From skateboards to iPhones and start-up garages, the Design Museum’s ode to our western cousins explores how ‘stuff’ from California takes a distinctive approach to design and life. ‘Designed in California’ is the new ‘Made in Italy’. While California’s mid-century modernism is well documented, this is the first exhibition to examine the state’s current global reach.
Picking up the story in the 1960s, the exhibition charts the journey from counterculture to Silicon Valley’s tech culture. Its central idea is that California has always pioneered tools of personal liberation, from LSD to surfboards. This ambitious survey brings together political posters, personal computers and self-driving cars but also looks beyond hardware to explore how user interface designers in the Bay Area are shaping some of our most common daily experiences and expanding what we think of as design.
California: Designing Freedom is composed of over 200 objects, curated in five thematic sections. Collectively, these works assert that design in California is distinguished by an emphasis on individual freedom. The exhibition’s five themes explore different facets of this freedom.
GO WHERE YOU WANT: Tools of movement and escape
So many of the innovations associated with California, from LA’s freeways to Google Maps, revolve around freedom of movement. This section of the exhibition focuses on mobility, from navigation to portability and exploration.
SAY WHAT YOU WANT: Tools of self-expression and rebellion
California has its own history of enabling freedom of expression, from new graphic languages to social media. This section explores the state’s culture of communication through posters, magazines and online platforms.
SEE WHAT YOU WANT: Tools of perception and fantasy
California is best known as the land of make-believe, the home of Disney, Hollywood and videogaming. This section explores how California has pioneered new ways of looking at the world, from acid trips to virtual reality.
MAKE WHAT YOU WANT: Tools of production and self-reliance
Perhaps no place has done more to democratize access to industrial technology than California. This section features tools that have made ‘making’ easier and more accessible, from the Whole Earth Catalog, the counterculture’s bible of self-sufficiency, to the Apple Macintosh and the open-source tools of the ‘maker’ culture.
JOIN WHO YOU WANT: Tools of collaboration and community
Since the founding of California, the freedom to create your own community has been considered essential to success and survival. From hippy communes to Facebook, this section examines tools that enable communities both on the ground and online.
Collectively, these works assert that design in California is distinguished by an emphasis on individual freedom. The exhibition’s five themes explore different facets of this freedom. We have loved the Design Museum since it opened, and this is just another reason
for us to do so. Clever and engaging, this exhibit is a physical elegy to design; which brings us much closer to understanding just what the essence of design can be.
For those of you who have not yet been, there is still time to get a slice of the action as the exhibition has been extended until September 24.
Design Museum: designmuseum.org