18 MAY 1962, Page 20


All Square at the Centre

ANYONE who is still interested in what the Earl of Snowdon was really up to in the dark days of his press persecution in r— the Haymarket can now get a black and white picture of him at work, overprinted with a delicate pink, from his recent employers, the Council of Industrial Design. This picture, which appears in a new souvenir publication, The Design Centre Book No. 2 (3s. 6d.), shows him actually watching a test actually being carried out on an actual cooker. Its inclusion in a booklet timed to coincide with the presentation, last week, of the annual Design Centre Awards, is a masterly way of calling attention to a statement published on the same page. 'The ColD,' you will read, 'makes the fullest possible use of such testing facilities as exist.'

If you read on you will find that the Design Centre now tells people how efficient products are (if it knows) as well as how pretty they look. Every product that has been tested by such a body as the British Standards Institution or the Gas Council is now marked with an 'IC on the Design Centre's Index of photographs of `accepted' products. This means that a visitor using the Index to choose well-designed goods (as different as typewriters and food-mixers) will know whether or not he can get information about their efficiency from the Centre's staff.

I wonder if this attitude to function in design will be an embarrassment to some of the 10,000 worthy firms whose products are shown in the Index at 28 Haymarket. At one time a manu- facturer in that privileged file might have done no more than turn a slightly jaded eye on rivals who won the Design Centre Awards. But be- cause the newly test-conscious ColD is playing safe, it now looks for independent assessments of a product's efficiency to back up its judges' decisions, which are still made primarily on appearance. So if you are the maker of a per- fectly good vacuum flask or set of cutlery which has been accepted by the Council for display in its Index, you may be annoyed to find your rivals not only gcttting a prize but also being publicised—like Vacco Ltd.—for the way their flask survives a specially organised 500-mile car trip, or—like Walker and Hall Ltd.—for the way their knife, to quote this year's judges, 'does not easily fall off the plate.'

If this special publicising of the efficiency of Award winners seems invidious it is neverthe- less, the best the .ColD can do without revising its policy by testing everything itself and showing fewer, better-considered goods. To do this it would need more money than it has. But if I seem to carp unfairly, do remember that gov- ernment-sponsored bodies—especially good ones like the CoID—exist to be carped at. It is the only way they can be made to rush their imagina- tions, over the years, from point A to point B. Just for once I will take time off from carping to remind you that the Col D's Design Index, for all its faults, is still the best place to do your