Everything in life is designed according to someone’s vision for improving our lifestyle – home appliances, clothing, accessories and shoes, public and commercial spaces, mobile devices, applications and web sites. It is inconceivable to separate the present from the ubiquitous influence of design. Since when does the utilitarian and applied discipline attract so much attention, generate extreme opinions and put label of quality? Who determines what are the signs of good or bad design? Who decides what to preserve in our collective memory about the aesthetics, function and message we constantly handle and accept as the backdrop of the environment?
Design museums attempt to make order in these queries by presenting complex historical occurrences and doubtful future prognosis, by elaborating on both the origin of the laundry clip, the sign @ and the emoticons. Back in 1852 Victoria & Albert Museum mark the beginning of the design museums by establishing itself as the world’s first museum of applied art, founded as an attempt to collect wealth and demonstrate the progress of the British Empire after the Industrial Revolution. At the beginning of the 20th century, similar institutions appeared in different parts of the world, whose activities and programs sought knowledge of product, industrial, graphic, fashion, social design, architecture and others. There is currently a wave of new design museums, set in impressive and iconic buildings with characteristic collections that criticize trends through bold formats and invite visitors to know more about the subtle nuances of the discipline – such as the Museu del Disseny (Barcelona), the Design Museum Holon (Israel), OCT Design Museum (Shen Shan), M + (Hong Kong), 21_21 Design Sight (Tokyo) and others.
The Design Museum in London is a valuable navigation light among the vast amount of information about the history, the present and the future of design. Founded in 1989 by Sir Terrance Conran in a white three-story building on the banks of the River Thames, at the end of 2016 the museum moved to the renovated by architect John Pawson building of the Commonwealth Institute in Kensington.
Deyan Sudjic is director of the Design Museum since 2006. Born and raised in London, the direct Balkan association in the name comes as a legacy of his parents – immigrants from the former Yugoslavia. Sudjic studied architecture at the University of Edinburgh, but his commitment to the discipline subsequently shifted entirely to writing and curatorial activities. Sudjic’s career covers journalism, teaching and writing. Highlights include Glasgow’s 1999 annual initiative: UK City of Architecture and Design, curator of the Venice Biennale of Architecture (2002), editor of Domus Magazine (2000-2004) and author of design and architecture books, which have become indispensable references (The Language of Things, The Language of Cities, B Is for Bauhaus and many others).
As creators of the series DESIGN IS for Generator, we were honoured to have Mr. Sudjic for a live lecture on the future of design. Below are some the topics he touched upon in his analysis of the various aspects of the discipline.
ON THE SUBJECT OF DESIGN
Design is not a thing, it’s a method and it’s a lens to understand the world around us.
When the design museum was first launched back in the 1980s, you could have charted the history of industrial design through a selection of well chose chairs, starting with the first industrially proiduced pieces in bentwood made by Thonet in Austria, then a tubular steel cantilever from Marcel Breuer at the Bauhaus, maybe an Alvar Aalto in laminated plywood, a Charles Eames lounge chair, a plastic inection moulded chair from Joe Colombo, and so on. They would tell a technological and an aesthetic story, and though its not primarily a story about taste, they would also make it clear that “function” is a much more complicated idea than simple utility, comfort is not an objective quality, it is influence by how things look, the associations that certain shapes and colours have.
Since those days, design is more and more about non material things. The smart phone has abolished the camera, the music player, the GPS, the tape recorder, the map, the book, the book shelf, and the book store, the alarm clock. A software upgrade can have the effect of creating an entirely new appliance.
There are also fluctuations in how designers see themselves,. When I was very young, people read Victor Papanek, who as violently opposed to design as a marketing tool used to persuade us to buy stuff we did not need, Then we had the emergence of the superstar designer, whose signature alone was presumed to justify the price, and now another generation see papanek as a hero, hate the idea of consumerism, see design as a social project, or a critical one, and understand design as much a matter of asking questions as of answering them. What interests me at the moment is the idea of the home, We see it as a permanent, solid unchanging place that allows us to be ourselves, but in fact it is changing as fast as every other aspects of out lobes.
ON NEW TECHNOLOGIES
Amazon has transformed the way we consume, killing off a lot of shopping malls and department stores, and it is also inviting us to allow total strangers into our homes using digital locks to make deliveried direct to our refrigerates, through Alexa and the Echo voice recognition system it has started the beginning of the end of the key board as the prime that we interface with the digital world, potentially as huge a development as the smart phone.
And the pace of change is accelerating, Facebook’s headquarters in Silicon Valley is in a building that once housed the headquarter of Sun Microsystems, a company that, like so many tech companies was started by Stanford graduate students, but from an earlier generation, the 1980s. Sun grew into a huge international company with tens of thousands of employees, built is building not much more than a dozen years ago, then vanished. Facebook’s designers treated it like a relic from the industrial revolution and trashed it.
Meanwhile the work place is looking more and more like the domestic world. The new silicon valley offices are full of pool tables and sofas, and kitchen tables and chairs that don’t match.
Social media have abolished the idea of privacy, and in some ways pushed us back into the middle ages with twitter acting as a kind of digital lynch mob.
ON THE FUTURE OF DESIGN
I always remember the remark once made by Buckminster Fuller, the maverick American engineer, inventor and home spun philosopher best known for the geodesic dome, “the best way to predict the future is to design it yourself” I am not sure that Fuller always got things right – his three wheel Dymaxion Car was an instant failure when it crashed into a pedestrian on its launch at the Chicago Worlds Fair. One person who certainly designed the future was Steve Jobs, but even he, just eleven years ago when he launched the first Apple Smart Phone could not, I think have predicted how that one pocket sized object was going to change everything, Without the smart phone there would be no Uber, , no Tinder no AirBnB They have transformed the way that we fall in love, how we navigate the city, and the character of entire cities. Barcelona, New York and San Francisco are all horrified at the impact on rents caused by the way.
ABOUT THE ROLE OF THE DESIGN MUSEUM
The design museum in London sees its role as showing everyone the value of design, we have built a large audience: one million people have visited us since we opened in november 2016, we stage exhibitions that range from the fashion of Azzedine Alaia, to the design of the Ferrari.
We communicate through our temporary exhibtions, we are careful about what we collect, because for us we want to be able to show them, not to hide them in a vault, A collection is costly to maintain and archive, and since we are private charity rather than a state supported institution we have to be careful about how we use our resources.
A lot of people are opening museums about: Barcelona, Shenzen, for example, Until now, design has had a presence in museums either as a department in big general museums, or else as small and specialst. What we see now is a sense that design is as much a part of the wider cultural landscape as art.