Have you ever read an online story where the comments best the content, turning your idle news-scanning into a mini-meta experience? A recent piece on some new bike-safety gear caught our eye – (what’s not to love about designs to encourage pedal power!) – but it was the readers’ response that snapped the story into perspective.
Design for its own sake is superfluous; when the functionality of an artifact can be replaced by sensible behavior, that design slips into meta mode too.
Deimatic Clothing was developed by art school graduate Will Verity. It’s a jacket equipped with integral LED lights that are activated by approaching cars. Triggered by proximity sensors, the lights flash with increased speed to better illuminate the cyclist. In the animal kingdom, deimatic behavior is a defensive strategy that uses visual threat to create the illusion of power.
One example is a rapid color change in insects or fish when they are frightened. On the surface, a clever concept – but it “weirds-up” in the marketing pitch. The garment is aimed at helping women conquer cycling fears. Get Britain Cycling, a report published by the British government, calculates that women cyclists account for only 25% of British bike journeys (compare that to 55% of biking chicks in the Netherlands). The biggest barriers to women riding were tagged as “fear of accidents” and “not owning a bicycle”.
According to Dezeen Magazine, Verity’s glowing jacket responds to a UK goal to “increase cycle use from less than two per cent of journeys in 2011 to 25 per cent by 2050”.
(Alternatively, women could be given free bikes– but where’s the design fun in that?) Readers dropped comments ranging from supportive to snide, but several were spot-on in calling out the concept’s weaknesses, “…how does the garment differentiate approaching vehicles and static objects? Relative to an advancing cyclist, isn’t the whole world in movement?”
The lack of basic road safety gear was noted twice by, “Maybe she should have to use a helmet before wearing this kind of stuff,” and, “Her bike has neither lights nor reflective surfaces? Oh, come on! Did Mr. Verity ask himself if women in the UK have a fear of bicycles because they don’t use basic equipment?”
Another wrote,”I know plenty of women who are not afraid to cycle in London and plenty of men who are. This should not just be pitched at women. It’s time to refigure the design problem of the London street.”
This year has seen an uptick in London road fatalities, and designers are working to improve cycling safety. The best way to encourage more bums on bikes is to install proper cycling infrastructure; wide and level lanes that are seamlessly interconnected and protected from other traffic; adequate lighting; and cyclist-specific traffic control signals.
As a writer of internet content, random banter between me and the reader is what brings word-painting to life. I write to share info and sometimes a point-of-view. Reader feedback often returns a new angle of viewing a topic; comments can tell a different story.
The commentator subtext here is “less design and more common sense” – isn’t that the foundation of sustainability? Let’s take it full-on meta, and leave us your comments on superfluous design.