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Accessfm – Teachdesign Article



Accessfm- how it all started and where we are now.

Beauty as they say is in the eye of the beholder, couldn’t agree more but when it comes to design and more specifically “Good design” I am not sure this paradigm fits. A good design not only needs to look good but it also needs to function and I suppose that is where the comparison ends.

I clearly remember overhearing a rather heated debate between a student and senior lecturer whilst studying product design in the final year of my degree. The debate or rather, argument centered on two ballpoint pens. One was an everyday Bic disposable and the second owned by said student, a styled, rather attractive and considerably more expensive version. The lecturer in question was bestowing the virtues of both pens but decided that the Bic was in fact the better product and that the student in question had actually wasted their hard earned cash on a far less superior product. What astounded me at the time was the reasoning behind this bold statement, or rather the distinct lack of reasoning in the first place. The lecturer kept on returning to the fact that the Bic was some 40-50 times cheaper and performed what he believed to be the exact same function and so must be better. The student was confused and slightly annoyed by the lecturer, who eventually dismissed all discourse from his pupil.
“ Ah but how about a Rolex Submariner compared to a Casio digital watch,” said the student. “ No its not the same thing” said the lecturer. Which of course it was. His argument was based solely around the two products he was looking at and saw little or no correlation to other consumer products. At the end of the day he was the lecturer and so he must be right.

I have always been a person more attune to systems and for those that know me well; have to maintain an order and logic. With me this often leads to analogies and every so often acronyms. I suppose the seed had been planted back then in that design studio listening to my Senior lecturer call rank. I felt that I could do a far better job or rather give my students the opportunity to make up their own minds in a more concise, logical and considered way.

I left university with a degree in product design and enrolled on a PGCE course, training to teach design technology. I truly believe I learnt more about design in that first year than I had done during my four years at university. I found myself having to think so very carefully about what I was trying to say before delivering to a group of teenagers. I became acutely aware that I would have to in some way police the edges of any discussions or debate without closing them down like my lecturer had done.
I started my product analysis journey with Alessi kitchen products, the now famous, family follows fiction and Philippe Startck range of products were brand new to the market and really quite difficult to get hold of. Moreover my students had no pre-conceived ideas around these types of object and had no expectations of this market. After all, these products quite simply did not fit their demographic and that was so very liberating.
I believe that if I had started with trainers and mobile phones I would have not been able to get past the brand loyalties planted by advertisers before my pupils could first walk.
I had to direct students discussions but not stifle and what better way than to introduce a set of guidelines or even commonalities. I needed a list of factors or criteria by which all products could be judged fairly, the essence of true product analysis.

It was not until I became an education consultant that I was afforded the time to really move things forward. I had decided on my set of product analysis rules but had no name for the system. I decided to put the first letter of each descriptor into an Internet anagram generator and out popped ACCESSFM.
I single handedly presented ACCESS FM during countless conferences, to teachers, advisers and inspectors from the South East all the way up to Scotland. I showcased at the NEC Birmingham for the National Design Technology show, was invited to the annual NAADIT conferences and worked very closely with Gina White HMI and the now head man at DATA, Richard Green.
I was also invited to develop and deliver workshops to primary and secondary school students across the UK. A fantastic opportunity in partnership with the London Design Museum.
During this time I quickly discovered, that in order to teach ACCESS FM, you need to keep it really simple. Indeed I would spend no more than 3 minutes presenting the initial idea of ACCESS FM to pupils. I was surprised how quickly I could lose a group by extending the thinking the first time around.

I left my education consultancy role after a brilliant two years because I desperately missed being part of a team and teaching everyday. I joined a large school for boys in Bromley, Kent, teaching design technology and soon afterwards was awarded Head of Department. I even went on to acquire AST status. The department still thrives on the use of ACCESS FM.

I have been asked on several occasions my views regarding the information surrounding ACCESSFM online. I am fully aware that the Internet contains modifications to ACCESS FM, its not that the anagram itself has been changed but the meanings behind it. In my opinion they do not really work, simply because they open the whole thing up to too much interpretation. For example I have seen Environment changed to Ergonomics, but surely Ergonomics is a SIZE issue?
Customer has been altered to Client, but generally a client is someone or a company, who creates a brief, whereas a customer is the end user or the person who buys the product. I have even seen SAFETY dropped in favour of Sensory in the context of food, but Sensory can quite easily be considered through the AESTHETICS title and with regard to food why would you disregard Safety?
I suppose it all comes back to what I mentioned earlier about keeping things really simple.
Ultimately this is what encouraged me to launch ACCESSFM. COM. The site was developed to provide the information necessary to use ACCESS FM effectively and in the way that I originally intended. It provides guidance so you can present ACCESS FM to students from all key stages up to degree level or teachers if you like.
I decided to use the site to show teachers how to get to grips with my “one, half, zero rule” and to illustrate how ACCESS FM can formulate task analysis sessions. The site gives guidance in the writing of initial and further specifications, the formulation of existing design analysis and in the evaluating of your student’s final products. Furthermore, I recommend appropriate resources, giving specific guidance on how to use them in a real classroom, through either case studies or book reviews.
However, most importantly, the website contains the original version of ACCESSFM and its waiting for you to simply download.

Spencer Herbert.


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Links Fx: The original version
I developed Links Fx very soon after inventing Access Fm. The idea came about whilst discussing the possibility of applying De Bono’s thinking hats to the teaching of design technology. I was not keen on De Bono’s thinking hats then and still am not. I find it hard that in 2021 we still refer to the black hat as the negative and the white positive, sorry, but not happy, so I do not use it!

I would like  to give you a guide on how to apply Links Fx and suggest how to use it in a real classroom.

L- Logical:
Look at the product and decide which parts or functions are used in a logical fashion during normal use. Which parts of a product actually work, time after time, year after year, no matter who uses it?

Look at the product and decide which parts or functions are used in an illogical way during normal use. Think about it, how many of us close the car door using the door window frame or even the window itself, so why place the handle so low down?

N- Need:
This is all about having a fresh look at a product, a new perspective and the courage to define what is really needed. How many products primary function is lessened by the fact that it has been given superfluous secondary functions in an effort to sell it? Think early VCR and DVD players.

K- Keep:
Now you get to decide what is absolutely necessary to enable a product to function perfectly, you get to list those features that you feel really work and are essential to the product, not dictated by a marketing team.

S- Scrap:
This is the part that young people love, the ability to simply remove all boundaries and scrap those ideas, however old or well established, in the process completely freeing up the possibilities. Just because an idea is 100 years old it does not mean it’s actually any good, think toilet brush. How much of that idea, if produced for the first time today would be seen as acceptable simply from a hygiene point of view?

F- Form Follows Function follows Form:
Confused? Stay with me on this one. We all know that the accepted paradigm is form follows function, but is it really? When you develop a product its function and form are paramount and great focus is afforded to both. However in many cases I believe that function wins, think of all those pre-release photos of new cars, they looked sleek, sexy, low and fast, what happened from concept to manufacture? What I am suggesting is simply this, when you get to that stage that a product is complete and some of the aesthetics have been sacrificed to allow perfect function, why not focus again on its form. You have the function and as long as it’s retained you have nothing to lose.

X- X Factor:
For years designers have tried to define what the X factor really is, I reckon I have the answer. Go into a store to buy a kettle, you have a £20 budget, two are available, one is plain and the other aesthetically pleasing, both have identical functions. Most people would by the better looking example.
So how do you put the X Factor into your products…? Form follows Function follows Form of course – ACCESSFM Copyright © 1999, Spencer Herbert. All rights reserved.

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TES Article – The cost of Sustainability?



I was lucky enough to attend the Design and Technology Association Awards in London not so long ago – though not lucky enough to win a prize.




At the end of the evening Dame Ellen MacArthur (her father was a D&T teacher) gave a speech about sustainability, during which she pointed out we have around 118 years of coal supply left.

And it got me thinking. Sustainability and the Environment have, until recently, been the preserve of those with dubious facial hair and a penchant for multi-coloured knitwear. But now it’s everywhere. And surely the crisis point that’s been so long anticipated has already arrived. (We have 40-50 years of oil left. That’s scary isn’t it?)

But here’s a controversial thought – and one you could work into a classroom debate. Why not design better and more durable products, instead of attempting to recycle everything in what has become a disposable society.

The switch on my wife’s hair dryer broke recently. You can buy a new one for less than £5. But being a D&T teacher I thought I would mend it. I just had to take the case apart. The manufacturer, however, had apparently never considered anyone might want to do this, for while I have every screwdriver under the sun (and a Torx set) I don’t have the Security Torx set I needed to fix the hairdryer. Result: My wife now has a new one.

Remember the “Scrappage Scheme” where the government encouraged us to crush perfectly workable cars in order to “save” £2000 off the price of a new car. Nothing to do with money they said, all about getting old cars off the road and replacing them with environmentally friendly ones. But why do we need a car which is 100% recyclable. Why not buy one which is designed and made well in the first place? It’s like marrying a woman you really like, not love, so she’ll be easier to divorce when you trade her in for a younger model.

I recently went into a large fast-food chain and the amount of packaging was incredible. My straw was wrapped in paper, and the cup given a firm plastic fitting lid before being placed in a pulped cardboard holder. Why? “Health and Safety Sir”. Oh. And everything had been recycled.

I have a suggestion: how about I have no holder, no straw sleeve, no lid and a cup made of thinner material. In return I’m charged less. The company saves money and we save the environment. Or would that be just too simple?

Spencer Herbert


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How do you define an Iconic Design?


Tough one!

Especially if teaching Product Design at A-Level, this is one of those omni present questions which has a tendancy to make an appearance at exam time.  I came up with this recently along with my A level students studying product design in relation to Iconic design. You know how much I love anagrams and acronyms!

We tended to focus on Iconic rather than classic as the term classic is a little open ended. A Morris Minor is a classic car but it is not an Icon. Whereas the Beetle is both classic and Iconic. All old cars are labelled classic cars, few are Iconic.


S: Symbolic, can represent a movement, a time, fashion,ideals, design beliefs or principles

P: Provenance, it has a rich and important history, it changed things, affected the users

U:Unique, different when first released, since copied but still seen as the original, genesis

R:Resonance, people remember it, evokes passion, is still relevant or even still used

See what you think, my pupils can now tell you exactly why a Barcelona chair is an Iconic design and why the W.W Stool by Phillipe Starck is not.

Spencer Herbert – ACCESSFM Copyright © 1999, Spencer Herbert. All rights reserved.

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100 of the World’s Best Houses


This one does what it says on the cover and with text at a premium it’s a real visual aid and essential if studying architecture in the classroom. Useful for all key stages but I have found it particularly useful at A Level.
Buy Now

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A book devoted to possibly the most beautiful machine of our times. Detailed photographs throughout, a simply stunning book, its applications in the classroom are endless
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