Design is an extention of the government, seems likely.

Naim talked a lot about designing to improve peoples lives and designing things not for profit but for the benefit of people and the planet.

This is I agree with. I believe that as designers our aim should always be to design something that makes peoples lives better, whether in big ways or small. It is at this point that Naim and I begin to disagree. His perception of what betters peoples lives is restrained to humanitarian and medical devices. Although these are worthwhile areas to work in, it is unreasonable to expect all designers to focus on these areas.

From listening to Naim and asking him questions afterwards it seemed to me that his design ideology and talk of holistic design was somewhat half-hearted.

There seemed to be a disconnect between his ideals surrounding what to design and how to design, ensuring products are sustainable and that they benefit people in their function and his feelings when it came to how design is actually realised. He seemed unconcerned with high and continuing use of fossil fuels in Indian industry and seemed completely nonplussed about the widespread exploitation of Indian workers in the manufacturing industry. When asked about how he felt about these issues he spouted phrases relating to providing jobs and the Indian people being happy- if not healthy…

It seems to me that if your design ideology is going to call for all of your designs to benefit people, and if you are going to teach students to put people and the environment above profit and people above the environment then you should not only be concerned with what your product does but also with the conditions that are likely to surround its manufacture. I would also expect that, for them to be as idealistic as they are, and in such cahoots with the government, that they would raise these important issues with them…