My story about my espresso cups illustrates, I hope, the mantra that 'good design is as little design as possible'. But it's a very difficult trick for designers to pull off: to design in such a way that what you create is accepted as just being itself, rather than something that declares itself as having been 'designed'. Not least is the fact that we have to earn a living, and it's often the client who might expect to see 'bangs for their bucks' that determines how 'designed' something might appear to be. And the client's own customers - for very often what they might want for their money is a little bit of 'bling'. Or, as the estate agent I met at a party declared to me, "so your job is to make things look sexy".
Now, talking of estate agents, I've been keeping an eye on the local property scene for the last two or three years (in the idle anticipation that I might one day decide to move house). And no doubt people (and estate agents) need to spend some time on preparing a property so that it will photograph well and entice potential punters over the threshold. Or made to look 'sexy', as my fellow party goer would have it. But there are two forms of 'sexiness' that I see on Rightmove almost every day that really do make my heart sink.
Downlighters. In the bathroom, fine - I don't really have an issue with that. In the kitchen - I might possibly be persuaded. In the lounge - NO, NO, NO (particularly if the house is Edwardian, as many in my area are).
Decking. Look, I live in southern England. If I'm really, really lucky, the times that it might be possible to relax with a glass or two of Chardonnay on a wooden platform in the open air occur between the months of May and September. The other eight months it's invariably pissing down with rain and I'd be arse over tip as soon as I stepped out of the back door. There's only one place for decking - and that's Australia.
And the sad part of this particular rant? It's that some people look at these things and think that they're 'well designed'.
Normal - ie cheerful - service will resume tomorrow. Maybe.
I was out for a couple of days last week, and then I've been trying to finalise a rather large project, so I've been distracted. And not in the mood for blogging. It keeps happening lately - that I skip a few days. I must find a way of dealing with that, for a skipped few days could easily slip into a skipped week or two. It would be better to give up entirely than to let that happen (and I was going to do that last year - give up, that is - but you persuaded me not to).
But my problem - if indeed it is a problem - is that I've never written posts in advance. I'm not one of those bloggers that builds up a folder of thirty or so drafts which are ready to be polished off at any time. No, I write a post (just like this one) and as soon as it's completed I post it.
Not everything is quite so spontaneous as that might suggest though. For I do have subjects that I might be thinking about for several days beforehand, and those are the ones that need some sort of clarification in my own mind before I commit my fingers to the keyboard. But there's one subject in particular that I've been thinking about for more than a year - and still I haven't clarified my thoughts, or even come close to deciding what I might want to say. That subject is: Phillipe Starck. And I've had the pictures to illustrate the post sat on my desktop for all that time. It's high time they were gone, though - so, without further ado, here's the first:
I'm saying nothing about it - but, boy, will I be glad that it's gone from my desktop and been consigned to my 'blog images' archive.
Which brings me on to the second picture that was going to illustrate this post that is now never going to happen. A picture of a very simple coffee cup (or an espresso cup, to be more precise):
It's a signal that I'm not now going to talk about Mr Starck - because, let's face it, he's perfectly capable of doing all the talking that's ever needed about Mr Starck. No, instead I'm going to tell you about this humble and unassuming little cup.
Now I'm a coffee drinker: in fact it's practically the only hot drink that ever passes my lips. But don't go thinking that I'm a coffeeholic. Because I'm not. All I need is one espresso in the morning, and that's it. I may ocassionally have a second, but never more than once or twice a month. And it's part of my routine that gets me started in the morning: a glass of orange juice, a fish-oil capsule (with a non-gelatine casing) and a cup of espresso - together with a browse through the morning paper. It never varies, that routine - does that make it a ritual? Or maybe it's just a habit? Nevertheless, you really wouldn't want to cross my path until that little indulgence has occurred. (It so reminds me of the lines from Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes "No proper wife would dare to question, such a sensible suggestion. Above all not at breakfast-time, When men are seldom at their prime".)
I've owned this cup (and its sister - or maybe it's a brother, for I have two which are identical) for some 15 years or more. I bought them in Bellagio on Lake Como, but they were something of an afterthought. For it was the espresso maker that had caught my eye: a light-grey aluminium affair with a shocking-pink base, styled in a sort of sub-Memphis way. But it needed two cups (for it had two 'spouts'), but cups that wouldn't clash with the pink. And so it was the neutral grey that first attracted my attention.
Of course, the espresso maker is long gone (as, I suspect, will be anything else that was styled in a sort of sub-Memphis way). But the cups remain. And the longer I own them the more I have come to appreciate their beauty. For they are perfect. The perfect size, the perfect weight, the perfect thickness and the perfect material. Why, even the perfect colour.
But they have no sense of being 'designed'. Rather, they convey the impression that they have 'evolved'. That they have taken on this particular form merely through the efforts of artisan involvement over many, many years. And they're all the better for it.
And now I'm not sure about the heading for this post. For I had imagined at the outset that I would describe these cups, in that horrible mind-numbing phrase, as being 'fit for purpose'. For indeed, they are on the one hand merely 'fit for purpose'. Yet, at the same time, they are so very much more than that.
If only everything that us designers designed was thus.
Ben put out a call a couple of weeks back to ask us all to make blogging good again. In fact, what he really wants is for us all to return to 2004. That's no good for me, of course, because I didn't start blogging until very late in 2006 (and, ironically, it's no good for Ben either, because he didn't start until midway through 2005). To be perfectly honest, I'm not entirely certain what he means by 'good', and whether it's about being good for the blogger, or good for the reader. But blogging has changed though, I'll grant him that. Of course, Twitter especially has had a very big impact, because it diverts bloggers attention and encourages them to think only in terms of 'word bites'. Which means that they stop blogging regularly. And we've all seen that happening, I'm sure. And it's a shame. But, as they say, that's life.
But what I think has had the greatest impact upon blogging in the time that I've been doing it is the rise of RSS. Which is great for bloggers, because it offers a means to reach a much wider audience than we otherwise might have access to. And it's great for readers as well, for it means we can keep an eye on all of the blogs that we follow without exerting any effort. The side effect though is that RSS turns us into consumers - and what consumers do is consume. So instead of engaging, as we once did, with just a handful of like-minded bloggers, we now have the ability to build extensive networks of material that is being transmitted to us day in and day out. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is besides the point, because it's simply a fact of life.
Actually, I think it's a very good thing. Because if there's one one thing that got me blogging in the first place and is keeping me blogging still, it's the networking. And the wider and broader our individual networks are, the better - or so it seems to me. And it's healthier still if my network extends beyond design and my conversing only with fellow designers. Of course, I have to blog about design, otherwise I'd have to choose a different persona. But I hope that when I do talk about design that it's expressed in a way that you non-designers out there can comprehend and relate to.
Part of that process is for me to understand how other bloggers blog, and so I have a number of blogs that I subscribe to that have absolutely nothing to do with design. Here, chosen purely at random, are four of them. The only criteria for their selection is that somehow, sometime our paths have crossed (and sometimes only virtually) - and that you can be sure that they blog on a regular basis (at least at the time that I'm writing this).
Soupemes. And now someone I haven't met, but who I sort of know slightly in a virtual sense. It was at Interesting 2008 that I met Annie Mole and reading Annie's London Underground Blog led me to Laura (who was then known as Blue Soup) via the London Bloggers Weblog Explorer. Turns out that Laura and I have spent more time commuting the same line into Waterloo than we'd ideally want, and that Laura's then employer had once been one of my major clients. A lesson that the world is sometimes smaller than it appears. If there's one thing you can say about Laura it's that she's never lost for words. Even though they might sometimes be words that you really would prefer not to read.
You do too much. Kat* Arney is somebody that I have absolutely no connection with. A few weeks back I was having a phone conversation with an old friend who mentioned a blog that she'd been enjoying (by her niece I seem to recall). Apparently Kat's mother thinks that Kat does too much. For she's a harpist and a science writer and broadcaster, who's also trying her hand at stand-up comedy. And she blogs - and it's a cracker.
It's interesting that those four blogs are all written by women, isn't it? Does that mean that women make better bloggers, I wonder? Discuss.
*Update: I'd originally typed Kat's name as Kate - hence Kat's comment below. My apologies for that Kat.
It's Vignelli Week over at Design Observer, which serves as a timely reminder to all of you designers out there that Missimo should be really one of your heroes (shame on you if he's not). If you're not a designer, then a beautiful video by John Madere will perhaps persuade you that "we can show you what you cannot see".