THE CONCEPT OF SELFCLEANING GLASS NEEDED SOME ORIGINAL THINKING
What is a designer? The two men who are the subject of our designer profile this month don't hang out in fashionable Clerkenwell, and don't buy edgy and interesting clothes from brands featured in the latest magazines. Nor are they entrepreneurial. Instead, having gained impressive degrees and further qualifications, they have gone to work for a multinational employer and stayed there. Are they impostors? Only if you believe that design is something that comes out of one person's head via a charming scribble. Let's not knock that approach; it has resulted in some great innovations. But there are other ways of doing things, and they can involve team work and a sense that, in the end, you don't quite know who was responsible.
Kevin Sanderson, who led Pilkington's team in the development of Activ glass and of its application to Planar glazing, and Tim McKittrick, who contributed specialist expertise to that process, are in this category. It hasn't dented their enthusiasm; Sanderson admits he can't stop looking at the glass on buildings and deciding whether it is Activ or not. Neither does it diminish their achievement. They have come up with a product welcomed by everybody except the newly redundant window-cleaner.
So are they designers? The concept of selfcleaning glass had been around for a while, but it needed some slogging chemistry and original thinking to make it happen. As much of the skill lay in project management and the ability to liaise with other organisations as in chemistry and experiment, but the result, taken from a concept to a sample to the mass-production of enormous sheets of the product, is impressive.
Designers? Product developers? It doesn't really matter. We should celebrate the achievement of everybody who allows architects to specify products that either they always wished they had or that they didn't know they wanted until they were invented.