September 20, 2022

That’ll cover it. 

Or ’In praise of design’s own wriggly tin’

Round these parts, and especially in the rural-economy side of things, there are hundreds of buildings of all shapes and sizes composed for the greater part of wriggly tin (or corrugated iron sheeting to give it its more formal name.) The one in the feature image is just 50 metres from the office and, in my view, a small triumph of simplicity – just one sheet thick on the simplest of sub-structures.

It’s also an incredibly versatile material – you’ll find it roofing a cowshed or composing most of a village hall, and even whole ‘tin tabernacles’ (the turn of the last Century’s ‘pop-up’ churches.)

Wriggly tin was devised by one Henry Robinson Palmer, an engineer (who built monorails, described the idea of containerisation and formed the Institute of Engineers among other things) but wriggly tin was his lasting legacy – and the means by which he happen on the idea (in the 1828) appears to have been one of those creative ‘ah-ha!’ moments. 

While clearly an inspired idea – “(his) invention completely broke with precedent and tapped into another level of thinking.” – he recognised its utility as he patented the process almost immediately in 1829.

Such a patently useful surface could teach us a thing or two about how to apply such an economy of means to all sorts of other design challenges (and not simply by material simile such as corrugated card and the like.) If you add corrugations you also add more surface, but compress distance (you can bring things close to the eye than they are.)

The design process is rather like corrugating the field of view, raising things we want to draw attention to, contracting the distance between observer and the situation we want them to see (more clearly, more ‘closely’.) Bringing an economy to material can also help (think one slide, rather that one hundred…)

Sometimes you don’t need a great deal of depth to cover the task in hand. Those little ripples in the surface can have quite an effect.

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About Richard Hill

Creative director, writer, designer, illustrator based in the UK with global project experience and consulting skills across sectors.

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