US My Flag


'She's got clean lines' is the kind of remark a salt crusted sailor might make about a beautiful traditional sailing yacht.  The curves of the hull naturally reflect the flow of the water, imitating sail and wind.  As the eye moves around the form, each outline curve moves seamlessly into the next; there are no awkward bumps or transitions, there are no square corners, from any angle.

Is there such a thing as an ugly traditional watercraft?  I think not.  Why not?  Not only why are they all beautiful, but why does that beauty transcend all the cultural differences around the world, and become universal?   But is it only us westerners who tack on the appendage of beauty, when to the indigenous cultures who make them they are the only obvious seaworthy vessel they could make?  What are the implications for our current concept of beauty and aesthetics, and the way we design today?

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The first of a selection of extracts from David's book 'So Far'.  It is one of the break-out boxes from throughout the book where David isolates various aspects of his design philosophy.

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Design for All

Designers have become severely compromised by consumerism – how can we become socially responsible and relevant again?

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A Reward for Solitude

At the end of a long hard climb out of the canyon I came to Camp 2. I filled my canteen from the tiny trickle of a spring, drank long and hard, then sat down and waited. There was no-one there yet but I was not prepared to share the isolation with anyone that intruded. After two hours the silence was suddenly shattered by a holler, “REJOICE! CAMP 2, DUDE!” In booming voices that proclaimed their presence far and wide the two young guys dismissed the spring as a stagnant puddle. One complained about "the state of my dick" while taking a piss. Time to move on.

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Recently I designed a staircase for our new showroom, which called for random lengths of wood. This posed a problem for the joiner: how do you 'do random'? Actually, I had hoped that we could access a source of waste off-cuts, because the stairs are made from short pieces. But our timber trade is too efficient, so he had to purchase new lengths and cut them. Hence the problem.

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After I left university, and the rarified air of academia, I threw myself into the heavily physical world of rebuilding an old house. One of the first skills I learnt was working with stone, initially with mortar, but later the much more satisfying art of dry-stone-walling (without mortar). For a bit of cash I would repair tumbled stone walls, or 'dykes', as the Northumberland farmers called them. On one side is a formless and random mass of rocks, as they would have emerged from the earth. On the other side is a gaping hole in the dyke. By the end the scattered rubble has gone and all the stones are neatly fitted into a tight and incredibly strong structure, the agrarian delineation of the dyke restored.

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Travelling Home

A selection of sketch pages from my Moleskin whilst travelling home from the 2011 Milan Furniture Fair. Click the image to start my journey.

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The Master and his Emissary

This is the title of a remarkable book by Ian McGilchrist that I am reading at present. Even before I finish it I can't recommend it too strongly to anyone who is interested in our behaviour and our culture. In essence, it explains the asymmetry in our brains and how this not only affects us individually, but also how it has guided the history of human development. The author is a neuropsychologist who also happens to have taught English at Oxford University. So his thoughts are based on extensive scientific research into how our brains function. But his achievement is to fill the gap that exists between recent understanding of how this amazing organ operates and ways of thinking both now and in our past about the different sides of our nature, sometimes referred to as the rational and the romantic.

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Design Resources misdirected?

I was recently talking to a designer who works for a top car company, and he revealed that he has just spent four years working on the steering wheel design for a new model. FOUR YEARS! I can't possibly imagine how one person can fill that many working days on just one object. what about all the other designers working there? How many are there for the whole car? How long will one of them spend on the rear light cover, or even the coat hanger hook??What really disturbs me though is how this obsessive search for perfection reflects the values of our society.How can the creative value of this design resource be so squandered when there are so many infinitely more pressing problems that need solving? Millions, even billions, of people on this planet are starving, malnourished or without proper basic facilities such as shelter or running water.

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Breaking free

It is spring in New Zealand and the beautiful yellow kowhai flowers have bloomed and fallen. I recently watched the documentary 'Man On Wire' about the tight-rope walker, Philippe Petite, balancing between the twin towers in New York. The film and the stunt are truly amazing and inspiring. I had the same emotional reaction as I get when watching surfers ride giant waves, or extreme mountain skiers dodging avalanches, seeing a tiny, insignificant but indomitable figure braving to go so far with such spirit, and taking just a little bit of us with him. It is not just sport, it is a powerful theatrical performance and we are the richer for it.

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