No job too big…

In the latest of Channel 4’s Designs on Your… series, Matthew Valentine finds Richard Seymour and Dick Powell reinventing the most essential of objects.

The opening shots of Designs on Your Loo, the latest televisual outing for celebrity designers Richard Seymour and Dick Powell, show them suiting up, Formula One style, for a blast around London on their motorcycles.

This will comfort viewers from outside the industry by confirming the Ducati-riding stereotype of designers, as well as portraying the pair – now familiar to Guardian readers as “the two Dicks” – as likeable outsiders in the world of big business.

The show documents a not entirely successful project to develop a new loo suite for Shires Bathrooms, one of the top three manufacturers in the country. From the outset the designers are disappointed by the lack of client ambition, and the client disappointed by the designers’ efforts to move too far away from the norm. An all too familiar situation for designers.

Shires appointed the duo to facilitate a move up-market. The obvious gag – that its business will, by its nature, always be at the bottom-end of the market – is avoided. But there is plenty of scope for toilet humour, much of it centred around the remarkable toilet-culture in Japan. An accident of translation at one point leads Seymour to infer that 40 per cent of the Japanese population suffers from haemorrhoids.

The two Dicks are, of course, keen to take the project to its natural conclusion by creating a better lavatory. A “vestigial urinal” shape, to make the toilet better able to cope with poorly-aimed urination, a more efficient flush mechanism and non-stick materials form the core of their proposed improvements. And while Powell’s “non shit-stick” description is unlikely to be used in many marketing campaigns, it sums up their ideas.

The traditional toilet has apparently changed little in 200 years. It must have been one of the few household objects designed at that time which functions better for women than men. Seymour and Powell bravely try to explain why.

The duo calls on acknowledged expert Professor Alexander Kira for help. He has studied men’s toilet habits for 40 years, producing diagrams showing splashback patterns and the “modified squat posture”, which is not dissimilar to the one recommended during emergency aircraft landings. This aims to cope with the fact that men apparently sit further back on the loo to avoid their penis fouling the front of it, leading to the distinctive pebble-dash features of student toilets around the world. And all this time you thought it was just you.

The final design presented to Shires (shown below) is still obviously a toilet, although with a taller than average cistern. There would be no chance of mistaking it for a fridge, for example. But features such as the flushing lid proved too ambitious for the client, and were ditched in the production version. Some of the styling elements which were retained had to be fought for.

Seymour, in summing up the project, can barely conceal his disappointment. But then how often does anybody get the chance to design a throne for every home?

The last in the series, Designs on Your Car, will be on Channel 4 on Wednesday 8 July at 9pm.

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