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British Historical Novelist Beryl Bainbridge

Bainbridge is well known in England, but little known here. She's been shortlisted four times for the prestigious Booker Prize, and twice won the Whitbread Prize for fiction. She's just completed her 16th novel. "Master Georgie" (Carroll & Graff Publishers, Inc.) takes place during the mid 19th century. Bainbridge has been praised for her economic and poetic use of words, and her lack of sentimentality or melodrama.

21:45

Other segments from the episode on December 14, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 14, 1998: Interview with Beryl Bainbridge; Interview with David Kelley; Commentary on language and national identity.

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: DECEMBER 14, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 121401np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Beryl Brainbridge
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev in for Terry Gross.

Beryl Bainbridge's life is, in some ways, as Victorian as her historical novels. Her Victorian townhouse in London is overflowing with period furniture, bric-a-brac, and old photos. She currently collects early examples of wedding photography.

Bainbridge shuts herself up in her phone for five months each year to write. She survived this ordeal to produce 16 books, five of them have been short listed for Britain's prestigious Booker Prize, including her most recent novel, "Master Georgie."

"Master Georgie" is the third in a trilogy of novels that dissect grand examples of human folly in Victorian times. "The Birthday Boys" was about Captain Scott's ill fated expedition to the Antarctic. "Everyman for Himself" is a mystery set on the Titanic, and "Master Georgie" follows the trail of an enigmatic physician and amateur photographer whose destiny unfolds on the battlefields of the Crimean War.

I asked Beryl Bainbridge to set the scene for us before reading for her new novel.

BERYL BAINBRIDGE, NOVELIST, "MASTER GEORGIE": This bit that I'm going to read is in the voice of Myrtle who is a 12-year-old orphan girl who has been part of this household -- of the Hardy household in a place called Liverpool. The master of the house has been found dead and he's been brought home; it's been covered up how he died. He died, actually, in a brothel, but he's been bought home to look as if he'd, you know, just had a heart attack.

And he's lying on the bed, and the son of the house, Master Georgie, is taking a photograph of him -- the old time photographs, obviously, it's 1854 so it's, you know, it takes a long time to set the photograph up. And Myrtle is told to stand beside him, and she, by the way, is obsessively in love -- well, she's only 12 so she's not in love, but she obsessively loves Master Georgie.

And so, Master Georgie tells her to stand there and pose, and to say -- she's saying goodbye to this father -- not her father, Georgie's father.

"I was saying goodbye to a stranger, because the figure on the bed no longer resembled Mr. Hardy. His mouth was a thin, grim line, and there were hairs crinkling out from the nostrils of his mottle nose. I could smell something pungent, a combination of iodine and honeysuckle, and I wrinkled my own.

`Stop that,' master Georgie ordered. `Stand stock still. Don't blink.'

I fixed my gaze on the dead man, and told myself, God would strike me blind if my eyelids quivered. So intense was my concentration, it was only Master Georgie who breathed in that sun dappled room. Outside the birds continued to twitter.

`All my life,' I thought, `I will stand at your side.'

And then I did blink for the grandness of such a notion welled up tears in my eyes."

BOGAEV: Thank you, Beryl Bainbridge. And welcome to FRESH AIR.

BAINBRIDGE: Thank you.

BOGAEV: Why do you write historical novels? Is there something about the historical setting that frees your imagination or gives you a framework to work in?

BAINBRIDGE: No, it's not so much that. I wrote 12 other books before that all about -- you see, I've never written fiction until recently. I never wanted to write fiction, that wasn't the point. I've only ever written about my own background, childhood, but stuck it into a plot.

And if you do that after a bit you use everything up. I mean, I'd used up all about my mother, my father, my brother, and myself, Liverpool, all that. I simply didn't have anything else to write about so I suddenly thought, well, I'll have to go back to history.

So, that's why -- that's the only reason I started to do these historical ones which I don't actually call -- actually, I mean, obviously, they are in the historical context but I think I'm still -- I mean, in Captain Scott going to the Antarctic I sort of based him a bit on my father who, admittedly, couldn't stand the cold. But that sort of thing, you know, I didn't -- I still use people I know for -- there all dead now, but people I knew as a child.

I think with most writers -- once you get quite well know, once you're doing well -- for one thing you don't meet any normal people anymore. I don't meet anybody that's normal, I just meet other writers, you know, so you can't base anything on people you meet. You have to use the past all the time so you might as well you something like the Crimean War in which to put your ideas about life.

BOGAEV: What's your research method? Do you read everything? Do make notes?

BAINBRIDGE: I just read and read. I don't go anywhere. I was taken -- a television company took me to Crimea during the last one, but normally I just read, and read, and read, and read. And then it takes a long time because I'm not terribly educated so it takes me a long time to actually understand what I'm reading, you know.

Particularly with Crimea, I can't tell you how difficult it was -- all these damn regiments, they've all got different names.

LAUGHTER

They're a battalion one minute, and a regiment the next, and their important. That sort of thing, just have to go over and over and check it, because I think if you're going -- even if its fictional, if you're going to base it on an actual happening you have to be accurate -- the historical bit has to be accurate.

BOGAEV: I think a lot of historical fiction is all about how heroic people were, and that's certainly not the tact that you take in your books. When you research, what jumps out at you or what impresses you? What are you searching for?

BAINBRIDGE: For instance, during the Crimea how was I going to start it? I couldn't think -- my idea is that it's terribly important you have to have a plot. It's no good just writing something wishy washy, it's got to have a story line, a narrative.

So, I went along to the London library and I looked "The Times" -- "The Times" newspaper for 1846. I don't look inside the newspaper, I look at the adverts -- little bits not the adverts. The sort of little court case things, and it said, "Oxford Don found dead in house of ill repute."

So, I suddenly thought, that's it. His son will be passing by and will find his father dead inside this brothel. And then I read a bit more, not out of the newspaper, but about the time -- those days. And of course, if you were an Oxford Don you couldn't be married so you couldn't really have a son unless he was illegitimate, so I had to abandon that.

So, I got hooked on the idea that this first scene must be about this man dead in bed in this brothel. And once you get you first bit going it leads to how is he going to -- how are we going to get the body back? And then, again, you draw on things in your own life. I mean, when I was a child it was the Punch and Judy manner. I remember the van, so you put them in the Punch and Judy van.

Then I read lots about photography so, yes, we took a photograph of him. So, why was Myrtle so anxious to do whatever Georgie said. Well, she must be in love with him. So, it grew from that, you know, it grew -- one step led to the other in a way. That's really, I think, how the steps go.

BOGAEV: You, reportedly, have a pretty drastic writing method. It sounds a bit like total immersion. What do you do to get a book out?

BAINBRIDGE: Well, I pretend I'm halfway through. I'm doing the same now at the moment, and I haven't started. And it's got to be finished by March-April, and I did that. Well, perhaps, tomorrow so let's pretend I started tomorrow.

So, I would get up at about 9:00, and if I've got the first line -- it will take me three or four weeks once I get started to get the first paragraph, to actually get the first paragraph. And I'll rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite that.

And then once that gets going, when I get 12 pages, I will then work, let's say, from 9:00 until 4:00 in the afternoon then I'll have a nap on the sofa. Then I'll start work at 6:00 then I'll break at 10:00 in the evening to watch the news, then I'll have a fried egg, then I'll work from 11:00 to 3:00. And then I'll get an alarm call for 6:00 the next morning. And I'll do that round the clock.

BOGAEV: For how long?

BAINBRIDGE: Three or four months. You can't do it more, you'd be dead if you did it for longer -- for that amount time.

BOGAEV: I read somewhere that around the ninth week you always get ill because you smoke day and night while you're writing.

BAINBRIDGE: Yes, yes. Well, then I recover a bit. Well, when I say I feel ill I don't get ill, I just feel terribly ill but I don't get ill. Well, I haven't so far. Sometimes I get teeth abscesses and things, but you swallow a bit of aspirin and you're all right.

BOGAEV: This all does sound a bit Victorian. I'm surprised you don't get brain fevers.

BAINBRIDGE: Well, I don't know, maybe I do. It's just a way of doing it. I can never understand -- I think it's probably men who are married who, you know, do 3,000 words in the morning and then go out in the afternoon and have a round of golf. I don't think women do that sort of thing.

BOGAEV: My guest is British novelist Beryl Bainbridge. Her new book, "Master Georgie," is the third in a trilogy of historical novels set in Victorian times.

You were born in Liverpool in 1934. How was your family affected by the Great Depression?

BAINBRIDGE: I think before I was born -- wasn't there something -- I get mixed up -- I think it's 1926 or 1929 -- 1926. My father was kind of an entrepreneurial sort of chap, he was in shipping and property and stuff. And then suddenly the gold standard went or came or did something peculiar, and he became bankrupt.

And in those days, of course, to be bankrupt and was the most appalling scandal and sin and shame, and guilt of it. And so, that ruined his life and my mother's life, really, and he was very depressive over it.

We didn't really know -- the children weren't told. That being said, they still managed to send the two of us -- I had a brother -- to, you know, private schools, and we had music classes, and elocution classes, and tap dancing, and Latin lessons, you know, they still managed but it wrecked his life, really.

BOGAEV: I think you said somewhere that your parents played the radio -- they played civilized talk and fine theater all day so that it would drown out their quarrels.

BAINBRIDGE: Well, the first job you did when you came home from school was to turn the radio on, you know, so that the neighbors wouldn't hear the noise. Yes, I suppose I exaggerate, I mean, one forgets what it was like -- to a child it sounds as if it was always like that, you know. That's the only reason I know books, in all the early ones that's what they are all about.

BOGAEV: I think you were thrown out of school when you were 14 because of something you wrote, what was it?

BAINBRIDGE: Well, it wasn't original, I didn't write it. It was the school dirty rhyme that happened to be my turn to take home. I didn't compose it, mind you, I did do the illustrations for it. I was chopped out.

BOGAEV: You left school at 16 to be an actress.

BAINBRIDGE: No, I was thrown out of school at 13 and a half, I never went to school again. No, I went to a ballet school -- I was sent away to a ballet school. I did ballet which was meant to be a drama school, but I was there for a year and half and then I went into repertory which, I think you have repertory in the States -- repertory companies, theater companies, yeah.

BOGAEV: Why did you give up acting?

BAINBRIDGE: I liked doing it, I hated rehearsals. I felt embarrassed, because in those days -- you know, in those days, it was certainly -- in England we went around -- I suppose a bit influenced by Hollywood -- we had to have handbags, and hats, and proper clothing, and stuff, you know, nobody had them. I hated all that. And anyway, I wanted babies so that's why I gave it up.

BOGAEV: So, how did you start writing?

BAINBRIDGE: Well, I'd always written, I mean, from a child. I'd been married and I had two children -- little babies -- and my husband disappeared so we it was easy to write because I couldn't afford babysitters so they it was something to do in the evening. So, I just enjoyed that.

BOGAEV: A lot of writers are quite cagey talking about how their writing is drawn from personal experience, from their past. You say right upfront...

BAINBRIDGE: ...A lot of them deny it.

BOGAEV: Exactly.

BAINBRIDGE: A lot of writers deny it. Can't see the point of writing. Why? I mean everything that happens to one is so much more peculiar than anything you could make up. I wouldn't want to talk to anybody for five minutes, the most incredible things come out so why bother, you know, why bother inventing it?

BOGAEV: My guest is British novelist Beryl Bainbridge. Her new book, "Master Georgie," is the third in a series of historical novels set in Victorian times. It was short listed for the Booker Prize, as were four of her other books. We're going to take a break now, Beryl, and then we're going to talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

BOGAEV: If you're just joining us my guest is British novelist Beryl Bainbridge. Her new book is "Master Georgie."

Now, whenever I read about someone I'm going to interview there's always one piece of information in the materials that is just patently false, so stop me if this is it.

BAINBRIDGE: Yeah.

BOGAEV: Is it true your mother-in-law once tried to shoot you?

BAINBRIDGE: Yeah, oh yeah. Yes, well, she came round with a gun but she missed. I mean, I watched -- used to watch a lot of telly so, you know, as soon as the gun came out I knocked her hand up which brought down the landing ceiling there.

BOGAEV: What was that all about?

BAINBRIDGE: Well, she was -- she hadn't been taking her pills. She was 71, it wasn't as if she was, you know -- well, she thought I was her. She left her children, she came around to punish me -- to punish herself for having left her children. So, she came round, knocked at the door, and said, I want to see -- I want the photographs back of my children -- these were her children not my children.

And I could see she was a bit, you know, she was hopping mad. So, I went upstairs to get the photographs, and as I came down the stairs this little old lady was looking into her bag and opening her bag, and out came this -- I forget what it was -- a Weber pistol or something.

It couldn't have killed me, it could have harmed me, but I don't think it could've killed me. But she -- and then I went off to work. She ran out, but she stopped a police car and said she tried to shoot some woman. I'd gone to work in a bottling factory, and then we re-enacted the scene on the stairs, and I thought they'd lock her up but they didn't.

And then she came around about 6 months later with a knife which by then, one was ready for her. The grandchildren used to hit the floor -- you know when Granny looks in her bag for a sweetie.

LAUGHTER

I was ready to fall to the floor. But then she threw herself under a train when she was about 75, so it's pretty sad. She was a painter, and quite a good painter actually. But she ran away, she left her children and ran away to study in Paris -- under Ingrid Luther (ph). So, she was fairly ga-ga.

BOGAEV: Have you written about her?

BAINBRIDGE: Yes, I put her in a book called "The Bottle Factory Outing," but only about that bit about her coming around to shoot me. Yeah, I think she's my mother-in-law in that book, yeah.

BOGAEV: You worked in this bottle factory in London. Why did you get the job then, was this before you were writing?

BAINBRIDGE: Well, because I was divorced in 1955, I think it was, and the settlement was 7 pounds, 50 shillings -- 7 pounds, 10 a week forever as it were. So, by the time -- and that was 1955 -- so around about 1965, 75 that wasn't going very far.

So, I got a job down the road in this bottling factory -- only part-time. So, that's why I was there. I was only there during school hours -- well, half of the school hours.

BOGAEV: You made wine bottles.

BAINBRIDGE: No, no, no. I didn't make wine, I put the labels on the bottles. I just stuck the labels -- you licked them and stuck the labels on the bottle. It was all the same wine just different labels.

LAUGHTER

BOGAEV: Allegedly, they let you drink -- let the workers drink as much as they wanted.

BAINBRIDGE: No, it was just -- this friend of mine -- on a Saturday morning we'd handle spillage which was most interesting, and we had this thing whereby my friend used to hold one bottle under your arm, hold the other one up and say, this is very dirty, I must take it to the ladies loo to clean it, you see.

Then you went rushing through, and then you'd remove the one from under your arm behind the loo, and then you went back with the first bottle. And when we did that for about two weeks, but I had to leave on -- I think it's called compassionate grounds. I'd be there at ten in the morning, by half past eleven I was paralytic. It was very good for the health.

BOGAEV: From drinking.

BAINBRIDGE: That was Saturday, but I got a book out of it called "The Bottle Factory Outing" which was -- we went on a bottle factory outing. And so, that's not fiction, that's fact, you know, we went off to Windsor Park and it was a definite, but all the going off and the Italian workmen, and all that was all true.

BOGAEV: You're also a painter. Is your painting method at all like your writing method?

BAINBRIDGE: No, I like painting. I mean, painting, I have no critical faculty. I think everything I paint is wonderful so that's great, it's nice, I just enjoy doing that. And you can watch telly while you paint, you see, you can't watch the telly while your writing.

The paintings aren't bad. I used to sell a lot of them, now I just put them up in the attic for when I'm dead the children can sort of flog them then, I think.

BOGAEV: Where are you on your new book about Doctor Johnson?

BAINBRIDGE: Nowhere. I've done all the reading, but I'm just trying to think of a way -- again, I'm trying to think of a plot. I mean, I'm trying to think of -- I've already been to the newspaper to see -- the amount of road deaths in those days, in 1740-something, was amazing.

So, I suppose it would be quite gloomy again, but I've just got to think of a way into it of how to actually do it. That's the devil -- I think the more you learn, the more you write, the more, perhaps, vaguely skillful you get.

So, then you write a line and you think that's terrible, I can't use that, that's no good. You know, you can go on doing that for ages, I mean, I'll have to go on doing that until I suddenly get panicky. I should've started in July, you see, but I'll start next week.

BOGAEV: Beryl Bainbridge, it was quite enjoyable talking with you. Thanks very much.

BAINBRIDGE: Thank you very much.

BOGAEV: Beryl Bainbridge's new novel is "Master Georgie."

I'm Barbara Bogaev, and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
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Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Washington, DC
Guest: Beryl Bainbridge
High: British novelist Beryl Bainbridge is well known in England, but little known here. She's been shortlisted four times for the prestigious Booker Prize, and twice won the Whitbread Prize for fiction. She's just completed her third historical novel and her 16th novel overall. It's called "Master Georgie," and takes place during the mid 19th century. Bainbridge has been praised for her economic and poetic use of words, and her lack of sentimentality or melodrama.
Spec: Entertainment; Media; Profiles; Beryl Bainbridge

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Beryl Brainbridge

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: DECEMBER 14, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 121402NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: David Kelley
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:30

BARABARA BOGAEV, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev in for Terry Gross.

We're living in a world where new technology spawns new products on a daily basis, and its the job of my guest, David Kelley, to figure out how to make the designs for these products as user friendly as possible.

Kelley is the founder and CEO of IDEO, the largest product design firm in the country. IDEO designs more than 3,000 products a year; its portfolio includes the first Apple mouse, the Crest stand up toothpaste dispenser, and Nike's sleek sunglasses.

The firm is also responsible for many of the latest Internet appliances like the electronic book. Now, clients approach IDEO not only for product design, but also for help in designing a more innovative corporate culture. But for all the products out there that make you say, wow, there are others that make you say, whoa.

A lot of the stuff that looks cool, once you get it home, you can't even figure out how to put in the batteries. I asked David Kelley what gives.

DAVID KELLEY, FOUNDER; CEO, IDEO PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT: I think the people designing the products -- most people in the world -- are kind of sitting around the table thinking they're the experts on the toaster, and so they're the right ones to design the next toaster. So, you know, they're the experts so they should be able to do it.

But the problem is that experts use products in different ways than the average person does, and so they, you know, in the old VCRs it was OK to hold down two buttons and toggle three others in order to set the time and date.

And that's OK for the engineer who designed it because they're an expert, but it's not OK for my grandmother when she starts to try to record her favorite program next week. So, the problem comes from the people designing products not having enough empathy for the behavior of actual people.

BOGAEV: Let's talk about some of the products you've designed at IDEO that people use everyday or they could. You have a design for an office cubicle that looks like a car. Why don't you describe it for us.

KELLEY: That's the Q product. We call it the "Q." Our design for this office of the future is like a little cart that has your computer and all your stuff on it -- it has a motor in it. And so in the morning you come in -- you come into a big space, and all these little carts are parked -- all these little offices, in effect, are parked.

And you jump on the one that you want, you put your identification card in and all your computer stuff is loaded down, and you put all your little books and stuff on the shelf so they're already there. And then you drive your office to wear you want to be in the building.

Let's say, you know, I'd like to be by the windows today so you drive by the windows, or you say, I'd like to be over by Sally today, and so you'd talk to Sally and you both drive your vehicles to the place you want to be. And so you can -- the serious part of it is its the easiest way to build teams and break down the offices so that you can be in the right team at the right time.

BOGAEV: It sounds great. There's also a bumper car possibility there.

KELLEY: Yeah, in really creative groups, you'd probably have problems with people crashing into each other on purpose just for fun.

BOGAEV: Well, when are we likely to ever see this product on the market? Or in the office?

KELLEY: I think what you're going to see next -- the next step is right now companies tend to design their spaces for the individual and if there's any space left over then they'll build a conference room out of it. The little space leftover than they can have a place where you can meet.

I think what you're seeing more and more, at least in our client base, are people are building -- are focusing on the teams that the problems are complex enough that they really believe that teams, and that creative kind of multidisciplinary brainstorming that happens from people being together from different disciplines -- kind of the interesting ideas come from the cracks in disciplines instead of right down the center.

And so, they're starting to design their offices with teams space as the center. They focus primarily on building a great space for that team to work. And then, after that, they build little spaces for -- to have kind of touchdowns bases for the individual. They also build what we call enclaves -- special purpose places with nice chairs if you want to sit and read, or a small office with a couch and two chairs to have a small meeting.

And so, the end result is you get -- is you get a team-focused space. And so, that then requires the individual spaces to be moved around a lot depending on how the new teams are formed. And so, I think the first step instead of driving there, the first step will be that there will be touchdown spaces all around the team space.

BOGAEV: Could you give us an example of a product that's coming out of this intersection of disciplines?

KELLEY: Yes, one of the products that I think is particularly interesting is a new product we've done for a company called Heartstream which is a portable defibrillator. This is a product that is -- we're trying to make it ubiquitous, it's everywhere -- we're hoping that it will be everywhere.

What it does is if you have cardiac arrest, you really only have about six minutes before, you know, you really have serious problems like you're dead, and that's not long enough for ambulance to get there. So what this is -- you've seen the things on TV where they put the two paddles on and say, stand back, and they fire it. That's what this is, only its a portable unit.

But its claim to fame is how easy it is to use because you're going to have, basically, a naive user. It's in the back of an airplane, somebody has a problem, you need to lay them on the floor, and then you have to figure out how to use this thing which you've never used before and it looks, you know, it looks like it's a technically difficult to understand.

So, the part that's multidisciplinary about this is that the people involved to design this are not just the engineers who do the circuitry, or the industrial designers that determine how the thing looks, or the marketing people that figure out how to sell it; there's also people like social scientists and people who understand usability of things, and that's kind of the most important thing in this kind of a product.

So, you study people and how they use it. Well, that's not a discipline that's normally a part of the mix in product design or hasn't been in the past. So, this product has kind of a simple one, two, three way of using it that allows anybody who would find it or need it when someone was having this kind of cardiac arrest problem they would be capable of doing it and reviving the person.

BOGAEV: Well, you designed the first Microsoft mouse, and in your offices I saw that you have a six or a seven foot transparent tube filled with all of the prototypes that it took to make the mouse -- there must be hundreds. Now, help me with this, it's a simple idea, right? A box on wheels, basically. What subtleties or intricacies am I missing?

KELLEY: Well, it's not clear, for instance, whether smaller is better. You know, when you use a mouse sometimes you kind of rest your hand on the table, and you -- kind of a bar of soap feels like the right size. Sometimes for different tasks you need to kind of just hold it in the tip of your fingers so a smaller mouse is better.

So, what we did was we actually made a whole bunch of prototype mice and gave them a maze game, which seemed appropriate for the mouse, which we like -- gave different shapes and different kinds of technologies inside of the mouse and had them try out, and then measured which was the easiest one they could use to actually do different tasks that would be normal in using a mouse.

One of the funny things is when we first started doing mice that we had to test how long they would -- you measure a mouse in miles to failure. So, we take an old record player and put a record on it, we made records out of different types of desk material, you know, like a Formica desk or a wood desk or, a glass -- a piece of glass on top of the desk -- we'd make records out of that.

And we put them on the turntable and turn them on, and we know it's thirty-three and a third, then we'd tape the mouse to the tone arm of the record player and then we'd sit it down on the record, and we'd see how long before it had a failure. So miles to failure is how you measure mice.

` BOGAEV: So how many miles to failure are there in a mouse?

KELLEY: It depends on what kind of material. What happens is that -- like, one of things you have to do is, like, eraser junk off of the desk, you know, the little stray pieces of eraser get inside the mouse and clog it up, and so we had to make the ball removal so you could taken it out.

People didn't like the sound of a metal ball on the tabletop, and so we had to coat the ball with rubber, and there's, you know, for a simple product there seemed like there were thousands of little hurdles to get over.

There's one thing that people kind of think people like IDEO design a product. The truth of the matter is we're designing the experience of using the product. You see what I mean, it's like the product itself is interesting and some of the engineer's love to make the mechanisms and design the circuits, and all that kind of stuff, but what interests me the most is design the actual experience of using the product.

So, there's a lot of other things around that, you know, what your chair is like and what the surface of the table is like, and what's happening on the screen, these are all things that affect your actual experience of using it.

BOGAEV: What I imagined is interesting about designing for computers is that you're not only designing for use now, but you're really designing for use in the future. And one of your mantras, I know, for innovation is to live in the future. How do you realize that?

KELLEY: Yeah, that's -- it's like concepts cars, you know, if you went to the Detroit auto show you'd see these cars that are about the future. You don't really expect to see them in the showrooms next month, but you start to see the direction that the car companies are going.

Lots of fins, or lots of swoopiness or, you know, 27 headlights across the front; whatever it is you start to see the direction it's going. And so, that's what we try to do, we build these array rooms, we call them, of the future -- whatever -- if you're a kitchen appliance manufacturer we build the future of the kitchen.

If you're a company that does surgical equipment we try to build the operating room of the future, and we get the people, especially the people who are in charge of running the company -- the heads of marketing, the presidents and those kind of people -- to walk through the rooms or live in the rooms and try to understand -- have a feeling of what it's going to be like in the future.

Then once you've painted this, what we call, scenario of the future it's easier then as you're collecting information from places to see if that fits in with the your direction.

BOGAEV: I'm talking with industrial designer David Kelley. He's the founder and CEO of IDEO which is the largest product design firm in the country. David, we're going to take a break now, and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

BOGAEV: If you're just joining us, my guest is industrial designer David Kelley. His firm, IDEO, has created award-winning designs for many Fortune 500s. David Kelley also teaches product design at Stanford University.

At IDEO you also teach workshops in innovation to corporations, and one recommendation that you make to companies who want to learn to be more innovative is to have a fun workplace. Now, what do your offices look like?

KELLEY: Yeah, our offices have been described as more of a zoo than an office. But the important thing is to understand that playfulness is a part of creating, and so, you know, when I walk into a place where the offices look like, you know, a long hall with a bunch of closed doors or a sea of cubicles I realize that it's going to be a hard task to help them with innovation.

So, our offices are -- the most important thing is that they change all the time. Everything seems like an experiment, you know, we build this little team space with old plywood and furniture that we have, and then we learn that we need to improve it in some way, and so we'll take it down and redo it.

And the other thing that's obvious in a place that's good at innovating is that they tend to have the artifacts of the things that they do are all around, and they're proud of the things they do. So, whether it's a magazine that has all of the latest issues torn apart and put up on the wall for you to read or whether it's a product design firm that has old prototypes laying around, you know, or a products good company that has movies of people using their products. The fruits of their work are kind of all around them because they're proud of that.

BOGAEV: Apparently, a group of your young designers have a whole surplus airplane wing in their office.

KELLEY: Yeah, we're dividing into what we call studios. There's about 20 -- we believe that size is very important on being innovative, and so, we break the company down into what we call studios of no more than about 20-25 people.

And they get to, of course, do their own offices the way they think is the best way to do it. Yeah, so one of them came to me early on and said, you know, we really need a DC3 wing in our office so that we can do our work. And I said, oh well, yeah, of course. Sounds like that's what you need.

So, they took a winnebago and all piled into it, and went down to Los Angeles somewhere, and there's an airplane graveyard and they came back with the DC 3 wing and it's, like, bolted on the wall there.

BOGAEV: Whatever it takes to get you through the night, right?

KELLEY: Right.

BOGAEV: In teaching innovation, you stress the need to destigmatize failure. What does that mean to destigmatize failure as part of a corporate culture?

KELLEY: The thing about being innovative is it's risky, and so you really want to have people have a balance between having the kind of confidence to get their ideas out, and also questioning whether they are good ideas are not. You can't be too, sort of, arrogant and actually, you know, think your ideas are good all the time.

On the other hand, you can't be kind of timid enough that you don't really want to get that idea out and have it see the light of day. So, if you're always afraid that your idea is going to be rejected by the group or there's some penthy for coming out with then, you know, then you won't keep the kind of juices flowing and keep coming up with things.

There's a Stanford professor on organizational behavior named Bob Sutton who is a colleague of mine, and he says the best thing to do is to reward success and failure equally, and punish inactivity. I think that's it.

If you start to have failure or having a bad idea be punished then you sort of -- people start doing less, and less, and less. And what you really want is people energized and coming up with ideas all the time, and so if the risk is low of coming up with an idea that doesn't work then you'll come up with more and more ideas. And quantity is a big part of being innovative.

BOGAEV: Where do you think, then, that your designers are getting their ideas? I read somewhere that they -- there's a lot of toys around your offices and people take things apart and put them back together again to be inspired.

KELLEY: Yeah, they certainly get their ideas from the hardware they tear apart. I mean, if you walk through our place -- it's an excuse to buy every product that comes on the market. I have to look on the budget on that, but what they do is they just buy everything and tear it apart because there's kind of no excuse for reinventing something that are already exists, so you want to kind of have a library of all the mechanisms and all the products, and how everybody did everything.

But the ideas are coming more and more from the observation of people using the products. So, we have a division of the company called Skyline that designs toys, and they -- the way they do it is they have play day on Thursday, and every Thursday a whole bunch of kids come in and they play with the prototypes that they've got, or they play with existing toys, and watch them and we see what they particularly like.

Like if they particularly like bubbles, or they particularly like things that go fast and crash or whatever it is they like. Then you start to realize, OK, three to five-year-old kids, if that's who we have that day, really like -- this thing kind of resonates with them.

Then we start designing a bunch of things that have that kind of characteristic, and then next Thursday we them show them to those kids when they come in. This is not so hard, you know, you see what works and then you kind of iterate, and you eventually start to have things that people really fall in love with.

BOGAEV: Industrial designer David Kelley is my guest. Were you the kind of kid who took everything apart, and put it back together again?

KELLEY: Yeah, in fact, this is a way I do admissions at Stanford. A kid comes into my office and says he wants to declare product design, and I say, tell me about yourself as a child. And if they say the word tinkerer or if they talk about science projects as their favorite thing then I now that that's the right kind of person to admit into the program.

And yeah, we, you know, it's amazing -- I'm still amazed, you can take things apart, you can put them back together, you don't know understand what happened, but when you put them back together they work. And that's how you learn.

BOGAEV: Did you design anything when you were a kid?

KELLEY: I designed things all the time. One of the -- before there were tandem bikes I thought I had this great idea were I take the bike -- the wheel off the back of my friends bike and weld -- I'd take the wheel off the front of my bike and weld the forks to the back of my friends bike. This was before tandem, so, it would be really great.

Unfortunately, going around some rough terrain the weld on the forks broke and one of us kind of went, you know, tasted a little dirt. But it was fun, it was like you have these ideas -- there's a feeling when you work -- when somebody, you know, you go to these things and somebody says, what do you really enjoy?

The thing I really enjoy is like being in the shop making things. Time kind of stands still for when I'm actually, you know, in a shop like making something and bolting it together. If you ask Stanford students who go through the product design program and, you know, what do they miss about Stanford the most they always say the same thing, the machine shop. They want access to a machine shop.

BOGAEV: As a CEO, I can't imagine you have a lot of time to get your hands dirty. Is there something you'd really love to be in the machine job designing right now?

KELLEY: Well, you know, for me its now -- its now moved more and more towards gifts, believe it or not, in this world its kind of hard if you're a designer and you're kind of intimate with every product that's on the market around the world -- it's a little hard to figure out what to do as gifts, and you end up making things as gifts for people.

So, most of the time I'm in the shop these days -- I mean, I go in the shop to watch what's being done for the company in that I get invited to all these brainstormers about what's the right thing to do. Now, most of the young designers don't pay much attention to my ideas, but every once in a while one will sneak in, and so I want to go into the shop and see it being made. But with 350 employees it is kind of hard for me to spend much of the time in the shop.

Bought in my personal life I built a little shop at home, and so, you know, when it comes time to make a present for a best friend instead of going out and buying something I find myself making it.

BOGAEV: Can you tell us what you've made?

KELLEY: I've made all kinds of things, but the things I like to do tend to be like scaled up versions of something. So like a key, you know, I made this kind of key to happiness. Instead of being a little key that was two inches long, I made it three feet long, but perfectly detailed to be exactly like a key that would be on your key ring. And so it's like that feeling of having this kind of odd scaled thing to hang on the wall.

BOGAEV: David Kelley, it was a lot of fun talking to you. Thanks for joining us today.

KELLEY: Thank you very much, Barbara.

BOGAEV: David Kelley's product design firm, IDEO, is based in Palo Alto.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Washington, DC
Guest: David Kelley
High: Founder and CEO of IDEO Product Development, David Kelley. He is one of America's leading design innovators. His design innovations include Apple's first mouse, Crest's "Neat Squeeze" toothpaste tube, squishy, colorful Oral-B toothbrushes for children, Kodak's digital camera, and a portable heart difibrillator which the AMA says will save over 100,000 lives per year. Kelley's company is based in Palo Alto, California. He is also a professor at Stanford University, in the schools innovative product design program.
Spec: Business; Technology; Education; Lifestyle; David Kelley

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: David Kelley

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: DECEMBER 14, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 121403NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Geoff Nunberg
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:52

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: The political map of the world has changed dramatically in recent years as new nations emerge and old ones breakup. And with this has come a revision of the linguistic map as well, as each new nature and demands a language of its own. It may seem strange to Americans, but as linguist Geoff Nunberg reminds us, we almost went the same route ourselves once.

GEOFF NUNBERG, LINGUIST: Back when the Ebonics controversy was at its height about a year ago, linguists were getting a lot of calls asking them to sort out the question of whether black English was really a different language than standard English. To the disappointment of the press, they tended to duck the question.

You can't say whether two varieties belong to the same language just by looking at the words or constructions they use. There are cases were people identify distinct languages even when two varieties are grammatically similar and mutually intelligible like Danish and Norwegian, Czech and Slovak, or Dutch and Afrikaans.

And there are other cases where people perceive a single language even though it's varieties are very far apart. The various dialects of Chinese for example, are far more different from one another than French, Italian, and Spanish. In the end, languages are political constructions; as linguists like to put the point, a language is just a dialect with an army.

There's a lot to this remark, in recent years a number of nations have felt that a declaration of political independence required a declaration of linguistic independence as well. Until a few years ago, for example, the central part of the region formerly known as Yugoslavia was filled with a jumble of very similar dialects that were considered a single language, Serbo-Croatian.

Apart from some differences in scholarly and philosophical vocabulary, the main thing that set the Serbs and Croats apart was that the Croats used the Latin alphabet, and the Serbs often use the Cyrillic alphabet. It was only when the country of Yugoslavia broke up that the separate nations felt the need to distinguish three languages Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian.

As one Sarajevo professor described the situation, I used to think I was bad at languages, but I woke up one morning to find I was trilingual. At present the three languages are a lot closer than the English of New York, London, and Melbourne.

But the Serbs and Croats are doing all they can to change that, they've each got their academies working nights to devise distinctive vocabularies and new spellings, apparently, with the ultimate aim of achieving complete incomprehensibility with their neighbors.

It may all seem a little alien to us, but we should bear in mind that we Americans went through a very similar experience 200 years ago, in the period following the American Revolution there were a lot of people who believed the American language would naturally go its separate way from English once it was free from what they like to describe as the feudal establishments of England.

As the patriot William Thornton told Americans in 1793, you have corrected the dangerous doctrines of European powers, correct now the languages you have imported. The American language will thus be as distinct as the government.

The idea of declaring American a separate language was enormously popular at the time. Its supporters included Adams, Jefferson, and most notably, the great lexicographer Noah Webster. To distinguish the American language symbolically from its English ancestor, Webster devised a number of new spellings.

He dropped the "U" in words like "honor" and "favor." Flipped the "R" and the "E" of "theater" and "meter," changed the "C" in "defense" to an "S," and so forth. Most of these are still with us, of course, a little token of national linguistic pride, though NASA seems to have lost track of this point when they spelled the name of the space shuttle Endeavour with a "U."

In the end, though, though spelling differences are the only legacy of the episode. The idea of declaring American a separate language took a while to die out particularly among American writers who wanted to liberate our literature from what they regarded as an obsequious deference to British models.

As Walt Whitman proclaimed, the new world, the new times, the new peoples need a tongue accordingly. But by the middle of the 19th-century most Americans were willing to concede that they still spoke the same language that the English did. And the English, more or less, returned the favor.

Still, you have to wonder what would've happened if Webster's view had won the day and America and Britain had gone on to develop mutually incomprehensible languages the way the former Yugoslavians are doing now.

Probably, it would have been our loss in the end. After all, Alistair Cooke is a small price to pay for "absolutely fabulous" and Emma Peel.

BOGAEV: Geoff Nunberg is a linguist at Stanford University and the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.

For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev
Guest: Geoff Nunberg
High: Linguist Geoff Nunberg comments on language as a source of national pride and independence.
Spec: Lifestyle; Language; Politics; Geoff Nunberg

Please note, this is not the final feed of recordCopy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Geoff Nunberg
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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