Designs on your…, featuring Seymour Powell, showed that designers could appear on television without the viewing populace shouting “wanker” at the screen and flicking to something more mainstream, like The Organic Gardening Show. Now TV has gone a stage farther and created a 15-part series on designers for the toughest audience of them all – school kids.
Techno Designers, on BBC2 weekdays at 9.25am, shows a whole range of designers at work on genuinely interesting stuff. The design industry couldn’t have created a better recruitment ad if it had tried. Come to think of it, if it had tried it would still be stuck on whether designers should be paid to pitch for an appearance.
So, it can happen. TV is not allergic to design after all. It’s just that it hates graphic design. The problem? What makes it graphic also makes it wrong for TV. On screen it is flat, still and detailed, which in televisual terms translates as viewing figures smaller than a Tottenham home crowd. Packaging design isn’t flat, of course, it’s just too boring for TV. Poor old graphics people; even airport baggage handlers get on-air now – when will their hour of fame come?
Perhaps the answer rests with the home design shows currently cheering up our screens. From Dream Homes to Home Front to Changing Rooms, the British public can’t get enough of them. I have to hold my hand up at this point and say that I know as much about home decoration as Vlad the Impaler knew about community policing. Yet it seems to my untutored eye that the designers in these programmes simply walk into a dull house with an armful of rubbish, spray paint it, plonk some aromatic candles in the bathroom and run away. Then, of course, there is the ludicrously-maned Lawrence on Changing Rooms, who does all the above, but acts as if he’s a contemporary Leonardo. No chance – Da Vinci’s stuff stays attached to the ceiling and walls when you slam the door.
Changing Rooms is clearly the pick of the Hell Deco bunch. It offers a strangely compelling formula whereby “friends” hand over their door keys to one another on the promise that they’ll return to find a home transformed into a palace of fine taste. The “friends” are given a designer to advise them and the assistance of Handy Andy, who, unlike other handy types, does a lot of hammering and doesn’t spend hours looking at the kettle and adding zeros to quotes. After all the shenanigans, the “friends” return to their refreshed home and either burst into a song of joy or try to control a facial tic.
Imagine then, if you will, Changing Identities, in which leading PLCs get to do a radical visual “makeover” of another PLC’s corporate ID. Watch in delight as Acme PLC has fun with years of heritage at Bass or BT.
“I say, could we use this old bit of type I found in the potting shed?”
“Absolutely, I’ll glue it over this background I’ve stippled with purple and gold paint from Do It All.”
Think of the unfolding drama as the new visual identifier and a suite of literature made from off-cuts of wallpaper is presented to the board. “We’ll sue!” they shout, laughing violently.
It would be delightful to see the formula applied to retail design, too. Perhaps Superdrug might like to spruce up Boots with a smattering of fake leopard skin and a glitter ball, while Boots could reciprocate with a candelabra made from old cutlery and three flying starfish on potato-printed walls.
Unfortunately, these programmes will never be made and graphic design will never be loved by TV. It is simply not wanted by a viewing public intent on a diet of poncified, cheapskate DIY. Blame Biddy Baxter, the creator of Blue Peter. Her generations of sticky-back plastic kids are obsessed with all this home decor stuff.
Blue Peter explains it all, in fact. While the fledgling graphic designers stuck to the annuals, cutting out pictures of Lesley Judd and Petra and gluing them down alongside columns of type from their John Bull printing set, everyone else was off making pen holders and turning their bedrooms into something from Tracey Island. From there a divide in understanding was driven between graphic designers and the public, a gap never to be bridged.
TV has now decided that design needs to be 3D, usable, movable, pornographic or buyable if it is to be given air time, so if you’re a designer and you want to be on prime time, master the spray can, create an excitingly functional object or do something ambitious with a scalpel and get on 999.