Dabblers in DIY design

We seem to be entering a new phase of inventiveness in design: artists are looking to science and ecology for inspiration in their work, whereas scientists are suddenly referring to the art of pseudo-science to help explain their findings. Historically, scientific creativity has been looked down upon by those with artistic leanings. And inventors are usually depicted as archetypal mad professor types, with very large foreheads. Of course, there may be good reason for this…

Norman Hunter’s Professor Branestawm certainly fits the model. Although his curious creations were superbly inventive (and fabulously illustrated by W Heath Robinson), the problem was they never seemed to work. Invariably, it was the Professor’s absent mindedness which led to a malfunction. A Screaming Clock that didn’t need winding up seemed like a great idea on paper, but the omission of ‘a little wiggly thing’ meant the clock didn’t stop at twelve, but continued striking thirteen, fourteen and so forth until it couldn’t keep up with itself…

Another eccentric inventor, Buckminster Fuller, was responsible for many intriguing new product ideas – amongst them, the Dymaxion (shown above) – an abbreviation of  ‘dynamic maximum tension’, this was a name he attached to many of his inventions. Fullers’ eleven seater vehicle had only three wheels and was able to get 30 miles to the gallon with a V8 engine, due to its advanced design. The prototype, shown in the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, crashed and killed the driver. The last remaining example of the Dymaxion can be viewed at the National Automobile Museum in Renon, Nevada.

Young people can be curiously inventive too: 19 year old Eric Jacqmain (above) may have been presumed to be a budding genuius when he built a ‘death ray’ with the intensity of 5,000 shining guns. As it turned out, the R5800 Solar Death Ray was destroyed by its own power in a garden shed fire. Undeterred, Jacqmain plans to build another death ray with 32,000 mirrors.

And some inventors are just young at heart…

Anyway, back to my prediction, that, in future, art and science will feed off each other much more. I say this because arty ideas and scientific models are actually rather similar – they’re both removed from reality.

Does this mean professors will become even nuttier?

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About Author Profile: Susan Muncey

Trend consultant Susan Muncey, is Editor of Visuology Magazine. In 2008, she founded online curiosity shop, ShopCurious.com. She writes on style and trends for several blogs, including Visuology.com, ShopCuriousMag.com and The Dabbler. She previously owned cult West London boutique, Fashion Gallery, one of the first concept stores in the world. Susan graduated in geography from Cambridge University and is also an Associate Member of the CFA Institute. She lives in London with her husband.

6 thoughts on “Dabblers in DIY design

  1. jameshamilton1968@gmail.com'
    April 9, 2011 at 12:15

    Buckminster Fuller really should have been British. Isn’t there some sort of snatch squad we could employ to bring such men back to their real native heath by force? Because we’d have made his beautiful, beautiful Dymaxion for him – badly, with rust pouring out of it at every turn and the doors falling off, but we’d have made it, for forty years almost unaltered – and indeed Norman Foster just did build one.

    Just imagine that and Issigonis’s Mini spilling out of the same factory in their millions. Imagine putting a Moulton bicycle in the boot and heading off into the hills for the day.. Imagine the Dymaxion being rallied.

    It makes me mad that it never happened. In fact, it makes me this angry.

    (It doesn’t really. Lovely post to start the weekend with, and good to be reminded of Professor Braynestorm after all these years; I can’t have thought about him since about 1977 – thankyou Susan!)

  2. Worm
    April 9, 2011 at 21:21

    Buckminster Fuller seems to be everywhere on the internet these days, turns out his eco-friendly world view is all the rage amongst trendy types, and it’s been a major boost to his street cred that he also invented cool dome shaped houses. I remember learning about fullerenes, the geodesic carbon molecules named after him at school. Just about the only thing I can remember from my chemistry classes, mind

  3. Gaw
    April 10, 2011 at 09:24

    I was walking around a lake a few weeks ago when I saw approaching me a group of Segway-mounted gallivanters. I’ve never seen such a huge effort not to look self-conscious. I reckon half of them thought they looked amazingly cool and could barely suppress their excitement at the fact, whilst the other half suspected they looked like pillocks. Unless they help overcome a disability I’m not sure there’s any excuse for them.

    • jameshamilton1968@gmail.com'
      April 10, 2011 at 11:14

      “I’ve never seen such a huge effort not to look self-conscious” – perfect!

      The Segway really needed to hover: it needed to float you above the ground, ideally at 200mph, helmetless. The wheels turn the whole thing into a sad, late compromise, a crude toy version of something magnificent and exciting. The Sinclair C5 is the same.

      It’s not just the terrible anti-Platonic nature of these devices. It’s the lack of dignity inherent in something so obviously ridiculous and dangerous at the same time. Get killed on a Segway or a C5, and not even your widow would call it a widowmaker. The fate of the unlucky driver of an E-Type whose vehicle disappears under the wheels of an artic is the same as that of the C5 pilot in the same circumstances, and completely different.

  4. russellworks@gmail.com'
    ian russell
    April 10, 2011 at 17:01

    I’d forgotten about Prof. Braynestorm – I bought my sister a storybook when we were kids, but only now do I see the illustrations are by Heath-Robinson!

  5. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    April 11, 2011 at 11:23

    Loved the Heath Robinson link Susan, inventor of the NHS. Am I the only one who thinks that Segway jockeys or perhaps jokers are recycled Blue Meanies and why do they hunt in packs.
    Who is the most irritating, Jerry or Clive, I never met the former but certainly knew the latter and can confirm his irritation generating abilities, 9.5.

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