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California: Designing Freedom

A new exhibition at the Design Museum
  • Where: The Design Museum
  • What: California: Designing Freedom
  • Open until: October 15, 2017
  • Ticket price: £16.00
  • Why go: “California: Designing Freedom” is a 360-degree homage to the land that has shaped every aspect of our lives.”

Image credit: Luke Hayes.

Nestled in the greenery of Holland Park is a vaguely unassuming duo of buildings, safeguarding some of London’s best design. The Design Museum recently relocated to the 1960’s modernist building and is set on becoming a world-leading contemporary design institution in the near future.

The entrepreneurial spirit of The Golden State and its role as the hub of innovation finds intimate ties with the ideas of gratifying self-expression, personal agency and individual accomplishment.

Launching today, California: Designing Freedom is a 360-degree homage to the land that has shaped every aspect of our lives. From the chairs that line our office desks, to the trendy skater shoes we wear, to the poster of a woman in the American flag hijab that populated our Facebook feeds, Californian design permeates the world deeply and irreversibly.

Image credit: Luke Hayes.

The exhibit occupies one large room, with items organised in a conceptual manner, by ideas. ‘Go where you want’; ‘See what you want’; ‘Say what you want’; ‘Make what you want’ and ‘Join who you want’. The five themes hover over different sections of the exhibit in glimmering letters. The entrepreneurial spirit of The Golden State and its role as the hub of innovation finds intimate ties with the ideas of gratifying self-expression, personal agency and individual accomplishment.

While the exhibit brilliantly captures the breadth and depth of the impact of Californian design in our lives, it leaves a bit to be desired on the ‘whys’ for this new status quo.

The items that comprise the exhibit are a sharp reminder that design permeates everything around us: virtual reality headsets and iPods are as much design statement as is the now-iconic Facebook “Like” button. Product design, graphic design, software design…the reach and impact of California can be felt, seen and heard.

Image: Shepard Fairey’s “We the people.”

While the exhibit brilliantly captures the breadth and depth of the impact of Californian design in our lives, it leaves a bit to be desired on the ‘whys’ for this new status quo. Why California? What historical, geographic, social and political factors made this place the new “made in Italy”? Although these questions may be beyond the scope of the exhibit, they do remain unanswered. The open layout of the space might also contribute to the need for a conceptual and physical guidance through the exhibition. However, it isn’t hard to see how a room full of recent gadgets might be underwhelming: the thematic association of ‘Make what you want’ – connecting iPods to home kits for genetic engineering – is far more exciting.

Image: DIY Bacterial Gene Engineering CRISPR Kit.

The layout of the exhibit is fluid and free-form, just like the Californian template: a blank canvas to creativity. The highlight of the exhibit might well be seeing Waymo’s self-driving car (on display for the first time in the UK), which instils a sense of awe and excitement about the future. A future that is definitely “made in California”.