OUT OF HIS HABITAT
Stephen Bayley admits that he is ‘embarrassingly ignorant about the
British Isles’ and this is only his second visit to Edinburgh. No good then talking
to him about Scottish design— good or bad — although there are two answers, ‘both entirely contradictory’. ‘One is that design is quite international and global, transcending all boundaries. The second is that there should be
Scottish design and all sorts ol regional
design because in the luture new markets are going to open up and exploit national and regional characteristics.’
Bayley is the Director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum’s Boilerhouse Proiect, a kind at industrial design showplace set up by The Conran Foundation. Bayley was in Scotland because his publishers wished him to publicize his new book— The Conran Directory at Design. Travel has ceased to be a pleasure; ‘I once taught at university: I thought that was so dull lwent on all the British Council trips. (I once gave a talk on the Albert Memorial in Bucharest.) I used to love the idea ot a strange new airport but then I started asking the existentialist question “Why am I here” and when I couldn’t answer that I stopped travelling’.
Bayley had already told me ot the nightmare trip to Helsinki as a guest at the Finnish Ministry oi Culture. ‘Alter a pretty dreadlul day at having to watch lolk weaving and a trip to the National Museum ot Printed Crafts and having to be polite over lunch,’ Bayley was treated to an evening at avant garde opera sung in Finnish which lasted tour hours. ‘I was honestly longing tor death to overtake me, it would have been a mercilul release.’
Bayley is a man at passions. His passion tor cars is legendary and the new Design Directory is so lull of them that you could almost be lorgiven tor believing that design was invented along with the automobile. The Boilerhouse, which currently has on an exhibition entitled ‘The Car: delending it against its worshippers’, is tor Bayley
the summation ‘lor good or bad of the way I like things to be’. To an extent he agrees it is the same with the book. ‘It is a number at conllicting things. We wanted to write THE book about design —to cover it all — but we also wanted to make it opinionated. ldon’t know what good design is, but there are one or two dltlerent things going on here, there is "design" and there is “taste”. lthink design can be scientilically measured —whether it is atlordable, durable, works well and the manutacturer can tell you it it is selling well at a prolit. All these are measurable and that's
design, good or bad. Whether you like it or not, whether it sends all signals which concur with your aspirations, that’s a matter oltaste, and taste is socially and culturally conditioned. The subject at whim. That’s why I say I don‘t know what good design is.’ What then, is a classic design? ‘I simply don’t know, but it’s something i lind impulsively interesting. There are some shapes tor objects that seem to be completely outside at time, like the Dreytuss telephone. Look at this horrible thing here (the attack on the modern phone next to him is later
extended to the whole hotel bedroom). No one has ever designed a better telephone than Henry Dreytuss’ 1930s phone; no one has ever designed a better wrist watch than the Rolex. Why, I honestly don’t know. I could give you all sorts ot halt-baked spurious quasi-intellectual justitications about it having something to do with maturity at the technology. but I don’t know. No one has ever designed a bettertood mixerthan Dieter Rams (Braun)’. Bayley’s untashionably optimistic about the luture and about the luture ot design— ‘I love the idea at variety and
change, ot people having their whims
satistied. I love the idea at a designer or retailer or anybody involved in
making things being constantly caught
in a helix ol invention.’ So saying, we parted, though not betore he had
discovered the location at a tartan gift
shop- he was oil to buy a tam o’shanter, to satisfy the whim ot his son.
The Conran Directory at Design, edited by Stephen Bayley is published by Octopus Conran at £16.95.
The List 15—28 November 47