For all Trevor Baylis’s good work with TKO, there’s a huge difference between an inventor and a designer (see feature, page 10). While the inventor invariably toils in isolation – as Michael Evamy has him (and it’s probably a him), a romantic figure operating Heath Robinson-style from the garden shed – the designer is more likely to work to a brief with very real commercial constraints laid down by the client. There’s tremendous scope for invention in design, but very few designers stray far enough across the boundary to merit the title “inventor”.
There’s room for both species, and, fortunately for us, the UK has a reputation for spawning both. But when they collaborate, great things happen – as the Baygen clockwork radio shows, although ironically Baylis’s magnum opus looks set to become a design icon outside South Africa, whose plight prompted its invention.
Invention played a bigger part in design earlier this century, only we didn’t refer much to invention or design then. This was good old research and development, and any industry worth its salt invested in it. Individual manufacturers were hot on it, as were dedicated research bodies attached to the various sectors.
The time of in-house “boffins” is largely passed, superseded in the more forward-thinking businesses by a brigade of design managers whose task it is to police company standards for design and get the best out of external consultants. But in the process, industry’s culture has become more about enhanced performance through design – the message the Design Council pushes – than about genuine blue skies exploration.
We’re told the performance message is starting to get across to business at long last. If design has one toe in industry’s door, then surely we should now hit the boardrooms of Britain with the bigger one: design brings rewards, but investment in research, or the snappier-titled new-product development, pays even higher dividends. Let’s aim to foster a culture that constantly asks “What if?”