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Design Museum, London


Before the late eighteenth century craftsmen both conceived and made their products. Naturally there were accepted styles within which individuals worked. Randy White of New York University has studied the abundance of beads and other body ornaments that suddenly appeared in France, Belgium and Germany 28,000 years ago. White comes to the conclusion that "once the prized raw material was procured, it was shaped, polished and drilled using standardised production techniques to ensure uniformity of design" (The Neandertal Enigma by James Shreeve P326). However, there was very rarely a separate person conceiving, or "designing" a product for someone else to make. The earliest exception was perhaps Leonardo Da Vinci (1452 - 1519). But Da Vinci was a remarkable man, in many ways not of his time. It wasn't until the advent of mass production in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that a group of people came into being who created products, which were then produced by others, using increasingly mechanised means. Some industrialists and thinkers, William Morris for example, were concerned about this, thinking that mass production would stifle individual creativity. Morris set up the Arts and Crafts movement as a result, aiming to produce goods by hand. By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, it was clear that the hand made products made by Arts and Crafts methods were only affordable by the rich. It also became clear that mass production was not incompatible with either creativity or beauty. The American architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright believed that industrialised production was "capable of carrying to fruition high ideals in art" and would lead to an "emancipation of human expression" (see Oxford History of Western Art ed Martin Kemp P383). Meanwhile new groups such as the Deutscher Werkbund, founded in 1907came together to develop high quality designs for mass production. The First World War turned some people against industrialism for a while, with its connotations of mechanised slaughter. Even the great designer Walter Gropius felt like this. But by the 1920s the commitment to rational mass produced design had returned.

The Design Museum is a clear demonstration of the potential of design. There are many beautiful, functional items on display. When I visited I wandered past chairs and tables, book covers, posters, racing cars, textiles, ceramics. I saw scrunched plastic vending machine cups that were made out of china. I saw mugs decorated with book covers, and bought one. The feeling is not one of stifled creativity, but more of the emancipation of human expression that Frank Lloyd Wright talked about.



The Design Museum has regularly changing exhibitions, and offers a comprehensive range of talks, lectures, courses, school activities, and competitions. There is a gift shop and a tearoom.


Opening Times: Please use contact details below.

Address:  224-238 Kensington High St, Kensington, London W8 6AG






Quotation from Soichiro Honda, at an exhibition of Formula 1 motor racing design in 2006.



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©2006 InfoBritain (updated 11/12)