After giving the nation’s TV viewers a completely unrepresentative vision of designers with hit programmes such as Changing Rooms, the BBC seems committed to making amends. The corporation is poised to release its second documentary series this year taking a realistic look at how designers go about their business.
Following on from Techno Designers (DW 15 January), Making It tracks young designers intent on leaving their mark on the design industry. The first programme follows a pair of students from the transport design course at Coventry University as they work through a placement at sports shoe manufacturer Reebok in the US.
Winners of a competition at the RSA Student Awards, the lucky duo benefit from a drive by Reebok to reinvigorate its products by bringing in expertise from alternative design disciplines. This admirable decision by Reebok is given considerable support and commitment – the students get genuine projects to work on, and the use of a flash Boston apartment.
The obvious irony here, that the extreme competition to land plum design jobs will be increased even more by the televising of such deliciously rare working conditions, is left unspoken.
The students, Dean Carbis and Toby Birkenhead, have a great time. They successfully apply their car design knowledge to the world of footwear, and get to watch football and motor racing as part of their working day. In true Brits abroad fashion they stagger to work with hangovers and still get the job done. The managers at Reebok are suitably impressed.
The programme follows not only the design process involved in creating a pair of shoes, but also looks at some of the research and the influences which steer the projects. Carbis and Birkenhead are shown hanging out with sports stars and visiting Fourth of July celebrations for inspiration, barely able to believe their good fortune.
Later shows in the series promise equally interesting tales. Viewers get to see what happens to London College of Fashion student Meg Andrew when she gains a placement at fashion chain Whistles. Her strong socialist principles (which must have made her previous job at the Ministry of Defence fun) could put her in a tricky spot when it comes to the commercial world of fashion retailing.
Sophie Dickinson from Epsom College works on film posters for Disney’s A Bug’s Life at Empire Design, and experiences the frustrations of working with senior executives from an international film studio.
And Habitat’s head of design Tom Dixon visits the New Designers exhibition in London. He chooses two Brighton University graduates to fulfil short-term contracts as junior designers. The lucky pair, Jacqui Caley and Rachel Roberts, soon discover that the pace of student life is rather slower than that of their new employer.
But the most representative episode promises to be the one which follows successful job applicants Darren Mullen and Matthew Plested to jobs at Aldershot consultancy Random Product Design. According to the BBC, the young designers are “shocked to find the company’s financial difficulties have become paramount and their future is in the balance”. It would seem that most designers can come up with a similar story about almost any consultancy they have worked for.
The final episode of the series even promises an “unexpected tirade” from Rodney Fitch, aimed at junior designer, and mother of five, Vivien Maxwell. On the basis that unexpected tirades are always entertaining when directed at somebody else, a number of his former staff are no doubt looking forward to seeing Fitch let off some steam. And it is only fair that viewers considering a design career get to see at least one creative outburst before they sign up for a course.