Environment: be inspired by all that surrounds you

It’s not often that I read a magazine and find a series of articles that stimulate me and make me think. However, your recent edition (DW 30 January) was a case in point.

Clive Grinyer’s parting shot (Private View, page 10) was a good upbeat message and as always he hit the nail on the head. We do produce great designers across all disciplines; it is the transference of these skills into the real world that we lack. Are we a nation of dreamers rather than of doers, or is it more fundamental in that we lack visual and technical coherence?

Nowhere is this more noticeable than in our surrounding environment where the sort of tricks and bodges achieved with MDF on makeover television shows are written large. This lack of integration and communication of quality surrounds us and is repeated on building sites nationwide.

The same note is sounded in Client Profile (page 13). We talk endlessly about tone of voice in relation to branding, but have a poor understanding of visual tone in our environment.

While Helen Robinson is eminently qualified for the gargantuan challenge she faces, I found her comments about design integration and commonality succinct, but did wonder about her comments regarding London Underground ‘back then (1986) things weren’t integrated’. Does she imply that they are integrated today?

Any trip on either of our great (sic) transport systems, rail or Tube, displays a visual mess such that it feels like you are walking via a deserted building site. Layers of accretion of materials, half implemented design ideas and visual (dis)information create an environment that does little to enhance the customer experience and even less to display any design culture.

We meet the same questions in the article about the Laban Dance Centre in London’s Deptford (page 36), again we look to our European counterparts to produce a landmark building of visual quality and cultural excitement.

This is undeniably a great boost for Deptford and another example of the strength of the ‘Creative Lewisham’ initiative, but doesn’t it run the risk of becoming another ‘spaceship landed’ with little relation to its environment?

Increasingly, we live in a world of high visual (over)stimulation where myriad brands, signs and visual information vie for our attention, yet we seem to accept that the result of this is confusion. Examples such as Exchange Square in Manchester and Tate Modern (with Millennium Bridge) in London show that visually cohesive environments do not have to be homogenous and sterile, but should celebrate diversity.

We need more of these examples if we are to achieve Grinyer’s laudable aim of ‘getting design out of the spotlight and under the skin of Britain’ and to be able to communicate with confidence that we are truly a nation of designers.

Stephen Anderson

Associate director


London W1

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