Review – California: Designing Freedom at The Design Museum

/ Jul 29, 2017

by Rob Watts


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The Design Museum’s Kensington relocation marked a historic step into London’s principle league of cultural attractions. Everything was in place for this ascension. The hyperbolic paraboloid roof (yes that’s what it’s called), the minimalist oak and stone interior – it all said ‘we have arrived’. Opening day was a success with eager crowds of culturalphiles.

The old Design Museum housed some extraordinary collections, but was often restricted by the space. Now a challenge had been set – we awaited the first great exhibition that could own this new arena.

California: Designing Freedom claims we are all Californians. The free love and experimentation of 60’s West Coast America, directly influenced the technology that all of us use today – and in turn this more connected world gives us freedom.

The plethora of items on display is superb. This isn’t merely a homage to Apple and the Zuckerbergs of the New World Order. There are DIY skateboards and acid induced festival posters, delivering a welcome contrast to the Silicon Valley products.

Your idea may not grow to 2 billion users, but you do have the power to build it.

It’s easy to be critical of the growth of technology giants but the exhibition isn't about that. It’s about the thinkers, the starters, the makers. Yes California gave us the tools to design and share, but more importantly it gave us the attitude to do it.

This attitude has come to influence the UK Design Industry itself. ‘Expert’ is a dwindling term, we want do’ers. 10 years ago a brand-focused design agency like ourselves, couldn’t build contactless animated window displays. Now with a few calls, MDF and a lot of LEDs, anything is possible. Your idea may not grow to 2 billion users, but you do have the power to build it.  

For that reason as I sit here in July, looking out at the torrential rain on Brixton Road – I am Californian.

California: Designing Freedom runs until 17 October 2017.