Visiting the Heatherwick Studio exhibition at the V&A

The OpenIDEO web start-up challenge winners had a London meet up at the V&A museum last weekend for a curated tour of the Heatherwick Studio exhition. We were very lucky to be accompanied by Stefan Ritter, Designer at Heatherwick Studios who took us round his favourite pieces in the exhibition.

V&A exhibition web page

The exhibition contains just one room of artifacts but you could spend hours in there looking at the vast variety of designs. From bridges to handbags to Christmas cards and benches – the exhibition is very inspiring and shows how the studio are experimental and innovative with a range of materials.

The start of the exhibition is where you collect your guide – but not just any old guide – the studio wanted to visually show how much paper is often used for producing show guides.  Here they had 1 tonne of paper stacked up in different diameter rolls to look like pottery on a wheel. The visitor can winde a handle to release the paper strip, then rip it off at the correct point.

Exhibition guide installation

The playfullness of ‘creating’ your own guide is a great way for visitors to interact with the paper they are using. Should you take a guide at all and save on paper or should you take the guide with you with the understanding of how much paper you have taken?

Exhibition guideI thought it interesting to see how visitors then held their guide. Some rolled it up, others folded it neatly and some looped the paper to keep it uncreased.

Exhibition Guide open

The Extruded Bench
The first piece we visited was the extruded bench. Inspired by iBeam contruction, the designer wanted to celebrate the normally discarded end piece of material. When an iBeam is extruded through a tool, the end is irregular and distorted and therefore cut off. A tool was made by the studio and the aluminium pressed through. The result, a beautiful piece of art which creates a bench to be sat on. One end is clearly a highly polished bench while the edges of the end create an interesting, unusual, unpolished shape.

tool and bench drawing

The bench is therefore one piece of solid aluminium. The explanation of the piece said ‘we were interested in consorted forms that emerge as metal is squeezed through a die’ – exquisite!

extruded bench from Heatherwick website

The Rolling Bridge
The next piece we visited was the rolling bridge. It isn’t uncommon to see a bridge that opens up to allow traffic through but this design made a real feature of the folding mechanism. As the bridge lifts up, it rolls back on itself to finally end in a confined octagon. Apparently the rolling bridge can be seen in Canary Wharf…

rolling bridge

The London Bus
I hadn’t appreciated that Heatherwick Studio had designed the new London Route Master bus. It was great to see a cross section on the vehicle and understand about the inspiration for the design.

London Bus from Heatherwick websiteThe studio worked with bus drivers to discover what design changes would make the bus more appealing to them to drive and even had an enthusiastic driver in their studio throughout the process.  Apparently it is important for bus drivers to be able to see children and people misbehaving on the bus, therefore the curvature of the interior was designed accordingly.

Passenger flow and air flow were also very important to consider when designing the new bus.

Route Master

Aberystwyth Artists Studios
Heatherwick designed a low cost set of artists studios in Aberystwyth, Wales. A really unusual set of buildings with an intriguing shape made out of crinkled aluminium. The structures are made out of a wooden structure with insultation foam covered by aluminium. The jig that was designed to crinkle the aluminium (to give the material strength) was fascinating. Each piece needed to be pushed through the teeth on the jig to create the unusual shape.

Aberystwyth artist studios from Heatherwick website

Floor tiles
I really liked the floor tiles that Heatherwick had designed for a shopping centre in Hong Kong. The design aimed to allow light to pass through the floors but had to be suitable for people to walk across in a busy environment.

Each tile contains 50 sheets of glass (for health and safety regulations) and a top layer with a non-slip surface on it. The designers used the layered glass and non-slip surface as a feature to create a very eye catching pattern through out the tile.

floor tile

The Science Museum Material House
Material libraries can be a huge database of materials to search through and it can be hard to display materials effectively. The Science Museum commissioned Heatherwick to find an innovative way to display their materials and the result is fantastic.

The Material House layers the materials into a scultpure with each access to the different pieces.

Materials House from the Science Museum website

‘Although the sculpture bears no resemblance to a conventional house, it playfully invites the viewer to reflect on how these materials are used in everyday life, suggesting there are no boundaries to the versatility of materials. The vibrantly coloured curving layers of Materials House give a feast for the eye, hand and imagination.’ Science Museum website

Seed Cathedral
The last piece to feature from the exhibition (but definitely not the last at the exhibition!) was the Seed Cathedral, designed by a nine member conglomeration of British business and government resources directed by designer Thomas Heatherwick. It referenced the race to save seeds from round the world in banks, and housed 60,000 plant seeds at the end of acrylic rods, held in place by geometrically-cut holes with the rods inserted therein. WikiPedia

Seed Cathedral from the Heatherwick website

Each acrylic rod was held in a wood structure with a transparent end to allow light in and a seed holder at the other to show case seeds from around the world.

The exhibition is on until 30th September and I highly recommend a visit. A good hour will allow you to look at each piece on display but a couple of hours will allow you to properly absorb the beautiful pieces on show. The prototypes and models that accompany each piece really interested me. A finished product is always good to see but understanding the idea behind the product and seeing how it has developed from a concept really fascinates me.

I was unfamiliar with Heatherwick Studio work before I attended the exhibition – now I’m very impressed with the innovative use of materials, pushing of design boundaries and imagination that has gone into each project.

Group photo outside the exhibiton

From Ohio to Europe…part 2!

For those of you that enjoyed reading James Moyer’s experience of traveling to Europe for the first time, I’ve just received the second installment.

James Moyer’s travels so far….
Here I sit for a few hours without internet in Brussels’ Chareleroi airport, which does King Charles proud, except for the fact that Ryanair almost exclusively serves it. At any rate, I found a 1 cent Euro coin which until this point I didn’ t know existed. It’s sitting on my luggage boring me with its sultry temptations of .013 USD. Do I keep the euro cent? I don’t think any machine uses it. Do I give it away to someone? Not if I uphold some sense of dignity for people in general.

I’ll put it back on the floor for someone else to struggle with this conundrum.

The fact that I am internetless does bring up the (slightly expected) reality that Europeans don’t like to give internet away for free. Even in the supposedly four star hotel which the European Union taxpayer had me sleep in, internet was not free, and I had to sign up for some type of rancid marketing scheme to get it for a couple of days. I am stuck in this airport now and they want €20 for internet. Why do Europeans insist on keeping me from my facebook? Those likes don’t just like themselves.

On the topic of this airport and dignity, the bathrooms have condom machines. Under what circumstance will those condoms be used, and is that something I needed to have paid in advance on the Ryanair website?

*The stereotype of Holland has this cute little windmills. They actually exist.

*The up-down wailing tone of the European emergency vehicle siren…also exists.

*I feel we Americans buy a lot more Chinese stuff than Europeans do. I don’t know if that is an advantage to anyone in particular, but I note this because I saw this cheap plastic game in the gas station (my first gas station in Europe!) that was made in China and I thought that was remarkable in some way. I remember looking at the blanket I was provided in the hostel and was fascinated that it was made in Holland. We’d just get cheap shit like that from China.

Speaking of the hostel, they didn’t provide towels. They wanted to charge me €4.50 for a towel and there is no way that I am paying that type of money for a non-Chinese towel.

I used the bed sheet instead.

It dried off by the time I needed to sleep.

Kind of.

*French women (err, Wallonian women) eat in this really unappetizing way. Like they move their mouths more vigorously. I just don’t like it. Bridgette Bardot certainly wasn’t in a film eating, it would have shattered her career.

*Returning to the topic of bathrooms, American bathrooms notoriously have dividers between toilet stalls which are incomplete–you can see below and above them. European bathrooms actually have full doors and walls–creating a little private closet: a piss-smelling ceramic haven from the busy world.

After almost no consideration at all, I have concluded that I prefer the American style partitions because the European ones, while nice in theory, are clausterphobic in practice. I just don’t want to be alone with a toilet.

This does mean that I am selecting the more invasive separators, which allow someone whose eyes are naturally 8 inches off the ground to spy what type of underwear you might be wearing. I’m not making fun of the panty-shy, this is a thought I’ve had before and have strenuously mitigated during my unplanned encounters with these partitions.

*The piss smell in European bathroom cleaners? It smells like an outhouse to me. That’s my description of it. I’m now on the lookout for what the magical ingredient is that causes this smell. Will it be eau de outhouse? Perhaps in Germany it will be smellenaufhausen.

My main take away from these insights is the fact that it’s common to see hotels charge for added extras these days. It’s an interesting annoyance that I also find (not that I stay in hotels often) – you expect a level of service in a hotel and when ‘new’ charges are introduced, it quickly cheapens the whole experience. That being said, charging for breakfast, the internet, tea/coffee etc are easy ways to make extra money or are they ways of reducing the intial cost to encourage more people to stay in them?  The Tune Hotel chain are doing exactly that – removing everything apart from the bed and shower to keep costs low to make the hotel affordable.

‘TED+’ becomes ‘My Fail Tale’ – thanks to attending the Digital Agenda Assembly

OpenIDEO set social challenges and put call outs for people to design solutions, better together. I’ve been involved in a number of the challenges over the last couple of years and each time find myself becoming more and more involved.


People are often intrigued as to why I choose to volunteer my time to contribute. That’s easy to answer; as a design interested in design for social good, it ticks all the boxes; I know I’m helping develop ideas to help others and help huge social issues, I get to meet designers and creatives from all over the world (albeit virtually) and I learn a huge amount. Other people’s point of view, suggestions, ideas and help is invaluable for developing myself in the world of social design.

The web start-up challenge interested me as I’ve increasingly found myself involved in web start-ups. The web opens up the potential of innovation, it is continuing to grow and more and more opportunities are appearing.

Following on from my own experiences and from speaking to web start-up founders it was clear that the majority have failed at some point in their career – they have either completely changed direction, closed one business and started up another or spent longer than expected to be successful. I believe that things happen for a reason and that positives comes from every negative – let’s embrace failure, let’s change our culture of hiding away from failure and let’s learn from other people’s mistakes.

That’s where the TED+ sharing failures, concept idea came from; let’s encourage people to talk about their failure stories and use the TED model to do this.

TED Positive

Being chosen as one of the 10 winners of the challenge was very exciting but being invited to share the concept at the Europrean Commission and collect an award as part the Digital Agenda Assembly was incredible.

The assembly was streamed live and here is an edited version of Tom Hulme introducing OpenIDEO followed by Amy Bonsall handing out the awards to the winners (sorry for the poor quality of the video!):

Although the community on OpenIDEO had provided really valuable feedback and contributions, having the opportunity to discuss the concept in person with members of IDEO, the other winners and members of the European Commission really helped develop the concept on even further.

It was clear that introducing another Failure conference series may not be the best way to realise the concept – I want to reach everyone, change the culture, build a community and help people possibly scared to launch into the start-up world to realise they can do it.

TED Positive has moved to – the site is aiming to create a movement. It will be the place to share and learn from others. It’s your one-stop website for all failure stories told in a fun, positive way!

My Fail Tale

Please share your stories…send them via twitter using the hashtag #failtale, record a video and email it to me, send me web links to interesting articles or attend a conference where failure stories are told (FailCon will be holding an event in Paris on 25th September) – once the stories have been curated, the site will go live – watch this space, I’m really excited to see how far the message can be spread!