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Archive for April, 2013

When I am giving talks and lectures, in the questions at the end of the session, I am often asked what is the greatest attribute of a designer and a creative mind. I know that for me and my design partner Gerardine, it has been common sense.

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When I am giving talks and lectures, in the questions at the end of the session, I am often asked what is the greatest attribute of a designer and a creative mind. I know that for me and my design partner Gerardine, it has been common sense.

When asked what is my greatest achievement and design I always seem to come up with moments in the design process that revolve around common sense decisions. At HemingwayDesign we believe that design is for the common good and that design thinking can help to solve most challenges that society faces with a core philosophy of aiming to “improve things that matter in life”. It is the process of “design thinking” where we employ our human nature to use common sense.

In 2001 when we first started to design housing estates I remember a meeting where the eureka moment about common sense came to the fore.

When I wrote the infamous article in the Independent about how most mass market housing in the UK was uninspiring and not fit for purpose, the housebuilder Wimpey, approached us to put our design skills where our mouths were. This led to us being given the chance to design a 780 unit housing development: The Staiths South Bank in Gateshead. We had no experience of designing affordable housing but we had many years of being brought up and living in low cost housing.

Looking back to our own childhoods some of our best memories revolved around “playing out”. Gerardine is one of 5 sisters brought up is a “two up two down” workers cottage in Padiham, Lancashire. Hers was a home where the small back yard opened onto the “rec”, a grassed recreation space that provided the venue for play and parties. From the “rec” it was a few yards to the allotment where Gerardine learnt how to grow veg and flowers, and developed a knowledge and passion for plants that has really helped the landscape side of her career as well as giving her a healthy and rewarding hobby. From the house I was born in Morecambe, to Queens Park Flats in Blackburn with its wonderful landscape and sports facilities to our home on a new estate in Blackburn, I always had space to kick a football and mark out a mini cricket strip. Sport has since been a constant companion and source of relaxation for me as well as allowing me to share and further develop the passion with my four children who have all gained confidence and friends through their sporting activities. Sport has helped them stay fit and healthy and they have learnt so much about striving to win and learning to lose graciously and about the importance of “team” through sport. Through having outside space where they could build dens and just “lose themselves” they have all grown up to be creative and active.

When we sat and talked about what was important about home we quickly discovered that we had never bought a house but had always bought a place. It had always been the location that came before the actual property itself. We had always considered if the locale in terms of connectivity, amenities and ambience were suitable for our lifestyle and aspirations, was suitable. After determining the suitability of the locale, we would then look for a property. When we got talking to friends and family it was clear and obvious that this was the case for just about everyone. We started to find out that this philosophy of “placemaking”, where the place came before the architecture was delivered .It was common sense, and human nature to understand that your home had to be in a place where you could survive. For our ancestors there would have been no point having a nice dry cave if it wasn’t in reach of food sources and water. So despite pressure from Wimpey to show them the houses we were designing our common sense told us to change the order of doing things. After all I had been writing about housing estates being built in soulless environments in places they should never have been built.

From then on in, the process of identifying existing practices that flew squarely in the face of common sense became de rigueur.

We drew on our own experience of an active outdoors childhood and the joy that we were having with our children through being fortunate to be able to afford a large garden to make the bold statement of designing the play and recreation spaces before designing the houses. This nearly got us kicked off the project , Wimpey hadn’t heard anything like it. One of the first things at The Staiths we wanted to do was to build play areas that were challenging, creative and far more exciting than a few chickens on springs and a “health and safety” approved climbing frame. We showed the council play officer an example of an exciting play area that we had come across in a wonderful development in Freiberg, Germany, made simply from old trees that were left in their natural state for kids to balance on and a generous helping of sand. We wanted play areas to encourage “free range kids”. I remember the council saying that they loved our concept of “free range kids” but couldn’t countenance a play area with sand all over the ground. This wasn’t about the danger of dogs and cats soiling the sand but another very strange reason was given. The council play officer proceeded to say that “Babies will crawl around the sand and eat it”. “But that isn’t a problem”, I replied. “We can replace it; sand is only £1.99 a bag at the local DIY store”. I then proceeded to search on the web for “Child eats sand and dies”. Try it – it’s not something that throws up any obvious returns, but common sense had already told me that.

We had a much more worrying run in with the local Police, who have a say in planning permission based on their “Secured by Design” initiative (www.securedbydesign.com). We had the idea to deliver “home zones” (streets designed for pedestrians, children playing and cyclists). Rather than build driveways, we planned to put the parking around the side of homes, along the gable ends. In doing this, we believed the streets would become more animated, the community would pass each other more in the streets and it would be inherently safer and friendlier. The police didn’t agree saying that the cars would get broken into. I said that I was more interested in my kids safety than that of the contents of my car, to which the policeman replied “but you have got that wrong, once they have broken into your car they will be back to assault your kids “. This sounded preposterous to me and I also had a hunch that modern technology, such as central locking and micro chips in car music systems that rendered them useless when removed, must have had an impact on car crime numbers.

I was bang on. By simply checking on the Home Offices Crime Statistics website I was able to show how dramatic the decreases in car crime had been.

We had turned accepted thinking on its head and that opened up an avenue for real change. The physical design process was easy. We were using common sense.

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Wayne was asked to film a piece for BBC Horizon about Invention in the 21st Century January. It was aired on 11th April 2013.

These were the questions he was asked and the answers he gave during the interview.

Q – What’s different about innovation today than the past?

As well as the great technology innovation there are tweaks and improvements to long term innovations. It’s often about taking ideas further, refining, rethinking. Taking things to a new level. As Churchill once said “The further I look back, the further forward I can see”.

Q – What’s making invention easier today?

The fact that so much great thinking, inventing has been done. There is a wonderful base to build on.

The internet and crowd sourcing, networking. Being able to easily contact specialists across the waters to discuss problems and find solutions.

There is access for everyone (in this country) to have good education, freedom and to follow your dreams. 150 years ago your destiny was determined by the class you were born into.

Because so many fundamental issues have been solved its leaving time to tackle some of the much more difficult questions. For example cancer.

Q – Of all the inventions of the last 150 years or so – what would you love to have invented?

The bicycle or the train, both are things that give freedom which allow you to travel and stimulate. The world wide web does this as well.

Q – What’s your favourite invention ever?

The bicycle.

Q – Where do you think good ideas come from?

Genuine need and difficulty. After all human needs are simple, warmth, food, companionship.

Two good ideas that are ‘light’ and ‘everyday’ are The Breville sandwich toaster and The Cat Flap. The need to contain the hot contents of a toasted sandwich from spilling everywhere and the need to allow your cat freedom which takes one less worry away from your life.

When I was designing the Bug Digital radio (the first radio to allow pause and rewind), the thinking came from my days as a teenager lying in bed wishing I could have rewound that song on radio Luxembourg as I hit the tape record button, missing off the first few chords or bars!

Q – Which tech fields do you keep abreast of?

Sustainability, especially in housing and technology – in terms of making life and business easier.

Q – How do you tell where the next big thing is going to come from?

You have to confidence in your own ability to understand what people want and need.

Innovation in homes size is currently something we are working on now . In the knowledge that the price of homes are going to continue to be out of the reach of the majority of the current generation of 30 year olds , and with the understanding that owning your own home will continue to be a desire for many , something has to give , and for singles and childless couples one thing that can give is size of homes . There is going to need to be innovation in “living in small spaces”

Q – If you were a Venture capitalist, where would you be putting your money today?

Looking at the care of elderly, dementia etc. The speed of travel. Dealing with a growing world population allowing people to live at higher density. Feeding growing populations. Farming in previously uncultivated places looking at new ways of providing food, acceptable GM if you must. When you see pictures of thousands of shark fins being dried on a roof in China or a Blue Fin Tuna changing hands for £1 million (selling at over £2000 a lb) as it recently did in Japan, then you know we have to act quickly.

Quite simply we cannot keep eating meat and fish without some serious technological advances and a change in public and government’s acceptance of what is worth investigating.

Golden Rice surely this solves so many issues? Dealing with climate change. And of course thrifty solutions, how can we maintain our quality of life more frugally?

Companies that understand “customisation” and “bespoke”. How to marry that with mass production as Nike have been doing with trainers and car manufacturers like Vauxhalls new Adam. Individuality in an increasingly crowded world.

Q – What are the hallmarks of a good idea?

Positive public response and getting copied.

Q – What do you think it takes to get an idea off the ground?

First the idea must be genuinely needed. Marketing, dissemination and perseverance.

A culture that embraces new ideas and is set up to facilitate new ideas to have a chance to come to fruition governments can facilitate this.

Q – What are your hopes for the future of science and technology?

We just carry on as we are, trying to solve problems and overpowering the naysayers and climate change deniers. Which we will, we are human beings that’s why we thrive, evolve, overcome.

For innovations, inoculations to also reach the third world much faster than they do today

For teachers to be able to invigorate and inspire young children to want to be creative. The same part of the brain is used for ideas in science and technology as it is in ideas in art and design yet parts of this current UK Government doesn’t seem to get that.

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