Last month, a few of us from ThoughtMatter attended Common Sense Festival at A/D/O in Brooklyn. It was the Design Academy at A/D/O’s second festival, and it investigated designers’ power to transform the world through shared perceptual experiences using texture, scent, sound and vision.
I left the festival feeling optimistic about the role designers can play in making the world a better place, especially in today’s social and political climate. I also left with a sense that we’re onto something at ThoughtMatter – not only in the projects and types of clients we work with, but also in our approach and creative process.
The keynote at “Common Sense” came from Jay Osgerby, one half of design studio Barber & Osgerby, which has been described as scrappy and is relatively young in the design world. In 2012, Edward Barber and Osgerby designed the torch that was carried by 8,000 torchbearers at the London Summer Olympics. Their design has since been recognized with numerous awards including “Design of the Year” from Design Museum, and was among the best performing torch designs in history. In his presentation, Osgerby offered insight into the approach his team took to produce the finished product, which echoed our process here at ThoughtMatter.
As with most projects, first came the brief. The Olympic Council had a simple objective – the successfully designed torch should deliver a remarkable and memorable design, function flawlessly, be easy to use for all users and those near them, including Olympic and Paralympic torchbearers, in all conditions, and finally, without except, appeal to torchbearers, Londoners, the U.K. population and the watching world. “Easy peasy,” said all designers, everywhere.
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In a bold move, the Barber and Osgerby team decided to focus on the torch’s function before worrying about whether it would visually appeal to literally everyone in the world. They quickly started applying design thinking principles to prototype solutions that would deliver a product that worked, and worked well. In doing this, though, they stayed true to their core as scrappy, do-what-it-takes problem solvers and started with a humble IKEA cutlery drainer attached to a blowtorch. They did this to test their theory that a perforated shell with three flame sources would enable the torch to perform in the various and unpredictable weather conditions it would encounter across the UK. Through high tech wind and rain tests (see: watering can and household fan), they found the holes allowed a flow of oxygen and multiple sources ensured a constant flame. So when one went out, it was reignited by the others. Once the torch was produced, it actually did pass performance tests with flying colors at BMW’s testing facility in Munich.
Once the primary design problem had been solved for function, Barber and Osgerby turned their attention to the torch’s aesthetic design, taking into account how it would feel in the hands of the torchbearers, half of whom were 12-24 years old. The three-sided design became a focus early on.
“When we were developing the design we found that there were a lot of trinities in the history of the relay; this is the third time that the Games have been held in London – 1908, 1948, 2012; the Olympic motto is ‘faster, higher, stronger’; and the vision of this year’s Games is to unite ‘sport, education and culture,’” said Barber and Osgerby. “All these ‘threes’ lead us to develop a three-sided design.”
The perforations that helped the flame performance were extended to cover the entire shell, totaling 8,000 to represent each of the 8,000 torchbearers.
Barber and Osgerby’s passions for the project and design thinking solutions in general shine through in the success of the finished product. “We were inspired by the engineering possibilities open to us and wanted it to be an expression of what’s possible today,” Osgerby said.
“Since I was a boy, I’ve always been in awe of the Olympics. It’s something that both Edward and I are very passionate about,” he said.
As in most aspects of life, when you follow your passions and do work with purpose, success typically follows.