Broadcast views

If the theory that interests formed in our youth are often the strongest holds water, an educational initiative launched last week by the BBC could do much to recruit the next generation of designers.

Techno Designers, a series of 15 short films, is aimed squarely at the schools market. From the timing of its broadcast (9.25am) to its content, the programme acts as a school-age beginners’ guide to design. But that doesn’t mean it won’t hold lessons for seasoned designers, too.

According to the BBC, the programme features leading young designers, who are followed through projects from start to finish. While the term “young” may at times be stretched, there is an impressive array of design disciplines on show.

In the first five programmes viewers follow talents as diverse as ceramics designer Caterina Fadda, clock designer Marianne Forrest, product designer Anna Albright and her company Wireworks, fashion designer Julie McDonagh – who creates her trendsetting items from old tyres – and textile designer Isabel Dodd. Plus furniture designer Matthew Hilton – who reveals a new mass-production plastic chair for German group Authentics – product innovation group Jam, and interactive design consultancy Antirom.

The designers describe what they are trying to achieve, and why decisions are taken, as work progresses. Their enthusiasm for design is invariably convincing, and will no doubt be doubly so for school-age viewers making early career decisions.

School-age humour will also be served. Textile designer Dodd creates weird and wonderful materials with the use of rubber. Her deadpan explanation of why – “I had messed around with rubber a little bit at college,” -will have schoolboys across the nation snorting into their blazers. Her later advice – “I get the best results when the rubber is as hard as possible,” – might have them squirming like Harry Enfield’s TV teenager.

But the programmes are serious, and for designers confined to a single discipline they could provide an interesting snapshot of what their con- temporaries are doing.

The programmes also show just how influential design is in the modern world, and how wide its scope is. The systems used to keep Birmingham’s innovative number 33 bus route running are given as much attention as Hilton’s chairs, Antirom’s interactive window displays for Virgin, or Jam’s furniture made of old washing machine cylinders.

Interviews with the passengers and drivers on the route illustrate just how effective design can be. A system developed by bus operator Centro makes traffic lights turn green as buses approach, and accurate on-shelter signs show when the next bus is due. Together with other improvements these changes have increased passenger numbers by 25 per cent in 18 months. Some of the travellers won’t use any other bus routes in Birmingham, which must limit their social lives but shows commendable commitment to the use of good design.

And it just goes to prove that if a programme on design can actually make bus timetables interesting it must be doing its job.

Techno Designers is being shown on BBC2 every Tuesday at 9.25am and started this week

Latest articles