Yesterday I travelled to the V&A Museum in London with the aim to visit the 20th Century Gallery. I really enjoyed getting the opportunity to think critically about what was on show and, in a deeper sense, the role that design has played in the last hundred years to society.

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Rapid Response Gallery

First, I visited the Rapid Response Gallery. I found the concept of the gallery very interesting as it highlighting design’s role in some very topical issues. I’d like to see design used more often to strike conversations about current issues – increasing engagement with subjects such as politics and the systems that we live within.

The role of 3D Printing within the Rapid Response Gallery was very interesting. It appeared twice, first in Bradley Wiggins’ Handlebars – which were customised to his shape using 3D scanning and printing. The UCI, who usually state that the bikes used in the competition are only allowed to be made from off-the-shelf parts, controversially allowed the use of the 3D printed part due to the availability of 3D printers today. Nearby was the 3D Printed Gun. This piece of engineering embodies deep issues with the right to own firearms in the US but to me it also speaks of the empowerment (in a horrible way) of people.

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I found Barbra Kruger’s paper bag design quite an interesting complement to my own anti-consumerist handbag design. Below it was written that, in designing this bag which was actually used to aid shopping, it hinted “an ironic endorsement of consumerism”. It would be interesting to see critical design in a broader sense through this lens, what happens when you bring something into material existence that is trying to stop the unnecessary production of material things. What happens if you mass manufactured a product that is made to teach people about the effects of mass manufacture?

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From Brand to Reality

It was very striking seeing the Arne Jacobsen Chair in two forms: in the famous poster with Christine Keeler and in real life. This made me consider the contrast between the product portrayed in advertising and the physical product. Advertising places the product in a dream world created in order to sell it, yet when the product is purchased it suddenly exists in a tangible state. It is then the responsibility of the owner in a material sense and its consequent effect on the environment is also a part of that responsibility. How can we help consumers to engage the responsibility they owe to their material contributions to this world?

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The Toaster Project

I was very excited to finally see a piece of design that has inspired me a lot throughout my time studying, Thomas Thwaites’ Toaster Project. The Project tells the story of responsibility for our material impact on this world and the real cost of it. One of my favourite things about it is that it shares its message not through simply an object but through the story of a process.

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Technology as an Aesthetic

Daniel Wiel’s Bag Radio has always reminded me of the work of Stuart Walker. The curators had presented it in a display case all about the aesthetic of technology, inviting the viewer to consider the different effects of this aesthetic. In this case, and the case of Stuart Walker’s work, I feel that making the technology visible serves the function of helping the user and owner to engage with the product, its function and its materiality, deeper. It creates transparency in how a product works, consequently meaning that the owner feels more power to hack it or respect its inner functions, but it also creates transparency in the resources that have gone into the materials a product is made of.

After my visit, I realise that through my honours project, there is huge potential to design something that builds a sense of ownership and responsibility of the things that we own. I’d really like to challenge the way that we can just throw things “away” and forget about them, not understanding the system that everything exists within.

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