Thursday, 19 March 2009

By Design

I'm often amused by people's fascination with 'designer' clothes. I once worked with a woman whose husband bought her an Armani scarf for her birthday. It was very nice, but she needed to show me the label before I came up with the expected response. I once had a friend whose life's aspiration was to own an Armani suit. She was a lovely person but given her height and weight an Armani suit was never going to look like the picture I'm sure she had in her head. Even if she were tall and svelte, the way I look at it Giorgio already has more than enough money, why should she give him a lot more than she can really afford? Anyhow, Bill often comments that all clothing was designed by someone, so technically it's all 'designer'.

Design relates to virtually everything in our material world, when you think about it. (I passed a display of 'designer toilet paper' in Wilkinsons last week, I kid you not.) This whole subject came to me when I foolishly purchased a digital scale for the kitchen. Granted, it gives me a specific number instead of leaving me to squint and estimate, as did the previous scale. I can have the number in pounds, ounces or grams; but to get there I have to unscrew and remove the flat glass plate, push a button to turn it on, screw the plate back on, push the button to clear its weight, put on a dish to hold the food I want weighed, push the button to clear its weight, add the food and choose my units of measurement. I have to hope the scale stays awake (it has automatic shut-off) long enough and of course the food is getting cooler by the minute. The scale has a signature scrawled across it: Antony Worral Thompson, who I gather is a 'famous' chef (I've never heard of him before). Honestly, given the really crap design of 'his' scale, I wouldn't let him tell me how to boil water and I'll run in the opposite direction of anything else that bears his name.

In contrast, when we were on holiday last summer in the US, the gang bought a 'jar' of Nescafe coffee. I liked the container well enough to bring it back and I've refilled and used it ever since we returned. It is simple brown plastic with an attached lid that releases when you squeeze near the top. If I'm in a hurry I can open the coffee with my left hand whilst wielding a spoon in my right. I love my coffee container and I'll be sad when it wears out.

Bill's room at the Holiday Inn Express in Hull has a great toilet door. When it is shut, well, the bathroom is closed off. When it is full open, it shuts on just the toilet, leaving the shower and sink available for others to use. It has that ingenious simplicity that I think is a sure sign of good design.

Bill's Citroen C-3 and Simon's Audi A3 had those sorts of clever details: (not toilet doors) functional, clever features, like more places to plug in electronic gadgets than just a single cigarette lighter, windscreen wipers that pivot from the outside edges and clear more space and give equal attention to the passenger and driver sides (useful when you don't know on which side the driver might sit).

Bill bought a new dish draining rack for the kitchen sink a while back. It's a modern looking stainless steel thing. For the cutlery, he bought an oval shaped thing that looks good, but allows the cutlery to slide through the sides at the bottom unless the pieces are placed carefully; I can't be bothered with it. I poked holes in the bottom of a tin can to drain cutlery; Bill hates my invention even more than I hate his purchase.

Going back to clothes, one of the many books I have on the subject is 10 Steps to Fashion Freedom. The authors say that good quality design does not necessarily mean 'designer clothes' and an expensive designer item is not necessarily well designed. They go on to say that one of the hallmarks of good design is practicality. Any garment that includes a button or zip that has no practical use is not well designed. According to them, the essense of good design is a passsion for understatement and that understated clothes are the epitome of sophistication.

I can't claim to look sophisticated, but I've learned a lot from this book and not just about clothes. I plan to write more about it -- and to add it to my Amazon store!

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