BUNHILL; A lovely cup of tea, shame it missed the cup
Sunday 30 June 1996
I rang Magdalen Page of ICE Ergonomics in Loughborough to find out. Her company is celebrated for its studies into lavatory seats and their mismatch with people's bottoms. "It's all to do with fluid dynamics and laminar flow," she said knowledgeably, before admitting that she didn't really know.
The behaviour of tea moving down a spout is profoundly complex, and would probably need several supercomputers to analyse. But, Ms Page says, that is not the point - the potters of the Potteries knew how to make a teapot that poured, because they found out by trial and error and then stuck to the right shape. Modern designers, obsessed with appearance, seem to have forgotten what a teapot is for, she says, which is why we have managed to move backwards in such a messy way.
Also, she suggests, the teapot suffers from being a British phenomenon, because the British do not like complaining. If the Germans drank tea, the laminar flow would surely be matchless.
We agreed the whole thing proved that the old saw "make a better mousetrap and people will beat a path to your door" is a load of rubbish. "The difficulty is persuading people making low-value products to get them working properly," she says.
What other products have got their ergonomics in a twist? Well, IBM had to withdraw a new keyboard in 1984 because no-one could use it. Video recorders are invariably difficult to programme, while voicemail systems are an ergonomic disaster. "It's when technology is driving things," Ms Page says. "Sometimes you feel the human being is regarded as an inconvenience."
Nigel Heaton of Human Applications in Loughborough (all ergonomists live in Loughborough, apparently) has a comforting thought for those of us who are humans, though. Whenever we do anything wrong, he says, it is almost certainly a design fault in whatever we are fiddling with. He even floats the ultimately satisfying notion that there may be no such thing as operator error.
WHO ON earth told the Korean giant Lucky Goldstar to change its name to LG? No-one could possibly forget a company called Lucky Goldstar ... I've already forgotten the new name.
And another odd one. Rhino Group has changed its name to The Electronics Boutique. In its blurb the company says this "continues our three year repositioning strategy" and "further emphasises that the old Rhino is extinct". I can't help feeling the Worldwide Fund for Nature should be objecting.
Stars of business
DID YOU know that the BBC is an actor? Well it is, according to Marjorie Orr, a Scottish astrologer based in Hampstead. She says that if you treat the BBC's foundation date as its birthday, you get a chart that plonks it right in the middle of the entertainment industry.
Ms Orr is unusual among astrologers in that she will do charts not just for individuals but for countries and companies as well. "Companies have birth times," she says. "It may be the incorporation date, or a moment that symbolises the company, such as the time a significant product was launched."
She says that the business people who consult her most are non-British entrepreneurs. "Australians, Americans and Continentals are more open- minded," she says. They want to know when to launch a new product, or maybe open a factory.
Sometimes, of course, the stars tell her that it is really not a good time for a business to be in ... business - which is a bit awkward. She will not tell them just to stop working ("Shares in ICI have been suspended because Pluto is in conjunction with Saturn"), but will suggest this might be a time to rethink and restructure.
"The trouble is that difficult periods tend to be up to three years long," she says. I think I know a few companies that may being going through planetary hiccups right now.
MORE things that should exist, but don't - from Keith Collins of Whitton, Middlesex:
o Lie-detecting apparatus, to be worn by MPs in the House of Commons. The detectors would beep loudly whenever MPs wander from the truth. (I think the Westminster noise abatement people might have something to say about that one.)
o Quick-drying printing ink so that Sunday paper readers don't have to keep washing their hands. (Ah, Mr Collins, but if you have pink ink on your hands on a Sunday, it is surely a subtle badge of discernment.)
Men of tomorrow
THOUGH I dislike jargon with some intensity, I have always had a soft spot for The Centre for Tomorrow's Company. That is because it pushes some admirable notions, including the abolition of the stock market. But I was a little surprised to see that the 13 founder members of the centre's Forum for Business Success are all chaps. Admirable chaps no doubt, but chaps nonetheless.
Call me new-fangled, but I have this funny feeling that Tomorrow's Company should have at least the odd woman in it.
CROWN Communications is the biggest organiser of annual general meetings in the country - which means, I reckon, that it must have presided over a few cock-ups in its time.
Nick Lamb, Crown's managing director, will admit to only one: during an electricity company's AGM the lights started flickering - because a rival company was digging up the road outside.
I was once at a British Aerospace AGM when the 'B' fell off (I wrote wittily of the chairman having a bee in his bonnet). And Mr Lamb told me British Gas once lost its 'G', which brought it perilously close to becoming British Ass.
But the most famous story, which I hesitate to repeat (but will) was of a utility chairman who perorated pompously about the importance of women and said that of course if the right woman presented herself she would become a board director. He then turned to his finance director and muttered "especially if she's got big tits". Unfortunately he had forgotten to turn his microphone off.
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