Building a better furry wrist watch;Arts

15th October 1999 at 01:00
Deedee Cuddihy followed clued-up Dowanhill Primary to the design exhibition at Kelvingrove Gallery

T here was a slightly hairy moment when it looked as if Mike and James might have lost their grip on Primary 67 from Dowanhill school.

The atmosphere in the education room at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow had gone a bit flat and one boy kicked a chair over. Anne Wallace, education officer for Glasgow 1999, must have a sixth sense about these things. She suddenly reappeared and strode to the front of the room. In a voice that resonated with 20 years as a primary school teacher, she commanded them: "Right, children, raise your hands in the air, wriggle your fingers, hands down. Hands up again, wriggle your fingers, hands down. Now, stand up, anyone who's wearing something coloured ... pink!" And that did it, really. Well, that - and offering a prize to the child who could come up with a "really good idea" for making an ordinary, everyday object better.

To be fair, what product design graduates Mike and James lacked in skills organising children, they more than made up for in enthusiasm. The children were at Kelvingrove to take part in a session based around the Glasgow 1999 Design Machine exhibition, which runs until January. The 21 pupils were guided through the show by co-curator Maureen Finn, who used to work in the museum's education department. This was followed by lunch and then the design workshop with Mike and James.

These particular youngsters are doing Glasgow 1999 for their class topic. This term they had already been to see the Homes for the Future exhibition at Glasgow Green and the new Lighthouse design museum in the city centre. Their teacher, Maureen Smith, said they thoroughly enjoyed both.

She is keen to take advantage of things that are "right on our doorstep". Dowanhill is situated within walking distance of an underground station, so costly bus hire is never an issue.

Not surprisingly, then, the P67s are already pretty clued up about the subject in hand. When Maureen Finn asks if anybody knows what design is, one child immediately replies: "It's expressing an idea".

She asks if anybody's got designer clothes on. They reply: "We're all wearing designer clothes."

She's clearly delighted and responds: "Exactly! We're all wearing designer clothes because they've all been designed. All around you are things that have been designed. In your own homes are beds, chairs, the alarm clock that wakes you up in the morning..."

Then the kids are sent off in groups to look carefully at the weird and wacky family living room that forms a major part of the exhibition - with instructions to "come back and tell me exactly what you've seen and then we'll discuss it".

These sharp-eyed children observed things many adults would have overlooked. They saw that half the players in an apparently ordinary table football game had been changed to females - and that a seemingly innocuous pattern printed on the outside of a playhouse was actually inspired by airplane crashes and transport disasters.

Later in the workshop they discuss design issues. These range from where do people get their ideas to if you eat ice cream with a tiny spoon to make it last longer, will it melt before you get to the bottom of the bowl? Then they finally get to grips with thinking up a better design, on paper, for something they use in everyday life.

With a prize in view, P67 is now fully focused on its task and produces a whole raft of ideas. Some are reasonably practical, like the pencil with a built-in sharpener and the schoolbag with a golf ball-type back massager. Some are truly fanciful, like the soft, furry speaking wrist watch that tells the time and gives all the world's sports results in a choice of three languages.

Design Machine is at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum until January 9. For details of other design activity sessions for schools and after school drop-in sessions for teachers, contact Anne Wallace, tel: 0141 287 7191

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