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.

Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific