Dick Powell (Seymour Powell) talking about Designing

Short video of someone I admire greatly as a designer. Someone who inspired me when I was in teacher training and someone who actually interviewed me for a Design teaching job once. I have followed Dick and his work with Seymour Powell for almost 30 years. He always talks sense and with passion.

My Top Ten Design Fails (Shopping Trolley Muppets and Other Things)


Everyone at some point in their lives have encountered a product, service or ‘thing’ that simply does not work right…or at least not as the user had anticipated (or indeed as the designer had envisaged the user ‘using’ it).

We all have our own dislikes, frustrations or even hatreds for these products, services and ‘things’ that we use in our daily lives that simply don’t do what we want, as we want, when we want. On almost every level, they fail. Abysmally.

So, here is my own top ten of fails, in no particular order of merit or ‘fail’…Please add yours to my blog in the reply section below and let’s see what size of compendium we can build up on this.

For fun 😉

Predictive text. Drives me nuts. Simple words become nightmares. Names become rude slogans and its not until you have sent your message that you realise you have just called your loved one a ‘chilly bunt’ (or something worse….). Anyway, I’m off for a Hermaphrodite. Damn, I meant Heineken….see what I mean?

Q. Do not make predictive text the default setting on your mobile technology. Make it a ‘select’ item that you have to look for in the sub menu. That way you avoid the problem.

‘Rip off’ tops on food products as you find on yoghurts, microwave meals (the cellophane bit…) and so on. Do they ever really work properly? They tear off in ‘strands’ leaving you to dive in with your fingers or use the end of the spoon to ‘flip’ the remaining shreds off, sending dairy product or hot microwaved product onto clothing and walls. Grrrr….

Q. Please can we have a ‘pull off’ lid on food containers that works in one easy to manage ‘pull’? If not. A simple clip/screw on lid will suffice….possibly.

Rubbers/erasers on the ends of pencils. All they do, at best, is smudge your work with an artistic pink goo or, at worst, rip your paper to shreds. Do yourself a favour and invest in a decent pencil and a decent rubber/eraser.

Q. Why indoctrinate young kids with these foul pieces of design at such an early age? Ban them (the pencils with rubbers on that is, not the kids) from primary schools and beyond. Please.

Hotel showers. Yes, you read that correctly. Not so much the actual shower as such but the cubicle surrounding it. Firstly, despite my best efforts in units with curtains water still gets out. Curtains are too short or do not pull around enough (especially on those stupid shower units stuck in a bath).

Secondly, I can never find a decent little shelf at a convenient height to place my shampoo and shower gel. I end up having to try and balance the two items on the actual tap/shower unit ‘thingy’ and invariable one or both of the items fall off, sometimes breaking the lid or splitting the bottle. Genius.

Q. Get someone to DESIGN your showers with the USER in mind? If you are stuck, give me a call.

Supermarket trolleys (and the people that use them). Bear with me on this one…I suppose in a way this is a bit of a left field call BUT some of the absolute morons I have encountered in supermarkets using trolleys is unprecedented.

We could start with the ‘out of control’ person who fails to control their trolley and allows it to either ‘wander’ into your shiny paintwork as they walk towards the supermarket doors OR they simply leave it unattended as they load their own car so that it slowly runs away into your car in the car park (Thought – brakes on supermarket trolleys like airport ones have?)

Now we are inside. Idiot one has absolutely no idea which way they are going, so you anticipate their move and overtake on the left as they are looking right….but they turn left straight into you pinning your kid who was walking beside your trolley (Thought – install ‘trafficators’ – google it – like you used to get on early Morris minors and Mercedes).

Next you have the family clan who just stop in the middle of a crowded isle to have an argument or discussion about something – blocking the whole damn channel. Follow that up with the business man/woman who parks their trolley in front of the most widely sought out shelf of kids cereals as they cheerily run off to different points of the compass to get their food and drink items….only to return and find you gently moving their trolley so you can get your kids pack of ‘wheatabillycrunchythings’ from the shelf. They then attack you with a frozen fish or similar accusing you of interfering with their trolley (‘no parking trolley here’ signs with trolley wardens handing out penalties and fines if caught?)

Humph. I won’t go on…you get the picture.

Q. In addition to my above suggestions can we please introduce two things:

Firstly, a driving test for supermarket trolley users with ‘L’ plates for first time users, numpties and morons?

Secondly could we introduce an ‘Ikea style’ approach to supermarket shopping where you go round in one direction only. If you miss something there are one or two ‘short cuts’ or you simply just have to go round again. Bit like the M25 for my British friends….

Wheels on moveable BBQ’s. You move the BBQ, they fall off or fail to rotate rendering the BBQ static and making you wish that you had purchased the one without wheels in the first place. WTF (sorry….pet hate of mine. I love BBQ’s).

Q. We can design wheels and axles that live together in harmony on cars, planes, buses, motorcycles’ skateboards….so why can’t we have them on a BBQ please?

Car Dashboard Warning Lights OR Steering Wheels (depending on your viewpoint). You know the little orange light you can’t see as it is hidden behind the left hand spoke of your steering wheel that tells you your engine has just ceased to live anymore…? The reason why you can’t see it is that ‘modern design’ dictates that you can control speed, volume, sat nav, phone, air con and other things from your steering wheel so it is now so bloody fat (and requires a degree to work it) that it hides the important stuff on your dashboard e.g. That little sodding orange light that tells you that your engine has expired (or that you have just run out of go go juice, or that your engine has over heated….take your pick).

Q. Can we please put the important warning lights somewhere where they are more ergonomically accessible by the user? Maybe on the steering wheel…duh?

Hospital Crutches. The ones with the ‘easy to adjust’ ball bearing-on-a-spring mechanism? Easy to adjust? You kidding me? I have never able to get the right height for me or my kids as the adjustment does not offer that ‘half way house’ position that you are looking for. Also, after half an hour of use your hands are blue as all the blood has drained out of them and your palms are red raw. Oh, and what about the rubber bits they put on the bottom? They are lethal if they meet a wet surface. Like outside on a rainy day…or in a cafeteria where the floor has just been washed…or, from personal experience, in an airport toilet area where there is no flaming sign telling you the floor is wet until you find yourself horizontal with your head in a urinal and your crutches now scattered at all points of the compass . You get my drift…no pun intended.

Q. Can we have a comfortable, easy to adjust non-slip crutch design please that does not cause more injury and pain than the original ‘pre crutch’ ailment contributed?

Ceramic/Porcelain mugs when used in a Microwave. Ouch. Does not happen if you pour boiling water in from a kettle BUT if you microwave your drink the mug/cup gets scalding hot and that’s when you end up with ‘Royal Dalton’ branded into the palm of your hand.

Q. Is there not a way of designing a ‘cool handled’ mug for microwave use? When you take it out you can actually hold your drink safely? It would be handy…

Television Remote Controls. Did you know that there can be up to as many as 86 buttons on your average remote control? EIGHTY SIX. If we take away the on/off, volume up/down and programme up/down buttons. That leaves us with 81….okay, so lets take away (for the advance anoraks reading this) the menu button, remote in/AV option, numbers 0-9 and possibly the satellite link key (or what have you). Now we are left with 70 buttons. SEVENTY! What the hell do they all do?

In an age where most countries have an ageing demographic, and many did not ‘grow up’ with this technology, it is painful watching an old age pensioner (my mum for example) trying to turn on the TV let alone choose a channel and then adjust the volume. Why? Too many buttons, too small in size (especially with onset of arthritis) and illegible to someone rapidly losing good sight. Downright confusing.

Q. KISS? Keep It Simple Stupid. Either design a control that does not need all that often underused functionality OR design a skin (patented idea by me now ‘light bulb moment’) that rolls on to your average control (yes, like a condom…) that masks out all the non-required buttons leaving just the basic buttons exposed.

Genius. I’m here all week. I look forward to seeing your thoughts below.

Richard Seymour: How Beauty Feels (Video)

A story, a work of art, a face, a designed object — how do we tell that something is beautiful? And why does it matter so much to us? Designer Richard Seymour explores our response to beauty and the surprising power of objects that exhibit it.

Designer Richard Seymour works on products with soul — from a curvy, swoopy iron to a swift and sleek city motorcycle. Seymourpowell is regarded as one of the world’s leading product and innovation design consultancies, with clients who include Ford, Virgin Galactic, Tefal, Casio, Nokia, Guinness, Samsung and Unilever. Seymour is also consultant global creative director of design to Unilever’s Dove, Axe/Lynx and Vaseline brands.

What subjects to include in a modern curriculum?

I recently replied to another blog regarding subject development and inclusion for a possible home schooling curriculum i.e what subjects should be included in the provision?

The blog is an interesting read, focusing on homeschooling, with many good points and comments added to help fuel the debate. Core subject areas such as Science, Maths, History, Geography, English and others were included but others were not. This did raise alarm bells and highlighted some issues close to my heart, notably suggesting a curriculum that seemed to have an absence of any core activity relating to learning another Modern Language or anything to do with Design (and Technology) or manufacture.

Design as an academic (yes, academic…) and creative discipline spread across all areas of manufacture (not simply ‘woodwork’ for less able kids as it is was 25 years ago in the UK) has to be included if you are to nurture and develop youngsters who can deal with a world that is changing quicker than anyone can really understand.

Design education at its core is about problem solving, prototyping, discovering, sketching, innovating, making mistakes, taking risks and communicating on paper, on a computer and/or in a range of materials. Teaching youngsters how to think creatively, divergently and appropriately to help solve a problem is key. Manufacture using smart materials, composites, textiles, metals, woods and so on with a mix of current technologies (3D printing, cnc machining…) and basic hands-on manual skills related manufacture is crucial.

Some of these skills, notably the thinking and problem solving skills, are a pre-requisite if you are to maintain a curriculum that can support wealth creation and provide genuine capability that will serve your future bankers, doctors, lawyers, politicians etcetera. Nurturing creativity is a basic subtext of education. Any proposed curriculum must not stifle it.

I also strongly feel that mastering at least one additional modern (and maybe other?) language is vital in todays world. Both my daughters (aged 9 and 17) are almost tri-lingual (English, French, Spanish) and the eldest is looking to start studying Mandarin. I am English, my wife is French – and you can probably argue that we have a slight head start here.

I am still amazed that many kids are still only taught to ‘Google’ in English – throwing in a French or Spanish word/phrase during your search will open up another third of the Internet for you allowing greater breadth and depth to your study, allowing access across different cultures and ideals. If you can really show off then throw Mandarin into the mix – the world is definitely your oyster in a few years time irrespective of academic discipline! Modern Languages are crucial to a youngsters development in this world which is becoming quite a small place to live in.

We are very naive if we think that our kids are not going to grow up and move into professions that will at least require them to communicate via email, talk on the phone or Skype to folk in another country at some point, let alone travel to another country with work (and quite possibly work abroad at some juncture in their careers). In 27 years I have either taught in a school, or worked as a consultant, in England, France, Hong Kong, Australia and Portugal. There will be more places to go as my work, or that of my wife’s, takes me there – of that I am sure. I reiterate; the world is a small place.

Of course there are a myriad of other subjects that need to be looked at, considered and either discarded or new ones thrown in to the mix but at this late hour I think I’ll stop there.

For now 😉


The ’3 R’s’ alone are no longer enough.

I published on my blog earlier today a very good video (What most Schools Don’t Teach…) that highlights one of the plights of modern education today – that is, what, exactly should global economies be including in their education provision and curriculums to help prepare youngsters for the world of work tomorrow and beyond?

The video highlights what I consider to be a black hole that exists throughout education around the globe. The basic fundamentals of the technologies that help shape our world are simply not being addressed within curriculums worldwide despite being ‘mainstream’ for some 30 years.  This is not simply about ‘code’, but the use and teaching of information and communication technology in general.

We all use computers in one form or another (from the digital watch on our wrists through using our Macs, PC’s, tablets, mobiles, vehicles we drive and the countless technologies that control our homes and lives in many other ways) but the massive deficit of skilled workforce to feed our demands in this area, it would seem, is significant.

Schools need to embed coding (no pun intended) and other basic Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) into regular, routine educational provision from an early age. And I don’t mean simply providing ‘a lesson a week’ to the cause. All subject teachers need to include this in their work irrespective of subject discipline.

There’s no blame culture here, just a realisation that Schools, Governments, Teacher Training Agencies and Curriculum Providers must work together to help in preparing our youngsters accordingly.  

I was lucky enough to be part of a team of pioneering teachers that kick-started a brand new International School in Toulouse, France back in 1998. Every child aged 4-18 had a laptop. There were no dedicated ‘ICT’ rooms or labs. All classrooms were equipped to handle class sets of laptops with appropriate printing and projection capability and, more importantly, all teachers (irrespective of subject) were trained on how to use the technology everyday.  More importantly, teachers and pupils were given insight into how basic code could be used in their work for customisation.  The move towards a ‘hypertext’ curriculum was the ideal. Within a couple of years many KS3 (pupils aged 12/13) had websites that were virtual portfolios of their work that were constantly evolving and organic. And they updated them as part of their curriculum.

Three things helped us make this work:

  • Firstly, all teachers and support staff were involved, and trained, to deliver computer-based education. This was not the domain of a single ‘ICT’ guy or girl. Everyone contributed to the cause and this was seen as an integral part of their skill set delivery regardless of subject discipline.
  • Secondly, all supported the philosophy from the Head and senior management, governors, sponsors, teachers and parents through to the pupils. There was a common desire to succeed. This was important.
  • Thirdly, you had to be open-minded and divergent in your approach as a school; as a teacher. There are risks (there always are) but the benefits far outweighed them. Safety was key (providing initial training to parents and pupils prior to having the laptops so they were aware of the possible pitfalls associated with technology use – security protection, ergonomic issues, the laws relating to ICT use and so forth).

It is interesting to note that in the UK, the so-called ‘3 ‘R’s’ phrase (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic) was coined in around 1825 by Sir William Curtis MP in a toast given during Parliament. It referred to the foundations of a basic skills centred education within schools.

It is clear to see that in 2013, almost two hundred years later, that these ’3 R’s’ alone are, quite simply, no longer enough.

Creative Thinkers in School – Play and Experimentation over Rigour and Focus

For many of us, as we mature in years our ways of thinking freeze a little, and we start making decisions based on what we know works.  However, if we are to stay at the top of our game and provide real momentum and development to the work we are doing we need to think creatively. It has been said many times before: don’t ask ‘why’? Ask ‘why not’?

John Maeda (President, Rhode Island School of Design) highlighted in a talk some years ago that Creative folk are the great exception to this ‘brain freeze’; they have:

“…the unique ability to live with ambiguity and to live with mistakes. Without a certain comfort level with ambiguity – an uncertain outcome – we would never experiment. If we never experimented, we would never make mistakes. And if we never made mistakes, we would never learn anything”.

The creative process of inventor and entrepreneur James Dyson is a wonderful example. Although Dyson is now one of the wealthiest men in Britain, it took him 15 long years and thousands upon thousands of failed prototypes to arrive at his first success.  In an interview with ‘Fast Company’, Dyson explains:

I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum before I got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That’s how I came up with a solution. So I don’t mind failure. I’ve always thought that schoolchildren should be marked by the number of failures they’ve had. The child who tries strange things and experiences lots of failures to get there is probably more creative.”

As Dyson acutely observes, from an early age much of our school training encourages us to be ‘risk-averse’ by rewarding those who deliver exactly what’s expected – rather than those who try something new and dare to look foolish (take the risk). We are taught to uphold rigour and focus over play and experimentation.

However, it is these same qualities, playfulness, wonder, an element of risk and a lack of inhibition, that have fostered the greatest creative breakthroughs.

Teachers and educational leaders take note.

Timeline of Honda Engineering Excellence and Innovation

A wonderful timeline journey of Honda – through all it’s design and engineering excellence over the years.

“To be a Designer and to be Creative you must…”

“To be a designer and to be creative, you have to think differently. You have to build ‘bandwidth’ in order to do this. You have to operate along the length of a line between industry and engineering and art and culture. Design does not exist in the centre of that line but ranges along the length of that line. It is this ‘bandwidth’ of thinking that creates designers. We need this ‘bandwidth’ – an understanding of science and engineering on the one hand and humanities, art and politics on the other – if we are to create a better future.

What is crucial to design is that we have to learn to look rather than see. Looking is active; seeing is passive. Designers see things that others do not. It is crucial to understand people. It needs a creative eye to see what is happening. Anthropology is more important than technology. The design process has three stages: idea, belief and embodiment; the idea is the most important. We have to shift paradigms to create new things. Be frustrated at how the world is and have an unshakeable belief in our ability to make it better.

We need constantly to ask ‘why not?’ rather than (the question many supposed ‘educated’ folk ask), ‘why?’ ”

Dick Powell – Senior partner and co-founder ‘SeymourPowell’ Product Designers