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Archive for the ‘2013’ Category

I am regularly asked by students and start ups for some pointers as to what are the most important elements for a successful business. I used to say hard work, perseverance, constant creative thinking. Now I add ‘generosity’.

Social media is rapidly changing the way that brands ‘behave’ and need to ‘behave’. Social media has allowed the public to question, unpick poorly conceived marketing strategies, take brands to task for dodgy service and poor public relations at a pace and depth that was impossible before the digital age. There is no longer the ability for brands to hide behind manipulative press departments.

All this partially explains why, you see brands relying less and less, on big budget telly advertising as their primary form of interaction with their customers. Narrative is the new Christmas blockbuster advert. Is this a permanent shift by the likes of Coca Cola? From spending vast sums on high production adverts where they tell us that they would like to ‘teach the world to sing’. Small, but with a massive impact, with the aid of a social media seeding, like the “Small World Machines” advert?

High-tech vending machines installed in two popular shopping malls in Lahore, Pakistan and New Delhi, India – two cities separated by only 325 miles, but seemingly worlds apart due to decades of political tension – invited consumers to put their differences aside and share a simple moment over a Coke.

The “Small World Machines” provided a live communications portal linking strangers in two nations divided by more than just borders, with the hope of provoking happiness and promoting cultural understanding around the world. Coke and Leo Burnett used first-of-its-kind 3D touchscreen technology to project a streaming video feed onto the vending machine screen while simultaneously filming through the unit to capture a live emotional exchange. People from both countries and various walks of life were encouraged to complete a friendly task together – wave, touch hands, draw a peace sign or dance – before sharing a Coca-Cola.

Clever and simple projects like this that allow Coca Cola to promote its “Happiness is sharing a Coke” marketing mantra by letting social media spread relatively inexpensive projects that speak for themselves. Projects that would have most likely been lost in the pre-social media world. They allow the public to see that brands can be a force for good and can be generous.

It’s not just brands that need to be generous. Recently, I took part in the Business Innovation for Growth conference hosted by Creative Lancashire at Lancaster University. It was a vibrant, lively event where the dominant vibe seemed to be about what these individual businesses’ roles were in society. It got me thinking back to what a business conference might have been like in the 1980s when we started out. Discussions would have centered around maximising profits, margins and ROCE (Return on capital employed). The delegates would have largely consisted of men who really cared about what level of company car they were driving.

I am sure that there are business conferences out there where this is still the case but, by the very fact that that the bastion of the old order, The Institute of Directors, has lost a third of its membership since 2006 (including yours truly) is a sign of a new modern, generous and socially minded new business world order.

As a design agency we are reaping the benefits of being generous with clients and potential clients. Sharing our ideas, suggesting directions and possible initiatives before getting the job in writing used to scare us. We seem to be winning new clients quicker than ever by being open and opening a discourse prior to contract.

Those looking for work should also try the generosity route. At HemingwayDesign we get inundated with CV’s and pdf’s of the applicant’s body of work. But, when we get something in our inboxes or in the post that is clearly tailored towards our work, product design to compliment one of our ranges or is an idea that can be of benefit to one of our housing or regeneration projects then our eyes are often opened and our ears prick up. The newest recruit to the HemingwayDesign team has arrived by this very route.

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It’s now 13 years since I wrote that infamous article about mass housing in the Independent and coined the phrase “The Wimpeyfication and Barratification of Britain”. My tirade about how ill conceived some of Britain’s housing developments were taken up by Newsnight. My new found voice about urban design was given an airing and my views somewhat supported by Jeremy Paxman.

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Peter Johnson, the then Chairman of Wimpey Homes (now Taylor Wimpey) agreed with some of my comments and we ended up leading the vision on a 750 plus homes development on a long term unused brownfield site in Dunston, a largely unloved, but brilliantly located part of Gateshead.

In the 24 month design period before work started, and during land reclamation period, Gerardine and I immersed ourselves in urban design and toured the world looking at great and not so great examples. The inspiration we found in northern Europe and the Nordic countries, the urban designers Klas Tham (Western Harbour Malmo) and Jan Gehl (Copenhagen) we met, and the “human” developments like Vauban in Freiberg and Almere in the Netherlands that inspired us to put landscape, play and homezone streets ahead of architecture proved to be a stimulating education.

Our own experience of where we grew up in affordable housing in Lancashire and the experience of the team that was assembled to deliver the Staiths with us. Mark and Jane Massey from IDP, the Glen Kemp team (who had worked on Byker), Tanya Garland and the team from CoolBlue, Gordon Mungall from Arups, a Gateshead Council planning department who really showed a sense of ownership and a truly enlightened team from Wimpey North East, proved to be a “dream team”.

Those early years were full of debate and arguments over “secured by design”, “homezones”, communal barbeques, the table tennis tables in the streets, “shared pocket parks”, cycle routes and restrictions on car ownership. We really were questioning accepted practice and Gerardine and I were also being questioned by many architects and planners as to our suitability for the project. “Q…What could a couple of fashion designers know about housing ? A…We have bloomin’ well lived in them for 4 decades each and we care about the quality of life!”

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But we stuck to our guns and fought like we have fought so many times in the past. The Staiths South Bank got off to a great start; people queued to buy the first homes. The Arts Council came and researched the residents and produced the affirming “The Power of The Barbeque” showing how the generosity of the landscape was a key to the good feeling that the “pioneering” new residents were experiencing.

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The Staiths went on to win many awards, is visited by international groups and has continued to be in demand in terms of sales right the way through the housing downturn.

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We completed the design a couple of years ago now and are not on site that often. However at the end of April 2013 Gerardine and I were passing through Newcastle and popped in to the site. We left happy. To their credit Taylor Wimpey have kept up the standards set in phase 1.

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The Staiths is maturing wonderfully and judging by the amount of residents who came out to say how much they were enjoying living there and the emails that positive that keep coming in, the development is certainly a liveable one. 

Is this our greatest achievement in our 30 odd years as designers? It could just well be.

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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.

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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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Planning and planning permissions are important. Free for all’s have created problems in the past. But surely in the case of this story of a creative young couple Charlie Hague and Megan Williams being resourceful and in creating a cost effective sustainable and certainly not ugly home. Common sense must prevail and they be granted retrospective planning permission. Lets make our voices heard. We need more homes, we need more self builds, we need more young people being creative about homesteading, we need sustainable solutions.

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Fit Cities – March 2013

Last week I chaired a panel session at a conference organised by The Mayor’s Office. This from the Urbanista.org website kind of sums it up.

The event builds on the highly successful annual Fit City conferences held in New York staged by the Centre for Active Design, and look at the integration of urban design and health boosting activities in helping to prevent diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Speakers include James Corner, the landscape architect, founder of director of james corner field operations, on their design for the South Plaza of the Olympic Park, Bob Allies, Partner, Allies and Morrison, on the legacy masterplan, David Burney, Commissioner of the Department of Design and Construction, City of New York, Karen Lee, Centre for Active Design, New York, Kathryn Firth, Chief of Design, London Legacy Development Corporation, City of New York, and Russell Jones, Glasgow City Council, on the city’s forthcoming Commonwealth Games.

The event will feature talks about the plans being developed for the 2016 Rio Olympics from a health perspective and the Sochi Winter Olympics, and Canada’s design and health practices, culminating in a panel chaired by designer Wayne Hemingway with representatives from the NHS, Public Health England and the GLA.”

I’m someone who loves walking, running and cycling in cities. I am all up for initiatives that encourage our towns and cities to be more focused on walking and cycling. I also applaud the fact that the importance of green space in our cities is recognised.

There were many interesting things discussed; stairs were one discussion point and one thing that always gets my goat is buildings that make using the stairs so difficult. I much prefer using stairs and have lost count of the times that I have been in a hotel and wanted to use the stairs and either have not been able to find them or have found them and ended up only being able to reach the fire assembly point rather than the reception.

I am a regular visitor to The John Lewis HQ in Victoria and the queues for the lift can be frustrating, whilst the stairs are like a maze and only go to certain floors.

Why can’t stairs be a design feature, they can be beautiful!

Another was a talk about designing streets and encouraging land use that takes you on a voyage of discovery and encourages walking and cycling as a form of exploration. I’m all for that and all ties in with that High St / Town Centre debate that is raging right now.

To achieve fit and active cities we do have to see a major shift in public attitude. As long as the car lobby remains so strong and pedestrians and cyclists are seen as second class citizens then things won’t improve quick enough. Why can’t politicians say it like it is, those that use cars for unnecessary journeys in cities are the second class citizens being lazy, more likely to be overweight and unhealthy, and more likely to cost society more in terms of health costs (from damage to themselves and others) are environmentally unsustainable and selfish!

The ‘public attitude’ situation was best summed up by my experience getting to the conference at The Hackney Marshes Centre. Contrary to the advice in the ‘joining instructions’ from the Conference organisers (which was to take a taxi to the Fit Cities conference?), I traveled on the Central Line to Leyton and planned to walk from there. Looking at the maps on my phone, I guessed it was about a mile. I set off past Asda and wondered if I could walk through the Asda car park to cut a corner out. There was a policeman outside Asda, so just like my mum advised me to; I decided to ‘ask a policeman’. He asked me where I was heading for:

“Hackney Marshes Centre” I said.

“You can’t walk there” he replied.

“Why? “ I asked

“It’s a long long way” he said.

“It can’t be much more than a mile can it?” I asked.

“It depends how fast you walk” was his deadpan answer.

I walked at a medium pace, took in the sights of the Olympic Park. It was 1.3 miles and took me 19 minutes and 36 seconds.

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At HemingwayDesign we have a philosophy that ‘design is about improving things that matter in life’. This is pretty obviously the case when it comes to designing a housing development but we try and take this philosophy through to less obviously profound projects such as designing wallpaper. The fact that our wallpaper is manufactured in Blackburn (a town that needs all the employment opportunities it can get), with a manufacturer, Graham & Brown, who supports great causes in the town and understand the value of investment in sustainable practices is all part of the design process. Then we add the layers of working on colour and pattern that lift the spirit and have longevity in appeal. We take a forensic approach to many of our projects and don’t consider design any differently to science in terms of be painstaking in turning over every stone to achieve a result. More time is spent on design thinking than the actual drawing or artwork.

In 2005 Dr Hilary Cottom of the Design Council won the Designer of The Year Award and boy did it because a stir culminating in ‘shock horror’ here was a ‘public sector design reformer’ who didn’t sit all day drawing but rather sat thinking?

Dezeen reported “There is no Designer of the Year in its previous format”, said a Design Museum spokesperson. “The format is being rethought and developed at the moment, and we will relaunch later in 2007, but there will be no accompanying exhibition.”

Controversy dogged the award in 2005, when it was won by ‘public sector design reformer’ Hilary Cottam who developed innovative procurement methods for schools and prisons but who, by her own admission, was not a designer. The ensuing row is thought to have contributed to Rawsthorn’s departure from the museum in early 2006.

Just prior to this James Dyson had resigned from the board at The Design Museum telling the press that the museum was ‘no longer true to its original vision’.

What Dr Cottam and the Design Council were pioneering was ‘transformational design’. They were looking to address complicated problems in the health service and schools to determine how design thinking and design techniques could help government and public bodies. The belief was that you can design shorter waiting lists. I would argue that this is every bit as important as innovation in vacuum cleaner technology.
In interviews and when I do talks I often get asked what do I consider to be Gerardine and I’s greatest design. I always go back to a meeting in 2000 when we demonstrated how our philosophy to put the landscape thinking before the design of the housing on our first housing development. The Staiths, South Bank in Gateshead paid such dividends to the liveability of the project.

We drew on our own experience of an active outdoors childhood and the joy that we were having with our children through being fortunate enough 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”. To which I replied, “but that isn’t a problem as 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 and it was this use of common sense that allowed us to proceed with our vision of a housing estate led by ‘place’ and not architecture.

So it was heartening to read this weekend a couple of pieces discussing design maturely and delving into the science of design. The ‘Saving of Good Design’ piece in the International Edition of The New York Times (*1) included the following observations.

“A thoughtfully designed building, a well-engineered car or a beautifully decorated home can all stimulate the pleasure centres in our brains. We’re also drawn to certain colours and shapes, though for a long time we weren’t sure why. 

German researchers found last year that the colour green can motivate us and make us more creative. We associate verdant colours with food-bearing vegetation – hues that promise nourishment Windows that look out on landscapes facilitate patient recovery in hospitals, student learning in classrooms and worker productivity in offices. Another revelation scientists discovered is based on simple geometry, in the shape of a “golden rectangle.” Subtract a square from a golden rectangle, and what remains is another golden rectangle, and so on and so on. Some of the most beloved designs in history follow the golden rectangle’s 5-by-8 proportions: the facades of the Parthenon and Notre Dame, the face of the Mona Lisa, the Stradivarius violin and the original iPod.

Now we are closer to understanding why: a scientist at Duke University in North Carolina found that our eyes can scan an image fastest when its proportions mimic the golden rectangle.

There is also growing evidence that smart design can reduce aberrant behaviour. Psychiatric hospitals try to identify patients who may be aggressive and train staff to reduce violent incidents. But these approaches are not enough, as the number of aggressive events in care facilities appears to be increasing, Roger Ulrich, a professor of architecture in Sweden, reported in The Times. Research suggests that hospitals can be designed to reduce violence and these adaptations do not cost significantly more money.

A psychiatric hospital in Gothenburg that opened in 2006 incorporated spaces that minimize noise and crowding, shared rooms with movable seating to give patients control over their space, and offered more natural light. It reported significantly fewer aggressive incidents, Professor Ulrich reported. 

Evidence from myriad studies and design research strongly supports the notion that architectural design can reduce violence.”

He wrote an article in The Independent on the 24th March, ‘Shopping? It’s all in the gender’ (*2) which contained some real scientific and analytical design thinking.

“A ray of hope has broken through the pall hanging over the country’s high streets; with a leading retail academic believing she has the formula for success: the problem is men and the solution is women.

Gloria Moss, reader in management and marketing at Buckinghamshire New University, says that the answer is simple: women are responsible for 83 per cent of all shopping purchases, and high streets simply have to acknowledge this. Dr Moss, who has been researching gender habits for more than 18 years, says her work shows that many shops are designed by men who don’t give enough thought to women and ignore the fact that they hold the lion’s share of buying power. According to her research, women buy 93 per cent of all groceries, 92 per cent of the holidays and 96 per cent of beauty products. Perhaps surprisingly, she has found that women buy 60 per cent of all new cars and 55 per cent of home computers.

Mary Portas was brought in a little over a year ago to recommend solutions and she produced a longlist of 28,” Dr Moss said. “Not one of these refers to one of the most obvious facts about town shopping: the bulk of it is done by women.” Dr Moss adds that women’s shopping preferences are often poles apart from those of men, who tend to dictate retail and local and national government policy. Based on her data, she conducted experiments on how high-street shops could use this information to their advantage. “In experiment after experiment, my studies have shown that women prefer graphic online and retail interiors designed by women, with distinguishing features being the use of circular lines, colour, decorative surfaces and informality, while men prefer the spare, dark, straight-sided and modernist look.

Dr Moss believes many shops are designed by men and the interiors reflect male aesthetics. “In terms of the shops themselves, many retailers could benefit from an understanding of male and female design aesthetics. A new science uncovering major differences in male and female perception, hardwired since hunter-gatherer days, shows ‘he’ likes straight lines, few colours and little detail; and ‘she’ likes rounded shapes, lots of details and colours. If high-street shops can crack this one, they would have an enormous edge over anonymous out-of-town shops.”

Quite clearly this is not going to solve the problems that are dogging many British high streets; the problems go much deeper than that. In many ways Dr Moss’s arguments are about aesthetics and could possibly go further and investigate whether the differences between female and male sociability are being fully addressed in our high streets. But it does point to a forensic and analytical approach that designers can use to starting to address big issues and again, almost a decade on from Dr Hilary Cottom and The Design Councils approach to Healthcare and Schools design, in the case of Dr Moss, it’s not coming from a designer.

(*1) http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/sunday/2013-03/24/content_16340304.htm
(*2) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/shopping-its-all-in-the-gender-8547059.html

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“A two-day “festival of cycling” will be the first large-scale event to use the Olympic park when it reopens in 2013 after this year’s Games, the London mayor, Boris Johnson, announced on Thursday. The festival will culminate in a 100 mile race for amateurs and world class competitors starting at the Olympic Park that organisers say will be similar to the London Marathon – but for cyclists. Johnson said he wanted to create one of the world’s leading cycling events in the capital as part of the legacy of the Games.” – The Guardian

“Its going to be a fantastic feast of velocipedes. I have been conscripted for the 100 mile ride and I will perform. I will be a chiseled whippet by the end !” – Boris Johnson

As a patron of SUSTRANS, and someone who loves cycling in London, but who is peeved that London is still a country mile behind the likes of Copenhagen and Amsterdam in terms of cycling ease and safety. I hope this two day cycling extravaganza on the first weekend of August prompts more investment in enabling cycling to become easier and safer in the capitol. London has not been making fast enough progress for my liking.

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