In a typically English way we all looked forward to the Olympics with gloom and foreboding. The logo was ugly, the sponsorship was overbearing, and turning half of London’s road into ZiL lanes was an insult to us locals trying to go about our business. But in the event, to borrow a weather forecaster’s phrase, it all turned out fine. Pessimism beforehand was translated into excitement during, to be followed, it seems, by lingering pride after.
Tag Archives: ROGER MAVITY
In last Friday’s Times, Harry Mount penned a piece about the Modernism that is beginning to infuse rural architecture.
Typically, the countryside has been architecturally staid, with new properties cleaving firmly to the styles of old: thatched cottages, brick piles and Tudor mansions. But this is beginning to change.
We live in a risk-averse world. As time rolls belligerently onwards, less and less of the things we do and the decisions we make are risky. Playgrounds are safer; we have health insurance and smoke alarms.
This is mostly good news – where we sacrifice nothing, reducing risk is common sense. For example, few would argue that the addition of airbags and crumple zones to our cars has been a bad thing.
But risk has benefits, too. Doesn’t dating lose a frisson of excitement if we have found out everything there is to know about our date online beforehand? Would skydiving hold the same appeal if the sport wasn’t inherently dangerous? From marriage proposals to angel investments, the riskiest decisions are often the the most lucrative. They are also often the ones that change the world.
Over the years, companies have spent more and more money on market research, the so-called science of probing the hopes and dreams of the consumer through polling, panelling and psychological profiling. Their objective is the reduction of risk.
No doubt, the techniques have become more subtle over the years, but the success of market research – or ‘consumer insight’, as it is now more sexily known – is at best sporadic. A quote attributed probably apocryphally to Henry Ford illustrates the problem:
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
The point is this: consumer behaviour tomorrow cannot necessarily be inferred from consumer behaviour today, because people don’t know what they want.
Roger Mavity, CEO, Conran
At Conran, we think there are serious limits to what market research can do. In fact, to designers, market research present its own kind of risk, because the work of a committee seldom has the spark of the work of an individual. The product that is rigorously research-tested may well end up inoffensive to everyone, and brilliant to none.
Our CEO, Roger Mavity, spoke on this very topic at the Cheltenham Design Festival last month. Taking to the stage with Stephen Bayley, co-author of his bestselling book Life’s a Pitch, Roger gave a passionate defence of risk.
As John Steinbeck put it, “the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world”.
So it’s Milan Design Week, the time of year when the more fortunate souls in the design industry jet off to sip Prosecco, wear outsize sunglasses and generally lark about in the sunshine (we can only assume).
Those of us left in London are rattling round with faces black as thunder, drenched to our skins, wincing every time we check Twitter. Ho hum. We’ll have a report from the lucky Conranners in Milan next week.
In the meantime, we shouldn’t be too downhearted, for the last laugh is ours: the inaugural Cheltenham Design Festival kicks off tomorrow, promising all the style – if not the weather – of Milan. There will be talks from industry luminaries, from advertising legend Sir John Hegarty to master graphic design Stefan Sagermeister.
Conran has a showing, too: our CEO, Roger Mavity, will be on stage on Saturday with design critic Stephen Bayley, talking about the art of pitching ideas. You can book tickets here.
We look forward to seeing you there.
Forget newcomers like laptops and smartphones, the technology which has dominated life on this planet for the last 100 years is the motor car. It may have been huge shifts in politics and prosperity that made the 20th century the age of the common man; but it was the car that brought that idea to life. It was not so much the car itself that was life-changing, but the freedom it bestowed. Suddenly travel was a personal pleasure not a public burden, with the timetable and the route controlled by you, not the railway company.
But the car was much more than a better means of transport, it was a means of self-expression. The car captured the spirit of the age: the fins of a post-war Cadillac carried signals of confidence and glamour as surely as the classless insouciance of the first Mini announced a cheekier and more democratic spirit in the ‘60s. Above all the car came to symbolise an extraordinary triangulation between power, romance and personal control. You were in charge; you could unleash those horsepower on the open road; and you decided where you wanted to go.
Car-makers were quick to capitalise on this. Jaguar gave you ‘Grace, Space, Pace’, while BMW was ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’. Both these brands skilfully designed the cockpit with a plethora of crisp round dials to make you feel as if you were landing Concorde. Why do you need a rev counter on an automatic car? To make you feel better, that’s why, to make you feel in control.
Every car commercial seemed to be shot at dusk in some remote and glorious part of the Scottish Highlands. In our lives we go to Tesco, but in our dreams we go to Cape Wrath.
The design and the marketing of the modern car has deliberately played to our deepest fantasies of power and control. But that is suddenly seeming much less relevant. Of course, there’s always a gap between fantasy and reality; and if that gap is as wide as the Thames, you might get away with it. But when the gap seems as wide as the Atlantic Ocean, the fantasy starts to implode. In today’s reality, we have speed limits, speed bumps, speed cameras, parking fines, congestion charging, exponential leaps in fuel prices, and – above all – far more cars. Which means far more traffic. I drive a Mini Cooper S, a car which symbolises performance as well as practicality. With its turbo-charged engine it’s capable of 140 mph: yet most of my driving hours are spent in London traffic where I’m pleased to be doing 20 mph.
How can the car-makers of today cope with this? If their designers and marketeers turn their back on the romance of the car, they put their magic ingredient at risk. Yet somehow that romance has to be re-articulated in a language that makes sense in today’s over-crowded over-regulated world.
Those lovely, old commercials in the isolation of the Scottish Highlands just don’t wash any more. The new generation of car commercials, showing a car practically leap-frogging through an urban world, is equally implausible. I think the answer is to think of the car less as transport, more as cocoon. Being in your car is being in your own private world, and that can be a pleasure in itself. If you tell me my journey is going to be quick and traffic-free, I simply won’t believe you. But if you tell me my journey, however irksome, will be made a joy by the elegant design of my cocoon, with its luxurious leather seats, its hands-free phone, its i-pod ready stereo, then I might start to believe you.
Of course, that idea needs to be developed beyond doing the existing stuff well to doing something quite new in my cocoon. But it is the right direction. How else can you explain the success of the SUV? We all know that off-roaders never go off road, and the only range which Range Rovers rove upon is the run from home to the nearest private school. But these behemoths are the ultimate cocoon. They are, literally, above the traffic. Their hugeness emphasises the isolation of the occupants from the stressful world outside. Of course, their cumbrous nature makes them much less fun to drive than my Mini-Cooper, but since we’re both in a queue at 20 mph, that doesn’t matter.
Driving today is much less about the pleasure of speed and much more about the pleasure of seclusion. Car-makers and their designers need to recognize that: their customers already know.
Roger Mavity, CEO, The Conran Group
A couple of weeks ago we mentionned the talk our CEO Roger Mavity did on the changing face of the London skyline and the importance of keeping what is good as opposed to what is simply just old.
It’s certainly got people talking. One of the most interesting comments from a member of staff here was that ‘Paris lives in The Past, New York in The Present and London in The Future’ – this came from someone who has lived in all three so we think that’s probably qualification enough for such an intriguing statement.
A very interesting topic I’m sure you’ll agree, watch this space for more opinion and debate…
Should we keep every old building just because it’s old – or should we concentrate more on the distinction between good and bad rather than ancient/modern?
Do we in Britain take enough risks when it comes to new Architecture?
These are just some of the questions our CEO Roger Mavity raised in a talk last week, organised by the London Chamber of Commerce, loosely based on the London skyline which appropriately took place right at the top of one of London’s most iconic landmarks – Tower Bridge, just around the corner from Conran HQ.
Click here to see a bite-size version of his talk.
Afterwards, Q&As from the floor raised some very interesting questions surrounding the legacy of the Olympic buildings, Supermarket design and whether our planning regulations help or hinder progress.
If you’d like to hear more about these the full talk and Q&As will be up here on youtube shortly.
Certainly food for thought.
Click back for more opinion on this point.
What do you think?