Jay Osgerby, BarberOsgerby: We wanted to design something which felt like a piece of sporting equipment, something which felt tensile, tactile and useful. We were fortunate in the case of the torch, there’s a hell of a lot of history.
Edward Barber, BarberOsgerby: Yes we were really keen for the project to have a very strong narrative to it. It had to relate to the relay in a very strong way so various aspects of the brief directed us towards the shape of the torch and the whole pattern of the torch as well.
Jay Osgerby: In fact LOCOG gave us a brief, an 80 page document which outlined the history of the games, including previous torches, but also things like the performance criteria. It has to work in sub-zero temperatures, it has to work at high altitudes and really strong winds.
Edward Barber: This torch has been tested in the BMW wind tunnel in Munich at up to speeds of I think up to 75 miles an hour. The design of the torch encompasses 8,000 holes which represent the 8,000 runners, and the triangular form of the torch which represents the three times the Olympics has been in London. And also the Olympic motto which is ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’.
Jay Osgerby: Designers are working behind the most important companies in the world now and I think it doesn’t matter where you go in the world you’ll find a British designer working there, whether it’s in architecture, industrial design, fashion design or graphics, we are everywhere. And so there’s not really a sense any more, I don’t feel, of British design, it’s more of good design but it’s a global thing, it’s not restricted to Great Britain any more.
Margaret Calvert: I’d started working with Jock Kinnear, he was my tutor at Chelsea. He just came and said, ‘Oh, I’ve got this job and I need someone to help me as an assistant’. There was this committee set up by the government with Sir Colin Anderson as the chairman to redesign the motorway signs, not the road signs, the motorway signs. And we started a logical system of how to put all the various components together to actually get it working. There was no thought of extending it to all the road signs, the whole system, but a really bright civil servant called TG Asbourne, he was the one suggesting to Jock, why don’t we extend it to the entire network. I mean that was staggering really, we never thought it would ever go that far. The most difficult one actually was the children, the school children crossing. It was a very difficult one just to draw, the human figure is not easy, so I spent a lot of time on that. I based the child on my idea of me as a seven, eight year old.
Andrew Stevens, Graphic Thought Facility (GTF): This is a particularly tricky problem or interesting problem for this show because it’s over such a wide time span. There’s so many different styles, aesthetics. To that sense often with an exhibition that’s more focused, you’ve got an aesthetic to play against or take from but here we had to find something that would sustain itself through sixty plus years of design.
Paul Neale, GTF: And could adapt a language, it would create a common thread through the whole exhibition but at the same time could adapt which is done through palette and colour from space to space, responding to the different periods. It has to have a degree of neutrality to it so it doesn’t contradict any of the aesthetics of the individual periods. Having said that we had to choose something and we didn’t want to choose Helvetica and there did seem an appropriate choice in a typeface design by Margaret Calvert of Calvert and Kinnear, the creators of the road signage system, one of the exhibits here, who also created the typeface for the Intercity 125 programme.
Andrew Stevens, GTF: It has a clarity and a strength and in that sense it’s easy to read and as Paul says, in that sense it’s got a kind of neutrality to it, it doesn’t fight too much and it seems to have a conceptual link with that idea of a little bit of a thread of the state and good design running through there, but is still something people connected to. Everyone caught the train and saw the ads and it was a part of everybody’s daily life as well.
Paul Neale, GTF: Purposefully, it’s quite a workmanlike typeface but it does quietly express a mood like lots of typefaces do, it’s not in your face but it is gently reminiscent of British public design. There are different areas of British design that I think we are particularly good at, designing a public space, like some of the work in this exhibition, the work of Ken Grange, modest forms, quite workmanlike, very well designed, quietly elegant.
Kenneth Grange: I was asked to design the inside of a pavilion and I had virtually finished my job and I said, foolishly in a way, but I said this would be a marvellous job if the cameras and products weren’t so damned ugly. And a man on my left who was busy unpacking, he was obviously something to do with the display arrangements and he said, ‘Well that’s very interesting, what would a designer charge a firm like Kodak to design a camera’, and I said, ‘Well, I don’t know’, I hadn’t thought about it at all, I’d never done anything like that in my life and I said, ‘Well I don’t know, a few hundred pounds’, and that was it. I went back to London and the following morning the telephone rang and I’m on my own in my own little bedroom come studio and the man said I am head of development at Kodak and I understand you are going to design a camera for us, and that was it. That’s absolutely a true story and from then on a whole raft of products came.
This was the first camera I did for them, called the 44A which is a very strange looking thing today, but it was successful and it then led to 40-odd years of designing cameras for them, and in particular this one which is the one that’s in the show. And what it does is tell you how if you have some success and if you have a good relationship with a maker, he begins to trust you and begins to listen to you. I’ve been thinking about who I really admire in these days and I think it’s a very tough call because there are plenty of very good designers we have here. Of all the people I know around who I think are a big influence, as well as being a big single, as it were, practitioner today, is Thomas Heatherwick. I think Thomas is an exceptional man in the scope of his skills, the scope of his intellect. He’s very accessible, he’s by no means a prima donna but he absolutely and consistently surprises and staggers you with the scope of his thinking and the scope of his vision.
Thomas Heatherwick: Getting the chance to design the bus was so special for the studio because London’s transport authority hasn’t commissioned a bus design for over 50 years. It felt that there were all these challenges and opportunities where we want to get wheelchair users in to buses and we want to get mothers with buggies and we know to be reliable with the quantity of traffic on London’s streets, we can’t just have one door to a bus so everyone just waits in a queue, we need a bus with three doors so people can quickly load and unload. It comes down to all the details. What are you going to press, what’s the bell push to stop that bus, and what are the steps that you’re going to walk up, and how’s the window, where’s your elbow, do you bash your head on the edge, so our sense was that it was going to be a collection of detail and it wasn’t going to be just about one big idea. We needed to have a philosophy that could permeate through and inform all of these details.
When I think of British design, I find that somehow one is talking about people from all over the world who have chosen Britain to base themselves. A lot of modern history has been rooted in what has come from the United Kingdom and so it doesn’t feel like a shallow layer of superficial thinking and institutions like the Victoria and Albert Museum constantly put things in huge contexts and that’s a very soulful backdrop to work around and within.
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