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In Conversation With: Sir Kenneth Grange, an industrial designer - 001

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Here we are at the start of my ‘In Conversation…’ series with Sir Kenneth Grange, an industrial designer in conversation – 001. Where I chat to the makers and doers who have inspired me over the years.

And the first one is probably going to be the greatest because it involves someone I’ve known for over 21 years and he is without doubt the greatest human being I’ve ever met. Sir Kenneth Grange has so much talent and drive and he seems to be showing no sign of slowing down any time soon.

We are meeting up at an exciting time. He is about to launch his retrospective book by Thames and Hudson, which celebrates his lifetime of industrial design, which has shaped much of modern Britain. You may not know his name but I can guarantee you will have used or admired one of his products and innovations at some point in your lifetime.

This exciting time coincides with another milestone for Anglepoise – the 20th anniversary of the Type 75 lamp – so it was thrilling to see it on the front cover of Sir Kenneth’s book, something we touch on in our conversation. It was only our second project together, but the Type 75 has become a design icon itself, mirroring Sir Kenneth’s design philosophy with its clean lines and meticulous attention to detail.

So, please, settle in and enjoy our chat after two decades, I still learn from Kenneth’s boundless curiosity and wisdom and I have no doubt he will offer you something to take away with you too.

Watch (18)

 

00:00:09:05 – 00:00:17:13
Simon
So today, I’m thrilled to be joined by a long friend of mine, actually, which is Sir Kenneth Grange.

00:00:17:13 – 00:00:27:04
Simon
how long we known each other now? Kenneth? I think it’s 21 years. I think we first. I think it must be. I’m not a bit surprised. It’s a long time. Yeah,

00:00:27:04 – 00:00:29:04
Simon
I hadn’t started at Anglepoise very long.

00:00:29:05 – 00:00:41:17
Simon
Actually, I think I was very, very new to the business, very new to the game. And, things came about because I was reading an article in our archive, which was about,

00:00:41:17 – 00:00:50:14
Simon
what’s your favorite design of all time sort of article in the style outsider. I think it was in The Guardian. And the name came up and it was Kenneth Grange.

00:00:50:15 – 00:01:13:23
Simon
And I remember you talking about balance being a quality in life. We don’t talk about or value as we should, and timeless design appeals to young and old and things like that. And it was one of those magic moments where the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and you think, I’ve got I’ve got to meet this person and, understandvwhat he means by those things.

00:01:13:23 – 00:01:21:12
Simon
And and here we are. And 21 years on, we’re sitting here together and that’s fantastic.

00:01:21:12 – 00:01:45:00
Kenneth
Simon. I, I think I’d like to talk about the first time I met you, and its a very fond memory and it was a very in a way, on reflection, a very, very important set of circumstances that in those few minutes

00:01:45:00 – 00:01:53:08
Kenneth
there I was sitting next to the man who was a direct part of that old, old family and springs.

00:01:53:10 – 00:02:22:09
Kenneth
Even then, all I could see were such a key part of life still today, it’s 2024 most people out there, have no idea of the importance of springs in their life. They get into their motorcar and it’s 30 or 40 springs at work the moment they open the door. Even opening the door probably involves a spring. So a terrific institution, the spring world.

” It’s 2024 most people out there, have no idea of the importance of springs in their life. They get into their motorcar and it’s 30 or 40 springs at work the moment they open the door. Even opening the door probably involves a spring. So a terrific institution, the spring world.”

00:02:22:11 – 00:02:53:10
Kenneth
And here I was sitting next to a direct descendant of the great Terry business. So you started at the absolute head start of everybody I would of wish to have sat next to and we whether you wanted it or not, I gave you a long dose of my admiration and my my reference via the spring factory to your origins.

00:02:53:12 – 00:03:04:21
Kenneth
And then that led eventually to us working together. And frankly, Simon, it’s been a pleasure all the time.

00:03:04:21 – 00:03:21:06
Simon
I mean, it’s lovely. You mentioned the springs because it’s something that’s obviously very important to me. So much so I always, always carry spring with me and for me, this spring has become special as it connects me to my ancestors.

00:03:21:06 – 00:03:51:22
Simon
So this spring becomes a bit of a ritual for me that actually I’ve started doing so that every time I leave the house, I actually feel this spring and the tension this spring  has. Just to have a moment when I can reconnect myself with my great grandfather and those that went before me. So, yeah, it’s funny you say not many people think about springs, but for me, I never underestimate the importance of this spring and where I’ve come from, and I think it’s a fascinating thing about springs.

00:03:51:22 – 00:04:15:09
Simon
As you say, they’re everywhere without us realising in many ways. And also the spring has often today been replaced by the chip or by electronics. So, the spring is a fascinating item and in its purest form, the paperclip for me is probably one of the most incredibly simple and beautiful springs. It’s just a very simple device.

“The spring is a fascinating item and in it’s purest form, the paperclip for me is probably one of the most incredibly simple and beautiful springs. It’s just a very simple device.”

00:04:15:10 – 00:04:43:20
Simon & Kenneth
Ours are actually quite complicated, constant tensioning springs and quite hard to make. But the spring is is people’s lives depend on the spring. You’re seeing how many airplanes there are at this very moment up there in the sky. And you can be very sure the springs at work in that giant machine. And yet and so sooner or later, everything in life has something to do with a spring.

00:04:43:20 – 00:05:19:16
Kenneth
It is hard to imagine. That’s not an exaggeration. But the fact of the matter is it’s truth. It’s like it’s similar to somebody describing that you own the screw business. Yeah. The vast, vast variety of screws. But there’s a vast, vast variety of springs. So these two elementary pieces of, of engineering of industrial production across the world, no matter what the what the place is, what the people know, what the circumstances are.

00:05:19:18 – 00:05:24:00
Kenneth
Nobody gets through life without a spring.

00:05:24:00 – 00:05:40:05
Simon
The reason why we started work together was because I think you are somebody who has the ability to understand what a product does. So whether it’s a taxi, a train or a food mixer, you’re able to make that product more useful, more usable.

” The reason why we started work together was because I think you are somebody who has the ability to understand what a product does. So whether it’s a taxi, a train or a food mixer, you’re able to make that product more useful, more usable.”

00:05:40:07 – 00:06:00:05
Simon
And for me, you very much have a philosophy where, if it’s a pleasure to use, something will have more value in the world. And I think that’s something that couldn’t be more true today because we live in a land of products that don’t really solve a problem in many, many ways. So if you look at, a product like the type three, what was the sort of thinking?

00:06:00:07 – 00:06:19:18
Simon
Because there’s a lot of beautiful details in there for me that I think you introduced. And it was a kind of and another point you really got us to think about, I think was the idea with the product where the springs are, it’s the engine of the product and you know, you can relate it to motor cars or different objects, but it all comes back to celebrating that engine.

00:06:19:18 – 00:07:02:16
Kenneth
And I think that’s what you did. I think that that’s a very good description. I think it is this modest little, little assembly of parts is in fact the heart of the product. Really. It is the engine, as you say. And I remember setting about your product, which at the time you were making, because as a canvas on which to then work or stage on which obviously did go to perform, as it were, the target of my endeavors was whether it could be improved functionally

00:07:03:15 – 00:07:20:11
Simon
But I mean, I think the two features to me obviously the engine we’ve talked about, which is the spring mechanism, has a beautiful proportionality to it. I think the way we moved the springs inside the tubes and it became clear we learned a lot from the Type three, I think we bought into that mechanism.

00:07:20:13 – 00:07:40:06
Simon
But I think what has also come out being so great about the mechanism is it’s so easy to repair. So what I love, the fact is, 20 years old now, people are starting to buy spares for these products because maybe they’ve used them in a really rusty environment or something’s become lost because over 20 years of heavy usage that can happen.

00:07:40:06 – 00:08:16:23
Simon & Kenneth
So these are becoming now repaired, loved things, just like products we have, they’re up to 90 years old, so I’m not interrupting you there. This is a favorite topic of mine. The question of sometimes just the good fortune of being part of a team that makes a product that history then unfolds and shows to have been a set of decisions a set of engineering decisions that happily go to make the longevity of not only the product but the company.

00:08:17:01 – 00:09:02:10
Kenneth
And the train that I worked on for British Rail is a good example. And another remarkable example this kid, one is Kenwood, where I designed or redesigned a product of his and by a set of circumstances, some of which are not to do with me, but it was in a degree over engineered, over well made. But the marvelous thing is that subsequently and this is what commerce does, of course, it hands on products from one company to another and in the successive variety of ownerships of the company we call Kenwood, of all of them a benefitted from the fact that it is it’s almost indestructible the damn thing

00:09:02:14 – 00:09:28:00
Kenneth
And so people have come to regard it . I promise you there are more Kenwood Chefs have been handed down through families than you’d have hot dinners.

00:09:28:00 – 00:09:50:02
Simon & Kenneth
And I remember because my uncle’s Kenwood chef broke a while ago and you came to visit them and said, I need a particular part. And then I think it was two years later, I think you finally found the right part and sent it to them. And they were just blown away by that because it’s just an incredible that’s a very important component in the product. But I think generally this way of thinking is, you know, built in obsolescence is at the core of most products made and to me, companies are doing themselves a disservice. It’s insulting to to customers who are treated like consumers.

00:09:50:02 – 00:10:09:11
Simon
And the idea is to consume and then throw away. But for me, ever since I’ve been Anglepoise and my whole philosophy has been, you know, no product should be designed or destined for landfill. It’s just morally wrong. And I literally cry when I see some of our lamps down the tip, you know, they’re called recycling centers.

“Ever since I’ve been at Anglepoise my whole philosophy has been, no product should be designed or destined for landfill. It’s just morally wrong. And I literally cry when I see some of our lamps down the tip”

 

00:10:09:11 – 00:10:40:07
Simon
But fundamentally, a lot of it is a tip, I almost cry when I see this just pointless needless waste of material when all it requires is a bit of love to bring it back and to make it usable product and useful thing. Because in a world of, you know, recycling and all the rest of it, recycling is not going to solve the problems of the world only using the things we make for longer and making the building longevity into our products and the way we live is the only future we can really have as human beings.

00:10:40:10 – 00:11:14:12
Kenneth
And, you know, Simon interrupting at the heart of this is actually detail. The heart of it is actually the minutest concern about the smallest part. And it’s appropriateness. It’s it’s economics. Yeah. And it’s fitting together. So it’s like an ideal jigsaw puzzle. You get all those little bits, they fit one another. And so I’m slightly obsessed and I think I’m not ashamed of the fact that I am obsessed by detail.

“At the heart of this is actually detail. The heart of it is actually the minutest concern about the smallest part. And it’s appropriateness. It’s economics. And it’s fitting together. So it’s like an ideal jigsaw puzzle. You get all those little bits, they fit one another. And so I’m slightly obsessed and I think I’m not ashamed of the fact that I am obsessed by detail.”

 

00:11:14:18 – 00:11:41:15
Simon
Yeah. And I think for me, what’s been lovely about these products, they all fit with, you know, the line we now use, which is Abandon Darkness at Anglepoise. Which is to me all about that thing of being responsible in the world, in the way we behave, in the way we produce and the way we work in the world around us, and not just for our customers, but hopefully as well by the philosophies and the attitude we have that can infiltrate other businesses.

00:11:41:19 – 00:12:13:12
Kenneth
Because if you live if you live with an excellent product day on day, and it is what you will come and what you expect, not only in that thing, in that product and in that moment of what you expect them to be associated with. And, you know, if other things you interface with on your table or in your kitchen or wherever, and if they failed in that, then it’s sort of undermining the basic philosophy.

00:12:13:12 – 00:12:14:01
Simon
Yeah,

00:12:14:21 – 00:12:35:05
Simon
And it’s it’s been fascinating, isn’t it, because we’ve worked together for so long that actually the start of the process, it was bulbs that were very light. They got very hot. Yeah. We then went through a period for compact fluorescents where actually a difficult period for was very heavy and you know, not the nicest light output in many ways.

00:12:35:05 – 00:12:55:21
Simon
And now we end up all the way back in an LED world, which kind of went for a period of being very heavy. But actually we’ve ended up with a weight now where it’s in many bulbs not so dissimilar to the incandescent bulb. And the fascinating thing for me there in bulbs is for every normal lighting product, the weight of the bulb has no consequence whatsoever.

00:12:55:21 – 00:13:24:03
Simon
Absolutely. Light bulbs on their boxes don’t have the weights of the bulbs are essential to us in an Anglepoise mechanism. When balance is critical, the weight is absolutely critical. Sure. So it’s quite interesting, you know, how we dealt with that. And I know in the type three, you dealt with that variation by having adjustable spring caps. So they had these beautiful little dials, which we did on some of our older products, the 1930s.

00:13:24:03 – 00:13:48:22
Simon & Kenneth
But it allows you to change the sort of free length of the spring. And that was one of the most beautiful details that really Yeah, I loved on that product. No, I agree. It’s like having an engine that you’re able to tune yourself. And I know this, you know, fancy, fancy firms, fancy endeavors to tune up the engine of a motorcar.

00:13:49:00 – 00:14:09:07
Kenneth
But we’re talking about adjusting. The tuning is a nicer description of our little engine, which is the heart of the product which are these springs. But it’s a nice thought that, isn’t it. Because, you know, there’s practical uses of that, if you like, on a turntable or something. We have to adjust the weight of the cartridge or the head.

00:14:09:09 – 00:14:31:22
Simon
But actually for the longevity of the product, how do you know what the light source is going to be over ten, 15, 20, 100 years? How do you know how dust or the change in materiality over time? The natural patina over time, how that’s going to change the product? So by sort of building in these components, you’re making a adjustability key.

00:14:32:00 – 00:14:51:11
Simon
And also I think that builds a natural connection between you, the user and the product. And when you increase that emotional connection, it means you grow a relationship with your product. That means you are less likely to throw it away or want to cast it away. You more likely to hand it over to a future generation.

“When you increase that emotional connection, it means you grow a relationship with your product. That means you are less likely to throw it away or want to cast it away. You more likely to hand it over to a future generation.”

00:14:51:11 – 00:15:20:13
Simon & Kenneth
So for me, it’s such a beautiful example of building in sort of empathy and love in a product. Well, that’s interesting, Simon, because I think it opens up the discussion about the advent of more and more mechanisms, more and more devices, and to take over our human adjustment of things. I think, you know, we grow up with the luxury of adjusting.

00:15:20:14 – 00:15:47:08
Kenneth
You throw off a blanket if it’s too warm in bed or you change or whatever, you change your clothes and so on. And of course there’s a great deal of talk today about AI the impact of of all these decisions being taken from us. But there will be a lot of decisions left which are absolutely still. And I would want them to be forever in the hands of the owner.

00:15:48:10 – 00:16:10:07
Simon
because it’s also at a level of connectivity in the world. And, you know, if you look at the toaster example that you’re comparing, you know, a mechanism with the quality of toast, with a dial, So with within all those things as a human, it’s allowing you to have decisions, it’s allowing you to think, it’s actually allowing you to use your brain and you get a sense and a feel for how these different

00:16:10:07 – 00:16:29:16
Simon
things interact, which I think can only go to help you in life because if everything is automated, then we as humans are not connecting to the world in our hands and we’re not using our hands. We’re not connecting the head to the heart, which we use the hands, because those we just exist in a virtual world.

00:16:29:16 – 00:16:56:21
Kenneth
Simon I couldn’t agree more. These tactile engagements. Are what make us human? Yes. Yes. I think, you know, if we if we were to rely upon, for example, the use of voice commands to take over from physical commands and therefore judgments, that’s a pretty bleak future up to a point where in 500 years time we won’t have arms, we certainly won’t have the need for fingers.

“These tactile engagements. Are what make us human? If we were to rely upon, for example, the use of voice commands to take over from physical commands and therefore judgments, that’s a pretty bleak future up to a point where in 500 years time we won’t have arms, we certainly won’t have the need for fingers.”

00:16:58:02 – 00:17:20:01
Simon
Can I just talk for 30 seconds on your book. For the book, Kenneth, I’m just so honored and so privileged to see that the Type 75 is the first product on the front cover, when I saw it, I was just like, Wow, that’s just amazing. Well, what does that mean to you?

00:17:20:01 – 00:17:44:05
Kenneth & Simon
Well, it means that it’s one of a one of a few examples of a lifetime’s work. I mean, I’ve had a lot of good fortune and your one of my fortunes. It’s lovely. Kenneth, thank you very much for your time. It’s been a pleasure. Right Adam. We’re done.