Revolutionary Measures

Marrying innovation and design

In the past design has often been the poor relation when companies are creating innovative new products. At best it has been something that is done at the last minute and treated as packaging, and at worst seen as unimportant. After all the product is so amazing it doesn’t matter what it looks like or if the build quality is poor – people will buy it anyway.

I’ve seen this attitude a lot in Cambridge, which makes this month’s Design Icons exhibition an extremely welcome demonstration of the power of good product design in the city. Held at the Ruskin Gallery, Anglia Ruskin University until February 23rd it showcases 20 key products that have been designed in the area. Ranging from obvious high tech examples such as the Sinclair ZX Spectrum computer to much more consumer focused products from international companies, including the Evian action water bottle and Sureflap catflap they show how intelligent product design can help differentiate innovative products in the market.

I’ll leave it to others to work out if they all deserve to be called icons, but what struck me is how these designs had stood the test of time.

Sinclair Sovereign Calculator

Take the gold Sinclair calculator or Lecson amplifier. Despite being designed nearly 40 years ago, with minimal reworking they would still cause a stir now. Paint the Lecson white and replace the dials with a screen and you’ve got an Apple amplifier.

Obviously the exhibition and surrounding events have got a serious purpose – to show what Cambridge design can do for products of all types and to encourage companies in Cambridge and beyond to embrace good product design. The aim should be to continue this education, so it would be good to see ways of keeping momentum going beyond the timescale of the exhibition. At the very least creating guides to how product design can deliver benefits, how to work with designers and when to involve them would provide a starting point for companies, particularly those that haven’t used product designers before.

To find out more on the exhibition go to and pop along to Anglia Ruskin to see the products for yourself.

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February 13, 2012 Posted by | Cambridge, Creative | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leading from the Front

The west end of King's College Chapel seen fro...

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When people think of Cambridge the things that tend to come to mind are the university, technology hub and biotech/healthcare industries. But it is also one of the UK’s creative hotspots, with the creative industries employing 12,000 staff across Cambridgeshire and contributing £1 billion to the local economy. 24 per cent of the UK’s game developers work in the county, which was news to me.

While we creatives have been talking to each other (through initiatives such as the excellent CamCreative) clearly the creative industries have been hiding their collective light under a bushel.

Hence the formation of Creative Front, an Anglia Ruskin University-led initiative designed to be an umbrella for creativity in the county. Perhaps symptomatic of the fragmentation in the sector, it has taken four years to get off the ground, and has just about launched its website. This aims to be a one stop shop for those looking to buy creative services or network with colleagues, get training or mentoring and advertise jobs etc.

Having heard Caroline Hyde from Creative Front talk I can see in principle that it’s a much-needed idea. But I do worry that it’s taken four years to get to an average looking website and there don’t seem to be clear plans for building thought leadership (and business opportunities) for Cambridge creatives nationally and internationally. Asking the 12,000 creatives what they want is going to get you a similar number of radically different answers. In a city crammed full of networking organisations and hubs Creative Front is going to have to differentiate itself and deliver value quickly if it is to achieve its laudable aims.


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April 1, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment