An interview with Jay Osgerby

Fabrication of the prototype for the London 2012 Olympic torch, designed by Barber & Osgerby.

A/D/O
… I was tickled by a story – the narrative that emerged out your design for the London 2012 Olympic torch’s patterning. It had these perforations that served functional purposes for weather proofing but also happened to echo the Olympic rings – it was a back-story, or rather a back-etymology for the project.

OSGERBY
Yes, exactly.

A/D/O
And everyone, it seems, is talking about “storytelling,” but oftentimes it’s a “just-so” story.

OSGERBY
An afterthought. Or a post-rationalization.

A/D/O
But there’s value in that as well?

OSGERBY
Of course. Because if you’re talking to non-designers, it can be helpful. Maybe as a designer you don’t need a story, or that kind of story. You know what the story is: we chose these materials and then had to do this. But the other kind of story is so much more relevant to non-designers.

So if you present the Olympic torch and say, Look: there you are. That’s it. They might go, Well… it’s gold, it looks like a fucking cheese-grater. What is it? But if you say, It’s gold because gold is the color of attainment, and this is everyone’s moment to shine. And it’s a tensile thing because we want it to be a baton and not a trophy, and it has these holes in it because every perforation represents a runner, and a mile. Then it’s great. It’s all high-fives all around.

A/D/O
Right.

OSGERBY
And if you can find those narratives, it’s important. Stories are great, because you get a lot from them, too. But storytelling is not fundamental to the design process. I think maybe drawing is.