It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that random swing

There they were, crouching in showcases, watches like monstrous toads with warty knobs

DID YOU see the feature in this paper recently on some things which looked at first sight like German mines fished out of the North Sea, all encrusted with knobs and dials and barnacles? And which turned out on inspection to be wristwatches?

These technological wonders are not just designer's fantasies. They really exist. I recently went into a watch shop to look for a birthday present for my 11-year-old son and there they all were, crouching in showcases, looking at me threateningly, watches like monstrous toads with warty knobs. But their opposites were there too. At the other extreme there were watches so slim and so understated that they looked like extra strong peppermints with hands stuck on. In other words, at one end of the scale you got watches with all the works hanging out, like the walls of what the French call the Beaubourg and we still call the Pompidou Centre, and at the other end of the scale watches which hardly revealed anything, not even the time.

It represents a simultaneous swing to both ends on the old public pendulum of taste.

I heard this best expressed years ago when I was working on Punch magazine and somebody noticed that the circulation figures were going down. I don't know why he was surprised. Circulation had been going down since the late 1940s, from the peak figures produced by the Second World War. There was nothing new about it.

But every now and again someone thought something should be done, and instead of doing the obvious thing (fire the editor, or, at the very least, promote another World War) they quite often hired a man to redesign the magazine. So a designer would come in and do things and we would be given a new look and the designer would go away and the circulation would go on declining gracefully...

"It's always the same thing," the Art Editor, Bill Hewison said to me one day. "Whatever changes a designer thinks he is going to make, he basically only does one thing. He changes the rules."

(By "rules", Bill meant the long black dividing lines which separate articles in a newspaper, or which can be used, four at a time, to make a box. In fact, now I come to look at the box round this piece, they can be used eight at a time. )

"If a designer finds that the pages he is redesigning are full of rules," continued Bill, "he says, `Let's get rid of all these rules cluttering up the place and have lots of lovely white space!' But if there aren't any rules, he'll say "There's too much emptiness and everything is running into each other - we'll put in some nice rules to make things neat and divide them up to help the eye...' But all they're doing, really, is the opposite of what the last guy did. Then they pocket their fee and stroll off."

(Have a look at the current Radio Times, if you don't believe this. They're going through a bit of a rules-OK phase at the moment. Every column is divided from the next by a rule, sometimes two, sometimes red, sometimes black... Indeed, every page has a black line running along the top before you even get to the day's date.)

And now it's happening to watches, too. Somebody thought they looked too clean and featureless and decided to put lots of lovely bumps on. It happens to lots of things, this swing of taste. It happens to car design. It happens to clothes design. It happens to office design. ("Too much empty space! Let's put in lots of dividers and corners... Too many dividers! Let's have some space...") It happens even to popular music - do you remember when everyone got a bit tired of electronic clutter and went unplugged and acoustic? For a while.

I do believe it's happening to wine labels as well. Wine labels are tending to get less cluttered and less fiddly, more "well-designed". This is partly done by removing less essential information. But the information reappears at the back of the bottle on another secondary or even tertiary label which has recently come into being to accommodate all the stuff removed by the designer from the front label.

Frankly, the labels I prefer are the ones which have never been redesigned, the labels of things like aperitifs and vermouths and liqueurs which still show tiny pictures of the original factory, and signatures of the original maker, and replicas of the gold medals won at the Great Exhibition of 1901...

That's a thought. Whatever happened to all those gold and silver medals given in open contest at every Expo to things you could eat and drink, which were so treasured they stayed on the label for a hundred years? Why aren't they being awarded any more? Haven't we missed a trick at the Millennium 2000 celebrations?

Over to you, Mr Mandelson.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7


Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary


Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions