Liv­ing as we do in an age when lit­era scripta does not en­joy the pri­macy it used to a few decades ago, it still has not be­come com­pletely ir­rel­e­vant, far less re­dun­dant. De­sign guru Glynn Kerr mulls the phe­nom­e­non

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Books, I was brought up to ap­pre­ci­ate, are things of great value. For mil­len­nia, they rep­re­sented knowl­edge, handed down from the great schol­ars and philoso­phers of their time, some­times at the expense of the au­thors’ own lives due to claims of heresy. The ac­cusers would point to ear­lier books con­sid­ered sacro­sanct; any de­vi­a­tion from which — say, dis­cov­er­ies — be­ing con­sid­ered blas­phemy. So books can si­mul­ta­ne­ously rep­re­sent both knowl­edge and the sti­fling of knowl­edge, de­pend­ing on the agenda. When that agenda is reli­gion or pol­i­tics, it can be more about the clos­ing of minds than the open­ing of them.

My par­ents were both teach­ers. In the early part of their ca­reers, they were in­structed to read a spe­cific chap­ter of the ap­pro­pri­ate teach­ing man­ual, mem­o­rize it, and re­gur­gi­tate it to the stu­dents the next day. Knowl­edge was set in stone, or, at least, in print.

That may have worked in the 1950s, when in­for­ma­tion didn’t change on a minute-by-minute ba­sis, but today’s rate of tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment makes in­for­ma­tion more fluid. The me­dia with which to con­vey that in­for­ma­tion have also moved on, leav­ing pa­per vir­tu­ally re­dun­dant.

The small li­brary of au­to­mo­tive books that fill the shelves in my liv­ing room are mostly his­tor­i­cal and/or pic­to­rial. It’s all great ref­er­ence ma­te­rial, but any of those ded­i­cated to spe­cific brands be­comes re­dun­dant the mo­ment the man­u­fac­turer brings out a new model. Con­sult­ing Google is usu­ally a faster

method of ref­er­ence, and an es­sen­tial one if up-to-the-minute in­for­ma­tion is re­quired.

As well as the abil­ity to be in­finitely and in­stantly up­dated, the dig­i­tal me­dia of­fer con­ve­nience and time­sav­ing ad­van­tages that match the com­plex multi-task­ing de­mands of mod­ern-day life. It also fits the shorter at­ten­tion spans that in­stant ac­cess to colour­ful pre­sen­ta­tion de­mand. Printed pa­per may be a thing of the pre-dig­i­tal era, with news­pa­per and mag­a­zine sales suf­fer­ing as a re­sult. For many years, this col­umn went out in seven dif­fer­ent mag­a­zines across the world. Now it’s down to two, al­though, hap­pily, both of those are still go­ing strong. Even the mighty Cy­cle World has gone from monthly to quar­terly in 2018 and most re­main­ing mo­tor­cy­cle mag­a­zines are sup­ported by an on­line off­spring. Pe­ri­od­i­cals ex­ist some­where be­tween books and the dig­i­tal me­dia, be­ing of-the-mo­ment on a mostly monthly or weekly pro­duc­tion cy­cle. Un­like dig­i­tal, they may sit around on the coffee ta­ble un­til the next is­sue ar­rives, invit­ing mul­ti­ple read­ings or read­ers, and on a less hurried sched­ule.

De­spite all the ad­van­tages of the dig­i­tal me­dia, there’s less like­li­hood that ma­te­rial will be read in depth. When they buy a mag­a­zine, most read­ers want to ex­tract as much as pos­si­ble from it, if only from a value-for-money view­point. They are more likely to read ar­ti­cles which hold only par­tial in­ter­est for them and read rel­e­vant ones right to the end. Dig­i­tal in­vites dip­ping and flip­ping. And if the source of dig­i­tal in­for­ma­tion is so­cial me­dia, the in­for­ma­tion it­self can be sus­pect. Much of it is un­ver­i­fied and can eas­ily be ma­nip­u­lated to sway pub­lic opin­ion. Sure, most newspapers have a po­lit­i­cal bias one way or an­other, but, all the same, the more re­spected ones have an obli­ga­tion to re­port the facts with some level of ac­cu­racy, al­beit with their own slant. Lit­i­ga­tion is a pretty strong in­cen­tive to re­main within at least some bounds of le­git­i­macy. It’s rare that they will en­tirely in­vent a story just to cre­ate pub­lic un­rest or at­tempt to de-le­git­imize any­thing that doesn’t sup­port their agenda as “fake news”. The so­cial me­dia have been ex­ploited to do both, and in vol­ume. As Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller can tes­tify.

De­sign has gone through a sim­i­lar revo­lu­tion. When I was de­signer with BMW in the 1980s, most of the con­cept de­sign phase was still done by hand, be that sketch­ing, tape draw­ings, body­work en­gi­neer­ing, clay mod­els or plas­ter mas­ters. For much the same rea­sons as with pub­lish­ing, most of this has since gone dig­i­tal, al­low­ing the si­mul­ta­ne­ous in­put of mul­ti­ple R&D dis­ci­plines, which has re­duced lead times dra­mat­i­cally.

And yet cer­tain as­pects are still most nat­u­rally crafted by hand, even if dig­i­tal pro­cesses lend a help­ing hand. Ideation sketches or “scrib­bles”, as some man­agers who wouldn’t know which way up to hold a pen­cil like to call them, seem freer when drawn on pa­per. And even though clay mod­els are now fre­quently auto-milled from CAD data, they are of­ten sub­se­quently re­worked by hand, then re­verse-en­gi­neered to get the fi­nal sur­faces back into CAD for the tool­ing. Some things lit­er­ally still need the hu­man touch.

As long as they con­tinue to be pub­lished, I will al­ways sit down with a print mag­a­zine rather than the on­line ver­sion. Ditto with the lo­cal Sun­day news­pa­per — the only day of the week I have the time to read it. Af­ter spend­ing all day in front of a com­puter mon­i­tor, the last thing I want is to pe­ruse my leisure read­ing on the same screen. Or worse still, on my smart­phone. I want im­ages I can see in the full glory the pho­tog­ra­pher in­tended and print I don’t have to en­large be­fore I can read it. I want to sit on my sofa, or out­side on the back pa­tio, kick my feet up and turn the pages man­u­ally — prefer­ably with my dog by my side and an ap­pro­pri­ate cold bev­er­age on the ta­ble be­side me. But then I was born in England in an age when teach­ers read to us from text­books, of­ten writ­ten decades be­fore. And we wonder what killed the great Bri­tish mo­tor­cy­cle in­dus­try.

Ig­nor­ing the wide-screen tele­vi­sion, lit­er­a­ture (mostly au­to­mo­tive) has al­ways been a pretty big thing with me. This rep­re­sents about 25 per cent of it

Fi­nal clay sur­faces are still best crafted by hand

Hand-drawn con­cept “scrib­bles” are more emo­tional than com­puter-gen­er­ated draw­ings

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