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To coincide with the Government’s Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth, The Design Council have published their own set of facts, figures and practical plans for growth. The purpose of this design plan is to bring the design elements of the Innovation and Research Strategy together in one place and to communicate these as widely as possible across design, industry, government and education. The aim is to provide a useful strategic framework for organisations, institutions and individual businesses with an interest in making design-led innovation happen on the ground.

Design can help organisations transform their performance, from business product innovation, to the commercialisation of science and the delivery of public services. That is why design forms an integral part of the Government’s plans for innovation and growth and features strongly in our Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth. The UK has the potential to succeed globally but to do so we must harness our strengths. Design is undoubtedly an area where we are amongst the best in the world, with potential to do even better.” Rt Hon David Willetts MP, Minister for and Science

For more information, click here Design Council

The Design Museum has added a motorway sign to its collection. Britain’s roads look as they do because of Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert. The graphic designers standardised the road network, created many of its signs and produced two new typefaces, Transport and Motorway. As the government set about creating a brave new world of motorways, Kinneir and Calvert were given the job of making signs that could be clearly read in a split second.

Calvert, now 75, says they had to start from scratch.

“It required completely radical thinking. The information wasn’t there in terms of reading distance, clarity and letter spaces. We had to make up the signs and then test them. It was instinctive. The actual word shape was the most distinctive thing because if you had Birmingham in capitals, from a distance, it’s difficult to read but in caps and lower case you have word shape,” says Calvert. “That was fundamental.”

They were tested in an underground car park and in London’s Hyde Park, where they were propped up against trees to determine the most effective background colours and reading distances. One of their biggest decisions, which caused upset among conservative commentators at the time, was to opt for a combination of upper and lower case letters. After the success of their big and bold motorway signs, the pair were commissioned in 1963 to overhaul the rest of Britain’s roads. They created new signs and remodelled existing ones, based on the European protocol of triangular signs to warn, circles for commands and rectangles for information. They favoured pictograms rather than words on the signs, and Calvert drew most of them in the curvaceous style of the Transport typeface. Many of her illustrations were drawn from her own life.

We take signage for granted, it’s simple effective and we just expect it to be there; Jock Kinneir, who died in 1994, was resigned to this fact. In 1965, he acknowledged that his and Calvert’s designs fulfilled their function so efficiently that the public would take them for granted.

“Direction signs and street names are as vital as a drop of oil in an engine, without which the moving parts would seize up.”

For further information on this story visit

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s work is the first ever contemporary art sculpture to go on display in the historic courtyard of Somerset House. It is also the first major outdoor public sculpture installation by the artist in London.

The monumental installation comprises 12 bronze animal heads, re-creations of the traditional Chinese zodiac sculptures which once adorned the fountain of Yuanming Yuan, an imperial retreat in Beijing. The installation is part of an International Tour which started in New York.

I am fascinated by making public art. ‘Public’ does not just refer to the museum public; it’s for people passing by and using communal spaces. I think the public deserve the best. In the past, only a pope or an emperor had access to the artworks they commissioned. I want my work to be accessible to everyone. As Yuanming Yuan was being built, Somerset House was being constructed and for me this means that the Courtyard is the perfect setting for Circle of Animals.
Ai Weiwei, 2011

Until 26 June
The Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court, 07.30-23.00
The Courtyard Rooms, 10.00-18.00
Free admission

In response to the news about the detainment of Ai Weiwei, 14 April 2011
Gwyn Miles, Director of Somerset House Trust, said:
“Like everyone who admires and respects the work of Ai Weiwei we are dismayed and aggrieved by the news that he has been detained by Chinese authorities. We deplore the actions taken against Ai Weiwei and his friends and colleagues, and indeed any curtailment of individual’s human rights. We are very concerned about their safety and wellbeing and ask for information on their whereabouts to be released and them not to be detained without a fair trial.”

“Ai Weiwei has chosen and approved the installation set up for Circle of Animals at Somerset House and the works have already been shipped to the UK. The sculptures will be installed as planned and Circle of Animals will open to the public on 12 May. We believe that more than ever, his work should be seen and appreciated by as many people as possible.



For more information check out

The least surprising survey results of the month come from a market research firm called uSamp. It claims that the technology we use to make us more productive is in fact holding us back, at the annual cost to the UK of some £58 billion. The results of the survey show that the average UK employee loses at least an hour a day on email, social networks and text messages.

Unsurprisingly email is the biggest culprit, accounting for as many as a quarter of all daily distractions with personal use of the internet, especially on social media, making up nearly one in ten. Around 45 per cent of workers claim they can only usually go for 15 minutes without any kind of distraction, a quarter say they have no time at all for creative thinking and ten per cent have missed deadlines due to constant interruptions.

While it would be wrong to characterise all of these interruptions as a waste of time – many will be to share information or carry out important tasks – there is obviously an issue of time management and not least in the way each day is structured. The survey reflects the steps some people have taken to deal with the effects of technology on productivity. According to uSamp, the majority of employees already have their own ways of dealing with distractions, although you have to question how effective they have been in light of the other results of the research.


Yesterday was the Welcome Image Awards 2011, where science meets art.

These awards focus on imagery that is technically excellent and informative.

Information on the winners can be found here:

The idea that for every action there is a reaction applies just as much in culture as it does in physics. So just as life speeds up to the point where Twitter is taken seriously as a way of communicating serious ideas, a growing number of people are looking at ways of putting the brakes. Most famously in 2004, the Canadian Carl Honoré established the Slow Movement. James Gleick was banging the same drum with his book Faster and we all hoped that things would slow down just a little now our attention had been drawn to the problem.

It was wishful thinking. But there are still a few wise heads around imploring us to take a breather, step back and think about things before we pass them on, act or form an opinion. The latest manifestation of this kind of thinking is the publication of a new magazine called Delayed Gratification. It’s telling that it is a publisher that is taking this step, in the footprints of The Idler , because information is increasingly the preserve of the screen, not paper. And that means that information is easy to access, instant and offered to us by the people who can best draw attention to it.

While Kindles, Google, blogs, Twitter, news feeds, rolling news and Wikipedia are great in many ways, they swamp us. We have no time to take stock and lose some of our critical facilities as a result. This struck me last week when I read the story of the endangered Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. A professor in Connecticut had asked his 7th Grade students to research this creature. They quickly found a website that described the plight of this poor creature and produced reports accordingly. Even when it was explained to them that it was part of a government funded study looking at their critical evaluation skills, many still struggled to accept that there was no such thing.

It’s easy to laugh at this, but it’s just another example of how instant access to information can sometimes make us believe things that we might decide are stupid or simplistic or irrelevant or misguided or whatever if we just took the time to digest them slowly.

PS I would like to tell you that this blog entry is the result of weeks of musing. But from conception to appearing here took two hours. Go figure.

Posted by this week’s guest blogger -Mark Eltringham

According to a report in The Times yesterday, the latest in the endless line of Government education initiatives is to build new schools based on one of six approved templates. To save money, schools will be 15 per cent smaller, may incorporate fewer classrooms and will take a mere 13 weeks to build.

This is almost a complete reversal of the approach to building schools over the last few years. The most talked about element of the last Government’s programme was the £55billion Building Schools for the Future programme but there other initiatives such as joinedupdesignforschools from The Sorrell Foundation. Now instead of the customised and design focussed approach of recent years, schools will be built in a homogenised and – let’s face it – cheap way.

There are already some flat pack schools around. Indeed the first of them in the UK is to be found at St Agnes Primary School in Manchester based on a Swiss design.

In some ways there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this, if the templates themselves are well designed and the schools built and fitted out well. I would hope that is the case because while the homogenisation of schools might be something that does not harm the education of pupils, buildings that are not for purpose certainly will.

For more information on the construction of St Agnes School click on the link below

how to build a school in four easy steps!

There has always been a lot of discussion in the UK of the importance of Internet access to people and businesses, particularly to those located in the more rural areas of the nation.

Connecting these ‘last mile’ homes and businesses has always been a struggle; the argument is that businesses are unable to compete effectively in the modern world without email and access to the Web.

This is not just the case here in the UK; developing nations consider the Internet to be as vital as we do.  A project in Zambia has just connected the village of Macha to the Internet using mesh technologies.  Macha is about 50 miles from its closest town.  More info can be found at the BBC:

 The Macha project is not only a great technological achievement and proof that mesh technologies can work, but it also shows that the Internet is now considered to be vital in most places of the world. 

 This may be due to the increasing amounts of information that are now required to be made available to users, or the ease at which communication may take place with email and instant messaging services like Skype.

Whatever the reason, the Internet is so vital to people that it’s clear that change will be inevitable; from searching the vast amounts of data that are now being generated to net neutrality, our fingers are crossed that the change will be for the best.












Shadow Catchers presents the work of five international artists who, for the last twenty years or more, have been challenging the assumption that a camera is necessary to make a photograph. By casting shadows on light sensitive paper or chemically manipulating its surface these artists seemingly capture the presence of objects, figures or glowing light. The results are exciting images often with surreal or abstract effects and symbolic content. These camera-less techniques were explored at the dawn of photography and have now been rediscovered by contemporary image makers. On display are unique and beautifully crafted works by Pierre Cordier, Susan Derges, Adam Fuss, Garry Fabian Miller and Floris Neusüss.

Camera-less photographs can be made using a variety of techniques, the most common of which are the photogram, the luminogram and the chemigram. These techniques are sometimes used in combination. Many involve an element of chance

Images made with a camera imply a documentary role. In contrast, camera-less photographs show what has never really existed. They are also always ‘an original’ because they are not made from a negative. Encountered as fragments, traces, signs, memories or dreams, they leave room for the imagination, transforming the world of objects into a world of visions.

This remarkable exhibition is on at the V & A in London from 13 October 2010 – 20 February 2011 for more information click on the link below

  • Image :Adam Fuss, Invocation, 1992. Museum no. E.693-1993, ©Courtesy of Adam Fuss/V&A Images
  • Susan Derges, ‘Arch 4 (summer)’, 2007/8. Collection of the artist, © Courtesy of Susan Derges

Desmond Paul Henry (1921-2004) ranks among one of the few early British pioneers of Computer Art/Graphics of the 1960′s. During this period he constructed a total of three mechanical drawing machines (in 1960, ’63 and ’67) based around the components of analogue bombsight computers. Henry’s second drawing machine and its effects were included in the major Art and Technology exhibition of 1968: Cybernetic Serendipity (I.C.A, London). Henry’s life-long passion for all things mechanical inspired him to purchase an army surplus analogue bombsight computer in the early 1950s. For years he would gaze transfixed at the ‘peerless parabolas’ (Henry) of its inner working parts when in motion. Then in the early sixties he decided to try and capture these mechanical motions on paper and so was born the first of a series of three drawing machines based around the components of the bombsight computer itself.

The bombsight computers, from which Henry constructed these machines in his home-based workshop in Manchester, were employed in World War Two Bomber Aircraft to calculate the accurate release of bombs onto their target. He combined these computers with other components to create electronically-operated drawing machines which relied mainly on a ‘mechanics of chance’. This meant the drawing machines could not be pre-programmed or store information as in a conventional computer; nor were they precision instruments.

As a result, Henry had only general overall control but at the same time he could intervene to direct the course of image production at any given moment of his choosing. Today not one drawing machine remains intact.

Using one or more mechanised drawing implements (biros at first and then tube pens with Indian ink) Henry’s drawing machines produced abstract, curvilinear, repetitive line drawings The chance element inherent in the construction and function of each Henry drawing machine ensured the unrepeatable quality of their infinitely varied visual effects. The aesthetic appeal of these ‘mechanical fractals’ (Henry) lies in their unique blend of order and chaos, of regularity and irregularity.