Design Residency prep
Experience 1, ready for talk 1
Space 1999, Series 2, Ep 2 – The Exiles
I want to invite you to a screening of an obscure British b-movie TV sci-fi show, from Season 2 of Space:1999. This is the core experience you need, before one of our new talks, on design principles. All you need to do is sit, and watch.
I think it's important to understand that we often don't understand what we're seeing or experiencing, and that's okay. We need to trust that there are lots of reasons why something is the way it is. It might look shit, and maybe that means it is.
But that's okay. Underneath the surface, there are complex things at work. Layer after layer of design principles and group values, that were introduced at different points in time, that build the thing up. Ideas that had merits but didn't quite come off, for various reasons. Or don't make sense now without deep examination.
But look at the comments you get in this YouTube video - from people who are confused and rush to judge. I love the comments on this particular episode, as they expose a gigantic lack of empathy for what people are observing.
When I was a kid in late 1970s Northwest England, this show was my reality, it was my future. Sure there was Star Wars, too, which was a maybe a year newer, but this show felt closer to me. It was on TV just before Sunday lunch. It felt more real.
And I think some of that is because it has design principles that were rooted in a very British sense of the patterns that would entertain and really hook children.
But the point with this piece is that it's way into the seasons – an American producer came in and was applying his design principles, because they needed American money to do a second series, and the show was getting an overhaul.
So you got this weird fusion. And key people behind the production were all going through relationship crises - two husbands and wives, one British pair who had pioneered children's entertainment and imagined unprecedented future worlds, and one American pair who were renowned 1950s and 60s Hollywood stars. There were some new people with a fresh style, and there was an evolution of the special effects style from before. And a battle going on between the values and design principles of the first season and this new second one.
There's loads going on here and none of it is particularly sophisticated or brilliant. But the design principles it was rooted in had a lot of brilliance. And a lot of influence that maybe isn't spelt out in this particular show, but it's all fused there together.
But I reiterate my point that almost everyone will come in and say "this is shit", without understanding what it is. Without seeing the patterns and methods underneath and how these patterns were all fighting their own battles and going through their own spirals of decline or reinvention. Very few people will take the time to understand anything. We're conditioned to just jump to comparing something to what we know and think is better.
Worst of all, almost no one will realise that these design principles mattered to some people, and perhaps subconsciously still do. I mean, I love this show, even though I almost can't bear to watch it, and haven't been for 35 years, especially all the way through. As an American you may walk into here and just laugh. And you'll just point to Star Wars and say "Look! This is way better."
And of course it is. But if you're from Italy and in your forties or fifties, you might go "Oh wow! Space 1999. Cool!" And then I'd tell you that the team who did this, who did that moonscape pan out to the underground research base, did the special effects for The Empire Strikes Back, and for Alien. And the guy who produced this show had produced Star Trek. And that's before we talk about the music. Because this was surely British prog-rock sci-fi fantasy.
But it's okay. I know it's shit. We need to understand how to see beyond something being shit and understand what's going on.
Mark Charmer. 12.1.17*
(unfortunately the video link I originally added has now been removed, presumably because about three of you triggered off Google's ad analytics machine - but you can buy it for about £1.50 online. Or Sainsbury's (3 December 2017) on Dog Kennel Hill in Dulwich is selling the entire 48 episode series for £35 – the perfect Stamp60 Christmas gift! You see, that's how close we are on trend...)