in Profiles | 01 JAN 07
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Issue 104

Looking Back: Design

From YouTube to a Hussein Chalayan dress, looking back over the most innovative design and technology of 2006

in Profiles | 01 JAN 07

The Diet Coke and Mentos phenomenon first reached me in July, although by then it had been up and running for several months. Slip three or more sweets into a bottle, and you create a geyser of Coke that can reach a couple of metres high. Bang the bottle on the ground as the sweets meet the liquid, and you create a rocket capable of clearing a suburban American home. We watched the film clips on with a view to trying it in the garden. Looking back, I can’t remember whether we actually did it or not. The amateur footage was so ordinary that it has blurred in my mind with the passage of a summer’s day.

Also a cause of uncertainty is the question of whether the phenomenon was really one of Diet Coke and Mentos or, in fact, purely that of YouTube. It was the subject that drew me to the medium, but the two are, of course, medium/message-style interdependent. YouTube appears to be having a significant influence on the circulation of information, albeit mostly trivial. Later, however, I read that, far from being a drink-meets-sweets event, or even one of Internet broadcasting, it was simply a load of hype. Writing in The Guardian on 14 November, Patrick Barkham argued that, although the 3.6 million regular British visitors to the site are outnumbered four to one by the watchers of bog-standard Saturday night TV, the tally of YouTube-related stories in the newspapers exceeded those about events in Lebanon. Barkham suggested that the £890 million that Google paid for the 18-month-old company in September has bought them little other than publicity.

In a related vein, last year’s television advertisement of the year, Sony Bravia’s bouncing balls on a San Francisco street, has been succeeded by this year’s advertisement of the year, Sony Bravia’s paint bombs in a Glasgow housing estate. Its status has been somewhat overdetermined by Internet previews, films about its making and ad-related discussion groups. A rare, less-than-gushing contribution to one of these suggested that both advertisements are over-reliant on the gimmick of reality and that it is time to return to good old-fashioned CGI. Although I see the point, I can’t help liking the ad; it’s the most pleasing I have seen this year, except for the brief yet jarring appearance of a clown, which I can only imagine was intended to take the edge off images of blasted buildings. However harmless the multicoloured fall-out, a film of an explosion in a tower block has unavoidable resonance.

Also available on YouTube is footage of Hussein Chalayan’s spring/summer 2007 Paris runway show. With stock-still models and self-propelled dresses, the inversion of flouncy catwalk conventions was emphasized by a soundtrack of mechanical noise. Fashion writers argued that the tiny, remotely controlled motors tucked in the outfits’ seams and hems took the audience through several decades of fashion history: from maxi to mini, from hour-glass to sheath. To me it looked more like the models were being seduced by their clothes, a new take on the long-running theme of love and the automaton.
Away from the screen, although still technology-related, I was struck by Naoto Fukasawa’s products for the Japanese boutique electronics company, Plusminuszero. Including an eight-inch LCD TV shaped like a cathode ray tube and a calculator with buttons inspired by the shape of extruded pasta dough, the designs are an extraordinary blend of the iconically ordinary and the verging on the surreal. In interviews Fukasawa has described himself as a ‘good shape-maker’ rather than a man of ideas, but with objects this charismatic, shape becomes idea.

I also loved Erwan Frotin’s photographs for the Sketch restaurant Look Book, distributed in August this year, which were surreal in the most traditional sense. Niche printing of this kind can be a self-indulgent business, and the writing in the book does inspire a little wince, but Frotin’s arrangements of ingredients such as wild mushrooms and sour dough bread, flawless white eggs and black truffles, and eels and lemons, are just so good to look at. And the pistachio ice-cream is the most disgustingly delicious photograph I have seen all year.