Home & Building, Volume 12 Number 6 (June-July 1950)
Art in Industry and the Home
Attention to appearance is an important part of industrial design. This, of course, has long been realised in the decorative-art industries where salability is directly affected by style—industries making furniture and fabrics, pottery and silverware, for example; what is more novel is the realisation that appearance is important also in such workaday products as kitchen and bathroom and office equipment, rnachine tools and precision instruments.
I must emphasise, however, that really satisfactory appearance cannot be achieved by fitting a showy "streamlined" sheet-metal covering over a badly designed mechanism. Good industrial design, like good architecture, begins at the inside and works outwards: it is concerned with more than "the looks of the thing"; indeed, if it were not, the looks would seldom be as good as they might be.
To the sceptical manufacturer who is still doubtful whether thought for design will add one cubit to his stature or one penny to his balance sheet, it may be pointed out that, in favourable circumstances, better design can effect: reduction in costs;' simplification of production; reduction in weight and/or size; in creased convenience in use; and right application of new materials—all of which tend to increase the manufacturer's sales and his prestige.
These are, perhaps, large claims; but concrete instances can be cited to justify all of them. As an example of good design cutting manufacturing costs, I may quote from a recent account of the evolution, by an English manufacturer, of a metal hood for the viewing screen of an optical device. It was originally planned to make the hood from magnesium-alloy castings. The initial production batch, over which the cost of pattern equipment could be spread, was small, and the cost of the hoods would have worked out at £19 each. After consultation between the firm's engineering staff and a local group of designers, it was decided that the hoods should not be cast but spun; as a result, cost was brought down from £19 to £11—a worth-while reduction, surely.
Simplified production, resulting from a radical approach to the design problem, is shown in a new work-pan for use in foundries, made by a firm in the English Midlands. Such work-pans are of similar shape to many domestic baking tins, rectangular, flat-bottomed, sloping-sided. They have runners in the form of metal strips underneath to prevent wear and fear on the bottom. Usually these are riveted on, handles also are riveted on, and the corners of the pan are riveted together. In the new design, the handles and runners, instead of being attached separately to the body, are welded together, to form a cradle into which the body is then welded. Nor is page breakthis simplification for simplification's sake; it gives a more rugged construction and is said to increase considerably the useful life of the pans.
"Simplify and add more lightness" was the motto of the American aircraft designer, Bill Stout, but it is a command that is obeyed today in other countries besides America and other industries as well as aircraft. Lightness that benefits the lady of the house is found in a new home hair-dryer, designed by a London company, in conjunction with its consultant industrial designer. Mechanism and plastic housing adds up to a total weight of one lb. five ounces— less than half the weight of some rival makes.
All the Difference
Again, an illumination meter recently redesigned, weights five and a half ounces as against the 14 ounces of the earlier model with a proportionate reduction in size, making all the difference between "pocketability" and the absence, of that quality, so desirable in a small portable instrument.
The same redesign also provides an instance of greater convenience in use. With the original type of meter, it was all too easy for the operator, in reading the scale, to put his head in such a position that it cast a shadow on the light-sensitive surface of the instrument, thus giving a false reading. Now the scale and the sensitive area are in different planes, and the operator no longer has to watch his shadow before he takes a reading.
One can, of course, find examples of the designer's intelligent appreciation of the user's requirements in more homely products also. A London designer has evolved a new shape of handle for a coffee-percolator which besides requiring less production-time for its attachment makes it practically impossible for the user to burn his fingers by contact with the hot metal body of the pot; it has a long tongue or spur which prevents him from doing so.
Again, solid plastic handles on saucepans are more I convenient than the old hollow metal type—they are poor conductors of heat; they do not provide crevices which collect dirt, and they do not hold water which is ready to dribble out, perhaps down your sleeve, when you dry the pan.
The use of new materials in industry has been stimulated, in the last decade by developments primarily undertaken for war purposes, and by the scarcities of staple materials which manufacturers in most countries have experienced since World War II. In Britain, the technique of gluing metal sheets and wood veneers together to form "sandwiches"page 53
that can be bent into various shapes and stand all sorts of treatment, has been used in the design of clock-cases, shopfronts, and (experimentally) chairs. Plywood and light alloy—two relatively new materials—have been successfully used together in a range of school furniture developed by the Educational Supply Association. This range was introduced to overcome short supply of traditional furniture-making materials, but proved so successful that it has been retained and extended. Today the Esa lightweight furniture is to be seen in schools in Britain and in many places abroad, including the United States. The manufacturers consider that results have more than justified the considerable amount of design-research that was necessary.
While there are many other manufacturers who would say the same, it is probably true that the majority have yet to realise the benefits of good industrial design. It is also true that there is a shortage of really good industrial designers. Nor is this surprising. The demand has, until recently, been very limited; and the supply—in the sense of a supply of ready-made industrial designers coming from specialist schools into industry—has been practically nonexistent. The qualities which, in my view, are necessary to make a good designer include creative ability; a good deal of technical knowledge and the power to assimilate more; an orderly mind; breadth of vision; the ability to work as one of a team with engineers or scientists on the one hand and sales managers on the other; and, of course, aesthetic sensibility. This is, I admit, an impressive list of qualifications, and it is evident that some of them derive so directly from a man's personal character that no scheme of training will give them to him if they are not there already—though if they are, training can help to develop them.
Plenty of Scope
The problem of fitting the industrial designer into the existing set-up of industry is one that must be faced. There are some industries in which the typical manufacturer produces a steady stream of new models or new patterns, and can provide full-time employment for a designer or designers on his staff. But, in industry as a whole, there are many firms which make only one or two staple products, and only once in five or ten years are those products redesigned. For them, it would be uneconomic to have on the staff a man of real creative ability, if there was only a job of work for him at infrequent intervals. In such firms, the best solution is to use the services of a consultant or freelance designer on a fee basis. In Britain (and indeed in most of the major industrial countries) the consultant designer is a new profession, precarious, perhaps, but rewarding in more senses than one to those who succeed in it. The consultant, as compared with the staff designer, generally has the disadvantage of less thorough knowledge of the materials and production methods employed by any one of his clients, but on the other hand he has the advantage of wider experience, and may be able to meet one industry's problems with solutions from another's experience.
In the present, and in the foreseeable future, staff designer and consultant designer are complementary rather than competitive one with the other. United Kingdom industry provides plenty of scope for both of them; and fortunately, it is beginning to realise this fact.page 42