Wednesday, 21 February 2018

MoDiP visits the Design Museum

Very belated the MoDiP team had a trip to the relocated Design Museum. Our expectations were not high. Most of the reviews we had encountered were not great… but we were very pleasantly surprised. The space John Pawson has created is wonderful. You could argue that such a large void in such a prime location is wasteful but we found it aspirational and what more can you ask of a design museum? 

The Design Museum

We also found its long-term display structured around ‘Designers, Makers, Users’ worked. It opens up useful ways of understanding and engaging with design. Visitors have to fall within at least one and sometimes more that one of these categories. Design is a dialogue between these three protagonists. It was a really good experience until it came to our subject: design in plastics. 

Designer Maker User
The exhibition started brilliantly with a people’s choice of over 400 plus objects. I spent ages trying to work out what proportion were made of plastics or had plastics parts without succeeding but it was certainly more than three-quarters. 

Crowd Sourced wall, Design Museum

The exhibition was not arranged around materials and there is no reason why it should be. There was, however, a number of references to a dramatic increase in mass production of cheap, identical products and even a section on ‘making’ yet no mention of injection-moulding, which, depending on your viewpoint, is the hero or culprit responsible. In fact, since the late 1970s, more and a greater variety of products have been made of plastics than of any other materials’ group. Interestingly a lot of space is given over to a magnificent 3D printer (perhaps sometimes visitors see it printing?), which is currently a niche process but may well provide the future for manufacturing. Even here, though, the part played by plastics was glossed over.

We were delighted to see three ‘Valentine’ typewriters presented on separate pedestals giving them iconic status but disappointed at the description of the material, as just ‘plastic’, when specific metals elsewhere are identified. 

Valentine Typewriter
Then we came to a space intended to inspire would-be designers to try out designing in different materials. It includes named sample sheets of copper, aluminium and brass and also a material called ‘acrylic’, which is, of course, a plastic, probably the very same as the boxes that protect the Valentine typewriters. Additionally there is a clutch of corrugated materials described just as plastic. Which plastic, we wondered?

The wonderful thing about plastics is that they are a huge family of materials, each with different potential. They can even be made to the recipe to meet a particular requirement, as in the case of formula 1 cars which have more than a little in common with the Ferrari exhibition down the stairs. Plastics have transformed the vocabulary and potential of design but they were nearly invisible in the commentary provided within this exhibition. 

LaFerrari Aperta on display at the Design Museum

Susan Lambert, (Head of MoDiP)

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