Designs of the times;Subject of the week;Resources

28th May 1999 at 01:00
George Cole looks at the products that will find a home in the Dome

What do Viagra and the Teletubbies have in common? The answer, before youJexhaust yourself thinking of something sufficiently bizarre, is that along with the Queen, they'll both be on show at the Millennium Dome on December 31.

The unlikely pairing will be part of a showcase of outstanding British inventions, which the Design Council has deemed worthy of the accolade Millennium Product.

Some 1,000 examples of the best of British manufacturing enterprise will also be on display at the Dome, many because of their strong links with education. But how and why? Nell Cozens, spokeswoman for the Design Council, says various criteria are used for honouring products: "They have to make a difference in a variety of ways, open up new opportunities and challenge existing conventions, be environmentally responsible, solve problems, show new benefits or have new applications for technology."

The Council draws on the expertise of an eclectic panel of 100 judges, including industrialists, educationists, engineers and teachers. For the past five years, British companies have been submitting products for consideration by the panel, and researchers also go out scouting for other candidates. The third round of awards has just been completed, with a further two due before the end of the year.

One of the latest successful inventions is the Max Seat for disabled water-skiers, designed by Dominic Burger while a pupil at Sedbergh School in Cumbria. Dominic says: "There was already a seat available, but it looked like five pieces of metal welded together and it didn't look comfortable."

He made an improved version as part of his A-level design technology course, spending the summer of 1997 researching the project, with the design work taking a term and the manufacturing a further half term.

The Max Seat is made from mild steel (although later versions will use stainless steel) and durable polyester, which acts like a hammock. The seat also has adjustable hip and back supports. The first test took place in spring 1998, and after a little refinement, a second test was made last summer by Angie Payne, former World European and British disabled water ski champion. Her verdict? "It was an excellent ride and will definitely encourage disabled beginners to discover the excitement of water-skiing."

Dominic's teacher, George Aveyard, head of design at Sedbergh, decided to enter the Max Seat for the Millennium Product award. The result, Dominic admits, left him "shocked and overwhelmed".

Sponsorship of pound;1,500 has now been raised for the manufacture of six further Max Seats, while Dominic takes a break from inventing to take a gap year before starting a design degree. When he gets back, the first thing he hopes to do is "design a web page and advertise the Max Seat on the Internet".

Millennium Products come in all shapes and sizes, from a tiny microchip to a learning aid which can transform a blind child's whole perspective on the world.

Companies which now boast Millennium Products include the BBC, for its digital radio provision and Online service, and Digital Projection International, whose latest projector offers extraordinarily clear and bright images, thanks to a chip from Texas Instruments.

For would-be rock stars help is at hand in the shape of GuitarCoach from Charanga, a CD-Rom which teaches you how to play the riff of your dreams.

The Royal National Institute for the Blind has had two products selected for Millennium status: a talking scientific calculator and a tactile globe, which uses braille, dots and removable pieces to teach people about a world they cannot see.

Many of the products are for those with special needs. These include textHELP!, a software package which talks, types and checks spelling, and ZY-Tex Paper from Zychem, which turns diagrams and pictures into embossed images that can be read by blind and partially sighted people. The Cameleon CV, a computer touch-screen and voice synthesiser from Cambridge Adaptive Communication, will help people with disabilities use computers.

As for the Teletubbies, their citation reads that they have transformed educational television for younger children.

For details on the Millennium Product scheme contact the Design Council on 0171 420 5200. Details of all the award winners can be found on the internet site: The Max Seat can also be seen at Sedbergh School's website at Made for the millennium

* The Phoenix Centre from St Matthew's RC high school in Manchester has developed a scheme to integrate disruptive children into mainstream education.

* Tesco SchoolNet 2000 is the world's largest Internet-based educational project.

* Weobley School in Worcester has found a way to save energy through a computerised management system.

* Research Machines has designed an integrated maths learning system for primary schools.

* Techniquest Phase 3 is a hands-on science discovery centre in Cardiff designed for for schools and families.

* Hairnet offers computer and Internet training for the over-50s.

* The Essential String Method is a learning resource from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama for 4-10 year olds and covers a variety of string instruments.

* The Globe Theatre is one of the oldest design projects, based as it is on Shakespeare's original theatre.

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