Sound Design UK Music and Graphic Design; reconstructing an exhibition

Welcome to Sound Design: UK Music and Graphic Design, an exhibition staged on the cusp of the digital communications revolution, which is almost invisible online. The brainchild of David Elliott, then Head of Arts at the British Council in Japan and a keen vinyl collector, the exhibition was curated, designed and organised in the UK and exhibited via the British Council’s network of offices and venues across Asia and Australia. Often in a venue for just a few days, it proved extremely popular and surpassed all expectations, touring for over three years. Before the exhibition opened in Tokyo it was also booked into venues in Sydney, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines. Because the exhibition wasn’t shown in the UK there was no British press coverage, however, lots of media was generated in a number of Asian languages and a complete file of clippings probably resides in the Tokyo office (I did see a fast-growing folder). The British Council in London eventually realised it was missing a trick, and sporadically gave touring shows a short run in the UK, usually with a Press and Private View that guaranteed coverage.


This is the poster, in situ, displayed at the entrance to the Tokyo venue, The Ground. Instead of installing the exhibition at the British Council headquarters, which is a busy language school, it opened in this concrete-lined bunker, not the easiest place to hang a show, but close to the epicentre of Japanese trendiness (half way between Harajuku and Meiji-Dori). However, in some correspondence, The Spiral is named as venue, which would have been a much bigger deal! David’s brief called for an exhibition about music graphics by British designers, with an emphasis on the golden years of vinyl when British artists dominated the aesthetic high ground and and ruled the air waves with their pop(ular) innovation (leaving the more lucrative Middle Of the Road to the Americans). The idea was to come up to date by including ingenious CD packaging too.


This is the flyer, front and back, for the Japanese tour; note the absence of URLs for the British Council and the venues, and no exhibition “microsite” either. Initially the exhibition was planned for October, but the reschedule meant it coincided with the digital film festival, RESFest (that did have a website); the festival included a day of music video screenings and a talk by Ian Anderson of the Designers Republic, the team behind the exhibition design. The flyer also shows a schematic of how the exhibits would be displayed and captioned (date, artist, designer). Transporting the show was made easy because of the display device/protective packaging devised by Inflate, in collaboration with the Designers Republic. The transparent, air-cushioned plastic bags were hung from either freestanding frames or walls and ceiling depending on the venue, and were then stacked in packing cases for shipping – a lightweight, compact solution.


These photos of the installation at The Ground were taken by Gregg Virostek (using a Powershot S20, my first and only digital camera) and yes that’s me in the denim. We were on a round-the-world trip researching a couple of book ideas, and flew into Tokyo from Mumbai (where I bought the pink shirt). The exhibition opened on 23 November 2000, and as we’d arrived the night before, this was my first sight of the show and the display as I wasn’t expected to help with the install. Looking back at my diary for 2000, I was leading a nomadic existence, between Vancouver, Canada, various US and European cities (more research trips) and London, where I occupied friend’s spare rooms or house/cat-sat and freelanced on book projects for Booth-Clibborn Editions as well as writing for design magazines.

Recently, I found a digital folder relating to this project, along with the photos, on a “back up” CD; it was a nice surprise as my Millennium-era laptop had come to an untimely end (struck by lightening). This post intends to fill in some details of the exhibition-making process; I was employed as curator and asked to pitch a concept that would fit the brief. Some of the documents are in an unknown format; others are faxes sent directly from my computer via a plugged-in telephone line (pre-dial-up). I also had an email address and my invoices list expenses for “internet cafes”, as I went on several trips during the duration of the project; some of the documents may be cut and pasted from email messages (the “metadata” includes a date in 2001, probably when the back up was made). I interviewed all the featured designers, or it may be more accurate to call them art directors; there were no women on the list, which reflected the situation in the UK industry at that time. Some interviews were by phone (dates and times of these pre-arranged calls are noted in my diary), others in person, all were taped and transcribed. Short extracts of these texts were used in the exhibition and the long-form interviews remain unpublished. Other digital documents include invitation letters to contributors and exhibit lists (incomplete), which are reproduced here in an attempt to “reconstruct” the exhibition. First up, a screen grab of my initial proposal, which looks as if it may have been rescued from a corrupted email; did I write this in an Internet Cafe?

Screen Shot of a corrupted file; the exhibition proposal, with some sentences missing

Screen Shot of a corrupted file; the exhibition proposal with some sentences missing

I also found my diary for 2000; on 14 April I met with Kirsty Dias, Design Promotion Project Manager, at the British Council office at 11 Portland Place. I knew Kirsty from the Barbican Art Gallery where we worked on Jam: Style+Music+Media in 1995-6, so it was great to work together again. Kirsty liaised, facilitated and made the show happen, working with the commissioning office in Tokyo, the designers in Sheffield and myself (wherever I happened to be). In my diary, next to that meeting, I wrote a list of designers and most of them ended up in the show. On 2 May we met again and “title” is written next to that entry; we had to name the show to get it scheduled and although “Sound Design” was always referred to as a working title, we didn’t come up with anything better! On 2 June I met David and Ian (the Designers Republic), who I’d suggested as designer. Then, after some initial phone calls, I contacted contributors in writing, sending a synopsis of the idea, a break down of what we’d need from them and in some cases tentative questions. This is the “standard version”…

The exhibition aims to give an overview of music industry design, in Britain, from the 70s to the present day.
Focusing on cover designs, and including 12″, 7″ and CD packaging, the idea is to show 5 seminal pieces each from up to 15 designers who have contributed to the evolution of the genre. The aim is to get an even spread of designers working from the 70s to the 90s.
Each designer will be interviewed by me about their long-term contribution, or about a particular project, which ever is considered more relevant. The edited text will be incorporated into both the exhibition and a short catalogue. [DID THIS HAPPEN?]
To contextualise the selection there will be more covers from a wider range of designers grouped by decade from the 19602-70s to the present day.
Adding another layer of context will be walls of music-generated ephemera — tickets, posters, invites etc. — and large-scale panels depicting key dates and events.
Also, on a couple of monitors will be a selection of videos and another selection of 100 flyers from one decade, 1988-1998.
Opening in Tokyo in November, we need all visual material and completed text by the end of July. The British Council are aiming to tour the show for at least a year. All exhibits will be insured and displayed in tamper-proof, sealed display boxes. Transportation is by air freight. Exhibition design is by The Designers Republic.

According to my diary, by July I was scheduling interviews and requesting exhibits. There’s no chatter about deadlines in the messages, so those demands were probably made by phone, but it did slip… On 26 September, I’m in LA and a note in my diary says, “Kinkos – Brit Council!”; did I fax copy to London? (I’m still amazed at how our working practices have changed thanks to digital, networked technology). Later I sent another round of letters to contributors about the possibility of collating the interviews into a book and proposed the idea to Booth-Clibborn Editions and August Media (Stephen Coates and Nick Barley), but neither worked out.

Most of the featured sleeves were sourced with the help of the designers and their contacts at the record labels. Context around the main content was supplied by a further selection of contemporary and historical covers sourced from specialist record shops, some of which were in inflatable covers, while others were a “mood board” wall. The photos show a sort of inflated frame; with pockets that could be updated. A select of flyers, taken from the two Booth-Clibborn Edition books that I edited, High Flyers: clubravepartyart and Nocturnal were shown as an AV (and I have a list of those). Curating the video selection produced a whole new level of bureaucracy, and we worked with a specialist researcher to obtain permissions and assemble the showreel. Below: the text supplied to Kirsty, which was then subbed and translated; the list of sleeves from featured designers; a partial list of the extras, the mood board sleeves and contemporary sleeves that added a wider context; and the wish list of videos.


Welcome to design in a bubble. Fifteen of the UK’s best known record sleeve designers from the past 30 years have each contributed five sleeves to this exhibition; these 75 milestones represent a history of graphic design’s most popular genre. From hand-drawn psychedelia to slick photo-images; from instant cut-ups to computer-generated perfection; these designs have aided the growth and dissemination of wave after wave of new sounds and attitudes, via technologies and techniques that exploded previous aesthetics. Beginning in the late-1960s, young, independent designers (the first to earn a living solely from music) redefined the genre by putting ideas, rather than simply portraits, onto sleeves. Hand in hand with the proliferation of Rock music, the 1970s were a golden era for the art and its makers; big budgets lavished on ambitious concepts sold millions of albums. Punk kicked in and ripped up the rule-book, yelling do-it-yourself on a Xerox machine; later in the 1980s designers and musicians mined every trick, pastiching styles for a booming Pop industry. Enter the CD, and the canvas shrinks, but the possibilities for imaginative packaging multiply; now the box is a desirable, lifestyle accessory. What next? Will free internet music kill off cardboard/plastic covered discs and the art that makes the pretty package? Could the bubble burst…?

Designers’ texts (extracted from longer interviews)

Aubrey Powell/Hipgnosis
“It’s not what you know it’s who you know. Myself and Storm Thorgerson started Hipgnosis in 1968. We came from Cambridge and so did Pink Floyd, and we all moved to London together to go to college. At the time everyone was getting stoned and dropping acid; we were right in the middle of that psychedelic revolution. So when Pink Floyd needed an album cover, we designed it. We were into Marvel comics, John Cage music, experimenting with film stock, cosmic images and the life force of the universe…it was about questioning social mores. The 1970s were heady years for record sleeve design. There was no MTV so the only way to create an image for a band was on a cover, 12 inches by 12 inches. And people identified with the band through studying the cover and endlessly reading into it all kinds of connotations. So the bigger the band, the more obscure the image they projected. Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin were the two biggest and very conscious of always maintaining the integrity of their images. So they surrounded themselves with an atmosphere of mystery and with great art work. That’s what we were brought in to do, and those albums sold in millions.”

Roger Dean
“When working with Yes became an ongoing relationship several possibilities occurred to me. One was that I could create a narrative, through the album covers, of a visual story and a fantasy world. The cover was the world and the graphics and music were the culture produced in that world. Secondly, I looked at the band’s complete identity. I think of myself as being equally an artist and a designer and the process of designing a logo for Yes or Virgin, for me is very similar to laying out Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club or designing a stage set and merchandise for Yes; it’s a question of making an aesthetic pattern out of chaos and accommodating all the given elements, like a Chinese puzzle. But working with Yes brought out the other side to an equal amount; it was a chance to paint landscapes. The philosophy behind my early work was that I was making a window into another world and I wanted that window to be as discreet as possible, so it was painstakingly drawn. But when I started painting I wanted to explore the surface so it’s a thing in its own right, and a reminder of our world’s materiality.”

Barney Bubbles (AKA Colin Fulcher)
One of the very few record sleeve designers to have crossed the (supposedly) vast ideological divide between Hippie and Punk, Barney Bubbles has been lauded by fellow designers and keen fans and greatly missed since his early death in 1983. Barney took his first steps into the music world in 1967 creating liquid light shows at counter-culture venues including the legendary London Roundhouse. Giving up his daytime job at Conran Design he worked on covers for underground magazines, Friends and Oz, and created elaborate gothic/sci-fi sleeves for Hawkwind, most notably, In search of space. Reinvigorated by Punk, Barney worked with innovative artists, such as The Damned, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury and Billy Bragg, and with ground-breaking labels, Stiff, Radar and F-Beat. He turned out a massive amount of visual material, from label identities to backstage passes, some land-mark covers – see Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces – and the no-nonsense masthead of the muso’s bible, the NME. Barney’s real trademark, however, was his love of constant experimentation, taking inspiration from sources as varied as Russian Constructivism and the telephone directory, trying ideas, recombining them and playfully inventing. He has undoubtedly been an inspiration to younger designers over the past 30 years, and will continue to be.

Jamie Reid
“Everyone asks me about the Sex Pistols, but I’ve always worked in different styles, which is why I don’t fit into any of the art categories. And I don’t work for record companies. If I’m working on a sleeve I get closely involved with the band. I met Afro Celt Sound System at the Strong Room, an independent recording studio in London, which I designed the interiors for. The originators of ACSS really responded to the space, phoned to say thanks, and directly out of that we created ACSS. I blame my parents really!!! I was brought up in a family that was closely involved with Druidism, so I’ve always understood the symbols, but I’ve also recreated them through a lot of research. They are druidic-based and linked to astrology in order to enhance the creation of sound. For me it’s very important to put magic to use in a practical and scientific approach, and it seems to work. There is a strong connection between the punk and shamanic imagery that I’ve created. That strength is also apparent in organisations such as Reclaim the Streets. It’s consistent through a lot of 20th-century agitprop art, going right back to the Russian Revolution.”

Malcolm Garrett
“I designed the Buzzocks’ first album sleeve while at college. I wanted to make something that wasn’t just a piece of cardboard and that also subverted corporate graphics, and my flatmate inspired me to put the album in its own carrier bag. Even though Punk was about destroying the music industry we still relied on the distribution network. This way you could buy the record in HMV, but you didn’t have to advertise it. I put ‘product’ on one side to be tongue-in-check. And the catalogue number on the other side refers to the fact that the industry cares about efficient distribution more than music. Fundamentally, I considered the sleeve as information rather than art. My aesthetic was about combining elements from disparate sources in new ways to create something fresh and eclectic. I often shared the same starting point with my college-friend Peter Saville, but his aesthetic was more reductionist. Later I had a company called Assorted Images, and from 1980 to 1986 controlled the entire visual environment of Duran Duran, except the videos. At that time there was such a lack of awareness; pop stars weren’t bothered who did their graphics, and, ultimately I knew I had to get out of the music industry.”

Peter Saville
“I persuaded my school friend Malcolm Garrett to join me at art college in Manchester. He had a reading list of 20th-century graphic design history, and discovering the dynamic energy of El Lissitzky, Herbert Bayer and Piet Zwart, us budding young stylists saw the pertinence of it for the cultural event we rated over all others. We were looking for a graphic metaphor for the post-punk New Wave, so we mixed them with Pop Art and came up with Pop Constructivism. I was hanging around waiting for an opportunity and it came courtesy of Tony Wilson. He started a club and record label, Factory, and I had a vision of a youth-cult label with an identity system as coherent as a multi-national corporation, with the bands as sub-sets of the corporation. And every part of the package had to relate together – the label, the back cover, the poster – so people perceived it as an object and became very respectful of Factory graphics. It worked too because the music was relatively unknown and you wanted to own these releases as they were lovely things. The problem was that as soon as it was applied to a record that wasn’t very good, you blew it.”

Neville Brody
“Ever since college I’ve pursued a no-compromise approach policy of deep experimentation, whether there is a client involved or not. It comes from my belief that graphic design is an extremely vital tool for expression and for exploring language in the public arena, as opposed to art which is very elitist. And in 1979, when I left the London College of Printing, the freedom allowed in record cover design was huge because of the sudden growth of independent labels, sometimes just pressing up to 200 copies of a release. Without that vehicle, not only myself, but Peter Saville and Malcolm Garrett would not have surfaced. I got to meet 23 Skidoo because the singer lived in the same squat as me, and with Cabaret Voltaire, I was a fan and wrote asking if I could show them my work and we hit it off immediately. The Cabs’ philosophy needed imagery that was ambiguous and disturbing as it was about the loss of the human voice in modern society, so elements were hidden behind video textures or barely discernible through repeat patterns. 23 Skidoo were getting back to a more humanistic culture and that was expressed using primitive markings, carvings and moulding with clay.”

Keith Breeden
“I went to school with Malcolm Garrett and he remembered that I would spend hours just drawing. So, when he was art director at Radar Records he asked me to help out. My first ads and sleeves were Letraset and hand-drawn as I didn’t know anything about typesetting, but Malcolm taught me and I went on from there. I set up my own studio and by 1986 I was winning categories in the Music Week Awards. Working with Greene, who was Scritti Politti, essentially he had the same attitude to his music as I had to my graphics, which is fussy, it has got to be right! We were trying to get a sensuous feeling of quality. I’m not analytical, I worked very intuitively and liked to use ordinary things but make them beautiful. The Cupid and Psyche album cover is made of screen-printing test pieces, scraps of paper held together with masking tape and a bit of lettering, embossed, with block foil, and it’s the way you stick it on. Somehow that changed a tatty piece of paper into something high quality. And that’s a definition of art; transforming something into something else so that the original material doesn’t exist anymore.”

Vaughan Oliver/V23
“Music graphics combines my twin passions, music and the visual arts. A college tutor said it was no job for a grown man, but my best friend from school, photographer Nigel Grierson, organised his placement with Hipgnosis, so we discovered that you could get a job doing record sleeves. In 1980 I bumped into Ivo Watts-Russell, the guy who started 4AD. That was an opportune moment of which I’ve taken full advantage! I kept pestering him and Ivo got an office and said, come and work. There was only him and me, so he was really splashing out on this full-time record sleeve designer because he believed the packaging should reflect the music in a qualitative fashion. He was putting out music for his own record collection and wanted it packaged in a way he was going to be happy with. We were both music obsessives; he understood what I was doing and generally gave way. There was a corporate identity, but it grew organically. Essentially a look developed because the designs came from one desk, until Chris Biggs joined in 1987. And there were visual links – a love of texture – that inform you about the music, because I was trying to reflect the feel of it.”

Paul White/Me Company
“In 1985 some friends were setting up a record label, One Little Indian, and asked if I would be the company director who controlled the visuals. They were a bunch of ex-anarchists (with affiliations to Crass) with egalitarian views on how things should be done, so it was more like a collective and very hands-on. We signed the Sugar Cubes, who had also been part of the anarcho-punk scene, and were looking to release their first single in the UK. A practical consideration was to produce two-colour sleeves for singles, to keep costs down. It was a restriction, but also a freedom, because for a while I wanted to do pared-down, colour work, and on Life’s too good, their first album, there was a lot of hand-drawn and photocopied stuff. It was all pre-Mac. When Björk left the Sugar Cubes it was her idea to carry on working with me, and there’s this weird synergy in the way we both stay on target with how we think she should look. All the depictions of her on sleeves are characters, as if a part of her has been extracted, blown-up and focused-in on to bring out a different persona for each release.”

Ian Anderson/The Designers Republic
“We’ve been designing record sleeves for about fourteen years, but Kiss by Age of Chance was the first cover that really got us noticed. Essentially, there wasn’t anything like it before. For us it was the first time that we played with the idea of a sleeve working in parallel with the music to give the audience more information – it contains a lot of William Burroughs-inspired cutting and pasting of emotive images and phrases – not just the usual liner notes. I wanted the bands we worked with to have something to say, an attitude, like The Clash did, and in this sleeve there are politically-influenced references back to the Anti-Nazi League of the late-1970s. The design was a collision of everything we liked, and musically, for the band it was a collision of styles, all thrown into a pot without much prejudice. And that’s still how we work; there is no hierarchy of influence so it all seems to fit. This was pre-computers, we were blissfully naive, and the design was just done, instant. Stylistically we’ve grown and progressed, but in a lot of ways, on a political level, this sleeve still pretty much sums up our attitude.”

Mark Farrow/Mark Farrow Associates
“When the 12 inch album became a 5 inch CD obviously the image was weakened by the size. So we went about designing it another way and started playing with the actual forms as opposed to the content, out of the sheer boredom of dealing with the normal solutions. We wanted to make each release look as unlike a record sleeve as we could. But it’s increasingly difficult to work with record companies and do anything interesting because marketing is stifling creativity. With the Pet Shop Boys’ Very, they came up with the idea of doing something totally different and had a lot of clout at the time. Jason Pierce from Spiritualised has always put out stuff that is different, and Ladies and gentleman we are floating in space came about because in the first meeting he said, music is medication for the soul. Plus, we had a good client at Dedicated who allocated his marketing spend on production, instead of advertising, because he knew our solution would be featured in every magazine. With Dave Clarke’s Archive One the idea came from the title. I said I wanted the kind of packaging you tear a strip off, and just drew it.”

Adrian Shaughnessy/Intro
“I started designing sleeves at the old Decca record company in the 1970s. I didn’t go to art school, but was taken on as a trainee. Because I loved music and design, it was a heavenly time. When the other designers went to the pub at lunch time, I’d go rooting through store cupboards and find original artwork for classic Rolling Stones’ albums. In the late-1980s, I set up Intro with my partner, Katy Richardson, and we grew by doing small, oddball projects that grabbed attention. One was Blood and Fire, a small Manchester label putting classic Dub albums on CD; people like King Tubby, Horace Andy, Burning Spear. Mat Cook at Intro designed a series of enigmatically beautiful covers for Blood and Fire, which attracted attention from bands who liked the vibe! Primal Scream were big fans and we’ve done their last two albums. Intro is a bit strange. We do three things in the music industry; design sleeves and promotional campaigns; make websites for bands and labels; and shoot music videos. Sometimes we get to do all three at once and then we’re really happy. But videos are rarely commissioned by the same people who commission sleeves and the labels miss a trick by ignoring that tie-in.”

David James
To come (don’t have the short text archived, but do have a long-form interview)

Ben Drury
“I started working with Will Bankhead at St. Martin’s College. I would design type and logos and, in conjunction with his photographic techniques, we would create something different. Then we hung about in record shops – Fat Cat Records in Covent Garden was a kind of information exchange – and met people who were making music and running labels. It was a case of, can you do us a label, which we did for Global Communications, Irdial and others. In 1994 we met James Lavelle who had just started MoWax Records. He wanted a new visual direction and we took over doing everything, as he expanded the number of formats and range of artists. It was a very steep learning curve. And we were renegades, there was no one to control us. If we wanted to do a totally impossible format, a double 10 inch promo printed on both sides of the cardboard, we’d do it. We quickly became known as interesting packaging designers. Since 1997 I’ve been art director on my own and MoWax has a new parent company. Now I have to justify myself much more because the market is shrinking, and there’s a lot of pressure to sell more records.”

Flyer text

There have been hand-bills ever since printing presses first advertised whatever entertainment was hot back then. So what makes a club flyer different from other printed matter handed out on the street? Flyers offer coded information to a particular culture. If you crack the code, welcome to the party! Back in the late-1980s the flyer began life as an cheap, portable form of advertising a new type of entertainment, which was to evolve into the major musical genre now known as Dance. When young promoters set up one-night parties (in night clubs, warehouses or fields), to play their favourite music to friends, they wanted to let just the right people know about it. Flyers were the perfect means. Simply hand one to whoever you like the look of. Easy. After the basic data – when, where, what’s on offer and how much – the rest of the flyer is for art. Plus, the visuals explain what to expect in terms of style and attitude, but only if you can read the code. Psychedelic fantasy worlds; slick, photographic glamour; cartoon cute characters; mysterious techno beasts; it all means something…if you learn to read. Here’s something to practice on; 100 flyers from a decade of clubbing.

Ephemera text

Alongside high profile record sleeves, graphic designers working in the music industry produce other stuff – a vast range of ephemera that isn’t usually as treasured as our favourite albums. All the visual information needed and sold by the industry – from the promotional poster and point of sale material to the stage set, t-shirt, concert ticket and button badge – is all designed. In some cases performers choose one designer to co-ordinate their entire image; that’s considered to be the optimum way of working to produce a totally cohesive visual statement. But that necessitates the designer having a wide range of skills and being employed full-time by the performer. More often, the record company will ask a designer to create certain bits of the puzzle, while other elements are farmed out to other companies and professionals who specialise in the smallest details (the badges and tickets), or the larger-scale elements of the image (stage sets and videos). There is also design work to do for record labels, venues and radio stations. A light show won’t be the same twice; a concert ticket gets washed in the pocket of your jeans; the stuff disappears so enjoy this selection while you can.

Video text

A recent study in America identified that 10-year-old children recognise music videos to be “advertisements” for songs. Since the launch of MTV in the early 1980s, music videos or “pop promos” as they’re also called, have become the prime means of marketing and selling Pop music in what is one of the world’s most cut-throat commercial environments. Coinciding with the new MTV was the blossoming of a UK-based musical genre for which image was as importance as sound. The British New Romantics were the first sub-culture to dominate the small screen, and the reputation of British promo directors, many of whom brought with them the sensibilities of their previous professions as photographers, graphic designers and fashion stylists, was set. The power of the music video is certainly beyond doubt, and that importance is under-scored by the budget spent (on average £100,000) and the fact that budding, young filmmakers start out making videos (Spike Lee, Hal Hartley, Alex McDowell and Julian Temple among others). Videos are crucial to both musicians and filmmakers because they’re a great medium for experimentation as they’re quick to make. Plus they earn world-wide exposure by being shown on music-based cable stations (MTV, VH1), national TV chart shows, jukeboxes in stores, bars and clubs, and through are on sale in record stores.

Time Line

4 March 1966
John Lennon of the Beatles is quoted as saying; “We’re more popular than Jesus now”.
31 July 1966
Citizens of Birmingham, Alabama, burn Beatles’ records and memorabilia.
11 August 1066
Lennon apologies.

6 December 1969
The Rolling Stones hire Hells Angels as security at the Altamont Festival, California. One fan is stabbed to death. The peace and love era is over.
9 April 1970
The Beatles split up.

1 December 1976
The Sex Pistols are the first guests to ever swear on a British TV chat show.
12 January 1977
Their record label, EMI, dumps the Sex Pistols. The band keep the £40,000 advance.
3 December 1976
A 40-feet-long inflatable pig flies away during the shoot for Pink Floyd’s Animals record sleeve, designed by Hipgnosis. To avoid an accident, air traffic control closes London’s airports.
16 August 1977
Elvis dies, aged 42.

18 August 1981
At 12.01am MTV broadcasts its first video; Video killed the radio star by Buggles.
Philips launch the Compact Disc.
13 July 1985
Ex-Boomtown Rat, Bob Geldof, hosts Live Aid, which is watched on TV by 2 billion people in 22 countries. It raises $70 million for famine relief.
12 July 1986
Boy George of Culture Club is arrested when a friend dies of a drugs overdose in his home. He’s charged with possession of marijuana and admits to being a heroin addict.

May 1992
For five days 50,000 people rave in a field, for free, at the illegal Castlemoreton Festival in rural England.
The British Government retaliates, by passing the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which outlaws outdoor parties playing repetitive beats.

19 February 1996
Jarvis Cocker of Pulp moons to the cameras during Michael Jackson’s set at the Brit Awards. He is arrested but not charged.

6 May 1998
The Spice Girls are named “World’s best-selling Pop artists of the year” at the annual World Music Awards.
8 February 1999
Spice World, the Spice Girls’ movie, is nominated for the Golden Raspberry Award as the “Worst film of the year”.

So, what covers, ephemera and videos were in the show; here are some lists from my correspondence, although I’m not sure what finally made it in…

List of sleeves for “bubbles”

1. AP: Pink Floyd-Dark side of the moon-Wish you were here-Animals/Led Zepplin-House of the Holy-Presence
2. RD: Yes-Tales from Topographic oceans-Relayer-Yellow City Yes box set/Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe-ABWH/Pink Floyd-Symphonic Dragons Garden
3. BB: Elvis Costello-Armed Forces/Ian Dury-Do it yourself (more than one version?)-Hit me with your rhythm stick7”/The Damned-Music for Pleasure/Hawkwind-In search of space
4. JR: Sex Pistols-God Save the Queen-Holiday in the Sun/Boy George-No Clause 28/Fraser Clark-Shamanarchy in the UK/Afro Celt Sound System-vol 1
5. MG: Buzzcocks-first album inside “Product” carrier bag-Orgasm Addict/BEF (British electric foundation) vol 2/Magazine-The Correct Use of Soap/Duran Duran-Rio
6. PS: Joy Division-Unknown Pleasures-Closer/New Order-Republic (as CD)-Blue Monday (12 inch single)/OMD-first album
7: KB: Scritti Politti-Cupid and Psyche-Oh Patty (12 inch single)-SP with Shabba Ranks-She’s a Woman (single)/ABC-How to be a Zillionaire/Ellis Beggs and Howard Homer-album/The Mission-Carved in sand
8. NB: Last Testament compilation, Fetish Records/23 Skidoo-The Gospel, or The Gospel comes to New Guinea-7 songs/Cabaret Voltaire-Faith would be the one
9: VO: Clan of Xymox-Clan of Xymox/Ultra vivid scene-Ultra vivid scene/Lonely is an eyesore-compilation/Pixies-Doolittle/Ft.Lake-His Name is Alive
10: MF: Pet Shop Boys-Very CD (orange)/David Clarke-Archive/Spiritualised-Ladies and Gentlemen we are floating in space (6 x CD in pill box)-Music Masters-Decon flouro box
11: DJ?
12: AS/Intro: Primal Scream-Exterminator (Creation)/Depeche Mode-Singles 86-98/Broadcast-Noise Made By People/Stereolab-Dots and Loops/Heart of the Congos-The Congos
13: IA/The Designers Republic: Age of Chance-Kiss/Pop will eat itself-This is the Day/Autechre-Chiastic Slide/Satoshi Tomiie-Full Lick/Sun Electric-O’Locco
14: PW/Me Company: Sugar Cubes-Life’s too good/Bjork-Post-Bachalorette/Shaman-Entact/Carl Cox-Fact one
15: Ben Drury/MoWax: Money Mark-Push the button (12 inch album)/Divine Styler-Wordpower 2 (12 inch album)/Attica Blues-promo album/Liquid-Liquid promo album/DJ Mike for Journey-The Journey

Mood board sleeves

Cream “Disreali Gears” Atco 1967 d. Martin Sharp
The Who “My Generation” Virgin 1965 / “The Who sell out” Decca 1967 d. David King and Roger Law ph. David Montgomery
The Beatles “Revolver” 1966 d. Klaus Voorman
The Jimi Hendrix Experience “Electric Ladyland” 1968 d. David King ph. David Montgomery
Jethro Tull “This was” 1969 / “Reprise” 1971 painting Burton Silverman
John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band “Live Peace in Toronto 1968” Apple 1970
King Crimson “In the court of the crimson king” 1969 d. Barry Godber
Mott the Hoople “Mott the Hoople” 1970 drawing by MC Escher
Quatermass “Quatermass” Harvest 1970 d. Hipgnosis
Robert Palmer “Pressure Drop” Island 1975 d. Graham Hughes
Osibisa “Osibisa” Decca 1971 d. Roger Dean
Traffic “The low spark of high heeled boys” Island 1971 / “Shoot out at the fantasy factory” Island 1973 d. Tony Wright
Queen “Queen Jazz” Elecktra 1978 d. Cream (insert of naked bicycle race)
Roxy Music “For your pleasure” Island 1973 / “Stranded” a.d. Nicholas De Ville ph. Karl Stoeker
UFO “Phenomenon” Chrysalis 1974, d. Hipgnosis, painting Maurice Tate
The Pretty Things “Silk Torpedo” 1974 d. Hipgnosis
Sparks “Progaganda” Island 1974 ph. Monty Coles / “Indiscreet” Island 1975 ph. Richard Creamer / “Kimomo My Heart” Island 1974 a.d. Nicholas De Ville ph. Karl Stoeker
Eddie and the Hotrods “Teenage Depression” Island 1977 d. Michael Beal
Echo and the Bunnymen “Crocodiles” Korova 1980 ph. Brian Griffin / “Heaven up here” Sire 1981 / “Porcupine” Sire 1983 / “Ocean Rain” Sire 1984 d. Martyn Atkins ph. Brian Griffin
Pet Shop Boys “Introspective” EMI 1988 d. Mark Farrow @ 3 Associates
Duran Duran “Rio” 1982 d. Malcolm Garrett
Simple Minds “Life in a day” Virgin 1987 d. Malcolm Garrett
The Farm “Spartacus” 1991 d. Design Shed
The Prodigy “Music for the jilted generation” XL Recordings 1994 ph. Stuart Haygarth
Blur “Parklife” 1994 ph. Brunshill/Bob Thomas

2000-2001 New Covers

Aubrey, Unscrambled memories, Shady Acorns
Blur, The Best of Blur, Julian Opie (artist)
Garbage, Beautiful, Mushroom Records
Muse, Origin of symmetry, Mushroom Records
Muse, Bliss, d. Darren Watkins
Spiritualised, Let it come down, d. Farrow Design
Orbital, The Altogether, d. Farrow Design
Mr Bongo Recording, Bazeado, d. Red Design
Brothomstates, Chaos, Warp Records d. The Designers Republic
Deep Dish, Yoshieque Two, React Music d. The Designers Republic
Zero7, Destiny d. Blue Source
Hydrogen Dukebox Records, Infused d. Yacht Design
Haven, Let it live
Basement Jaxx, Rooty, xl-recordings / Beggars Banquet d. Mat Maitland & Gerard Saint at Big Active
Hefner, Dead Media d. Darren Hayman
Death in Vegas, The Contino Sessions d. Richard Fearless and Will Bankhead
Aphex Twin, Leftfield, Warp Records


The Beatles – Yellow Submarine
Queen – Bohemian Rapsody
Sex pistols – God Save the Queen
New Order – True faith
The Cure – Close to me
KLF – Mu Mu
Frankie goes to Hollywood – Pleasure Dome/Two Tribes
Elvis Costello – Accidents will happen
Rolling Stones – Love is Strong
Pink Floyd – The Wall
David Bowie – Ashes to Ashes
Peter Gabriel – Sledghammer
Ultravox – Vienna
Adam and the ants – Stand and Deliver
Japan – Nightporter
Coil – Tainted love
Caberet Voltaire – anything
David Sylvian – Ghosts
Duran Duran – Rio/Girls on film
Robert Palmer – Addicted to Love
Wham – Club Tropicano
Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams
The Specials – Ghost Town
Madness – Our House
Bauhaus – Bella the Ghost is Dead
Echo and the Bunnymen – The Cutter/Porcupine
Teardrop explodes – Reward
The Jam – Down in the tube station at midnight
Happy Mondays – Kinky Afro/Wrote for luck
Housemartins – Happy Hour
Beats international – Dub be good to me
Fatboy Slim – Praise you/Right here, right now
Soul II Soul – Back to Life
Oasis – with helicopters, or the Beatles-like animation
Blur – Park life/Country house/Song 2
Pulp – Common People
Portishead – Only you
Supergrass – Alright/Pumping on the stereo
Prodigy – Firestarter/Smack your bitch up/Breathe
Leftfield – Africa Shox
Chemical brothers – Let forever be
Bjork – Human behaviour/Big time sensuality
Death in Vegas – Dirt
Underworld – Mmm skyscraper
Massive attack – Daydreaming/Teardrop/Unfinished sympathy
Radiohead – Just/Karma police/Street spirit
Artificial intelligence – a Warp compilation
Orbital (or is The Orb) – Fluffy white clouds
Silver bullet – 20 seconds to comply
The Verve – Bittersweet symphony
Stone Roses – Fools Gold
Jamiroquai – Virtual Insanity
Aphex Twin – Windowlicker/Come to daddy
Squarepusher – Come on my Selector
Mansun – Tax Loss
UNKLE – Rabbit in the Headlights

Forgive the lack of cohesive formatting but I’ve left the texts (more or less) as found. And I haven’t listed the 100 flyers and all the ephemera as I’m not sure what was actually used. Looking at this mass of material it amazes me how much I suggested and collected, for what was considered to be a small show, even though the square footage varied from venue to venue. It was a lot of research, working with minimal (if any) Internet access or digital image searches. The material presented here, from my own archive, does not fully describe or confirm the actual contents of this exhibition; ironically, they may still exist somewhere, boxed up in a British Council store. Hopefully, though, by adding this information to the universal (but partial) digital archive that we call the Internet, this post will go some way to documenting an exhibition that was seen by many people in a lot of places.


Manchester, old and new; accessible history in a city of museums


This gallery contains 26 photos.

Manchester is a city well provisioned with museums run by Manchester City Council, University of Manchester, independent charitable trusts, and national museum groups that receive government funding. Courses in Curating and Museum Studies are taught at University of Manchester and … Continue reading

Issues around archives, part one; Archiving Design Organisations

Proving the worth of my own archive (flyers, handouts and notes filed), this post recalls an event that spurred me on to apply for an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award. Overlooking the time-lag, another prompt to this post is the fact (and it’s a surprise even to me) that archives have become central to my methodology. During my doctoral research I’ve attended a number of academic events at which issues relating archives have been discussed; in this and a subsequent post, I’ll attempt to document those debates.

Screen Shot of Homepage for University of Brighton’s Design Archives listing the individual archives, news and events

Screen Shot of Homepage for University of Brighton’s Design Archives listing the individual archives, news and events

Archiving Design Organisations
“A Design Archives seminar funded by the Design History Society”
University of Brighton
Grand Parade, Brighton
6 June 2011

Being (at the time) a Visiting Lecturer at University of Brighton and therefore on an events mailing list, news of this day-long-seminar popped into my uni inbox…I was enticed…

Curatorial Director of the Design Archives, Professor Catherine Moriarty, welcomed delegates and identified three themes running through the day’s talks: the historical legacy of design organisations and the responsibility of telling their histories; the current activity of design organisations and how to manage material, record activity and make the past public in a digital age; and, shifts in the way designers work, the future of the design profession and of representative organisations. Catherine also posted a write-up of the event, here.

Professor Jonathan M. Woodham, then in post as Director of Research and Development, recalled how in 1994 the Design Council was reorganised following a report that recommended vacating its Haymarket headquarters; staff cuts of 90% followed. During an event at London’s Design Museum Jonathan voiced his objection to a proposal that the Design Council’s photographic archive be relocated to the Museum, pointing out that “it was a free and public library created with public money, so why should we pay to use it”. He later invited the Design Council to deposit its records at University of Brighton’s Design Archives and “two enormous pantechnicons of material” arrived; 17 years later “we’re still mining it”.
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Archiving ephemera; Composite, LDF and talking design


Two Columbia Road
London E2
20 to 25 September 2011

“Composite is both verb and noun, an action and an outcome, a process and a finished product. Within it are roots and hints of other words — compose, composition, posit, position, site and compare — all of which relate to art, architecture, fashion and design. This exhibition brings together a disparate group of creatives who’ve crossed those borders, gone beyond all comfort zones. Often working in collaboration, they’ve mutated their practice to produce hybridised, surprising solutions.

Questioning traditional processes, reusing discarded materials, exploring overlooked technologies, composing disparate elements, exposing the artificial, celebrating the mundane; these are just some of their tactics. The end results, the works on show, are diverse but they share two things in common, a degree of intricacy and ‘a way in’. They’re not exclusive, instead we’re encouraged to engage and play, inspect and manipulate, delve and re-arrange. Complex, interactive, considered, non-precious; this work is of its time. We live in a composite world.”
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Digital histories in Northumbria; a workshop

Screen Shot from The Discovery Museum website showing a permanent gallery where workshop delegates played on interactive exhibits

Screen Shot from The Discovery Museum website showing a permanent gallery where workshop delegates played on interactive exhibits

Digital Histories: Advanced Skills for Historians
Northumbria University Newcastle and Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
24-25 April 2014

Flying to Newcastle for a two-day workshop may seem an extravagant use of research time but this AHRC-funded workshop (organised by Laura Hutchinson and André Keil of University of Northumbria) promised to investigate issues around the digital humanities, to do with archives, text, image, data and metadata, and examine a number of innovative projects into the bargain. Speakers, including a Medieval scholar, a social media maven, community organisers and university- and museum-based IT consultants, were to discuss the implications of: putting archives online; striving for web- and museum-based interactivity; and crowd-sourcing projects that link institutions with volunteers.

The event spotlit concerns around digital and online cultural activity that will now inform my museum-based research. Delegates voiced concerns about unfamiliar material. Text-based historians, comfortable working with online resources be they newspaper archives or scanned records, admitted to lacking confidence when it came to image-based documentation. But there also seems to be a (conspicuous) lack of art- and design-led projects within this digital arena, perhaps because historians with those prefixes prefer to interact with objects and images, offline.
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Conference; data day at the museum

Teamwork and Strategy in the Museum... Lewis Chessmen, Scotland, 12th-Century, British Museum. Photograph by Andrew Dunn. Sourced from WikiCommons/Creative Commons

Teamwork and Strategy in the Museum… Lewis Chessmen, Scotland, 12th-Century, British Museum. Photograph by Andrew Dunn. Sourced from WikiCommons/Creative Commons

“What does data have to do with me?”
British Museum
Great Russell Street, London, WC1
5 June 2015

One of the bonuses of working on an AHRC funded doctorate is being able to attend conferences, workshops and seminars that introduce me to subject areas which at first sight might seem tangential to my core subject, but as my research actually crosses disciplinary boundaries I shouldn’t be too surprised when they prove to be incredibly useful. Signing up to the AHRC mailing list and taking notice of emails sent by University of Brighton Doctoral College alerted me to such opportunities. Events that fit this category include a two-day workshop, hosted by Northumbria University Newcastle and Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums, on the subject of “Digital Histories: Advanced Skills for Historians” (reviewed here), and “Using Museum Archives” supported by the Museums and Galleries History Group and the British Museum Collaborative Research Studentship Programme (also, to be reviewed).

I was particularly impressed with another British Museum event, “What does data have to do with me?” and am writing this up in detail because it signposted numerous projects that I wouldn’t otherwise have been aware of. The packed programme featured stellar speakers including representatives from Adobe, the Arts Council, Culture24, Dallas Museum of Art (by Skype), Google, The Guardian, Nesta and News UK. Crucially, though, the day introduced a new resource within the museum…data.
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From the Archive; revisiting The Gladstone, Toronto

Not everyone in the museum world thinks that the key to growing audiences is inclusivity and diversity. In some quarters, exclusivity and elitism are the order of the day, used to attract audiences of a different character; people too busy to queue or who don’t like crowds and prefer a “private view” atmosphere, albeit one they pay for rather than access on merit. At this point I’m not judging the trend, but will return to it in a group of posts inspired by recent events, including the opening of fashion- and luxury-brand museums and the launch of new concierge and “passport” services.

But today’s re-post was inspired by an aspect of this trend, news of the “Museum Oscars”, which came via a tweet from CNN. Reporter Maureen O’Hare ponders “surprises” on the short-list and asks why certain “giants” of the museum world are absent. Her copy answers that question without spelling it out; these awards “honor the world’s most visionary art institutions and emerging cultural hotspots”, meaning places that change rather than those that stay the same.

The Leading Culture Destinations Awards boast a glamorous list of “Ambassadors”, a coterie of “cultural nomads” who exercise their taste in judgement, and such a media-friendly ploy guarantees high profile coverage. It may reek of hype (or is it just be a slow-news day) but the LCD website is sleek and impressive, suggesting that a substantial investment underpins the enterprise. Aside from organising the awards, LCD combines a luxury travel agency, publishing company (albeit online) and event management.

More on this phenomenon in the next post, but I’m mentioning it here because of the category “The Best Art Experience in a Hotel”, which got me excited as museums and hotels are two of my favourite things, so put them together! One nomination, The Gladstone, had just opened when I wrote about it and its near neighbour, The Drake Hotel, during Toronto’s Alternative Art Fair, which happens every November before winter weather sets in. Being “art hotels” the two venues give themselves over to installations and happenings. Back in 2006 I spent a couple of days at The Drake Hotel enjoying the gloriously balmy autumnal glow, culminating in a hotel-take-over by Peaches no less, who played an extraordinary set throughout the hotel, her exploits relayed via video link to screens dotted around the public spaces. The queen bee had the room next to ours, and after all the excitement was gracious enough to kick out her groupies, which lowered the decibels, so everyone got a good night’s sleep.

The Gladstone room that CNN rates with a mention is by Ghost Design, aka, Barr Gilmore and Michel Arcand. Suite 318, The Blue Line room works on the same principle as movie special effects, allowing guests to doctor-up their selfie shots by adding digital backgrounds. With this year’s Nuit Blanche, the all-night art rave, coming up on Saturday, perhaps it’s time to get a room…

Screen Shot of “The Blue Line” room in The Gladstone

Screen Shot of “The Blue Line” room in The Gladstone

Meanwhile, back in the day…

Art Houses
Design Week
2 March 2006, p.18

Standfirst: Two trend-setting hotels in Toronto put the city’s classic Victorian architecture to good use — they have kept their accessible, bohemian roots, while offering a quirky design. Unique, rather than boutique is the way forward.

For one of the world’s most cosmopolitan and diverse cities, Toronto has a surprisingly unpretentious attitude. Even in the designated Art and Design District, identified by fancy street signs and a concentration of galleries, boutiques, designer eateries and creative businesses, the atmosphere is more inclusive than elitist, as you can tell from afternoons people-watching on (well-heated) café terraces.

Based on the North American urban ‘block’ model, with long boulevards and narrow cross streets, much of the city centre’s 19th-century architecture is deliciously ornate and on an industrial scale. The fortunes of some neighbourhoods declined, so that many buildings were left mercifully alone. A profusion of building stock, ready and waiting to be renovated and reused, is what drew artists and savvy developers to the Art and Design District, located at the western end of Queen Street, or West Queen West to its friends.
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Denmark for design museums; a discussion

Design Museums for the 21st Century, roundtable discussion
Trapholt Museum and University of Southern Denmark
Kolding, Denmark
23 January 2014


When your PhD supervisor tells you to go to Denmark in freezing January, you go; the icing on the cake was that it started snowing as we sat in the Trapholt Museum’s meeting room, with its giant picture window, and everyone went “aaaahhhh”. The Museum is housed in a playfully modern building, boasts an unrivalled collection of Danish chairs and is next door to Arne Jacobsen’s summer house (sadly I didn’t get inside, this time), so that made up for the weather. I also got to see the thought-provoking and unprecedented touring exhibition, Out to Sea? The Plastic Garbage Project, which seemed totally appropriate in a country that loves fish.

I’m reporting what the speakers said, from my notes, but have added my comments too; where they are short and in the same paragraph, they’re in [square brackets].

My supervisor is University of Brighton’s Professor of Design Culture, Guy Julier, and he is also Visiting Professor at University of Southern Denmark. He’d gathered his grad students from Denmark and Brighton, along with “expert witnesses” from the museum world in Denmark and the UK, to discuss design. Guy opened the proceedings by telling us that design museums were “mushrooming”. He counted 45 European design museums with more projects for new, expanding and relocating institutions still in the pipeline, mentioning that Mexico City’s MUMEDI, tripled its visitor numbers by rebranding as a “design museum”. He talked about the tension in museums between the contemporary and history, design and design history, and that a contextual approach to design in museums was the way forward, mixing the excitement of innovation with the pragmatism of solving problems, and heritage and continuity with new technology and innovative design fields. Finally, he pointed to the Index Awards (a Danish initiative) as evidence of design shifting away from a fascination with “heroes”. […and by extension, a recognised canon?]
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From the Archive; Furniture, Jerwood Applied Arts Prize 1999


Furniture: Jerwood Applied Arts Prize 1999
Jerwood Charitable Foundation
Crafts Council Gallery
441 Pentonville Road, London N1
26 August to 3 October 1999

I wrote an essay for this exhibition catalogue (produced by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation and the Crafts Council, designed by Pentagram) while I was a nomad, living and working between two continents. I remember the irony of writing about furniture when all I owned was in storage, but I was an unrepentant collector, even buying pieces from fellow students while at the RCA (Allison Jane Thomas’s Tutti-Frutti stool (1990) is in the V&A; mine is upholstered in tan leather).

Coincidentally, 1999 was when auctioneer Alexander Payne first coined the term Design Art; he later ditched it due to “misuse” as reported in ICON (8/2/08). So, when I say in the essay, “furniture has no pedestal”, that was about to change, although the turn towards narrative and meaning beyond function was acknowledged.

Another shift of emphasis has occurred in the career trajectories of new designers. Where I listed migration to Milan, the epicentre of the contemporary furniture trade, as a right of passage, subsequent diversification of production has widened the geographical spread of design activity. “Eleven years ago UNESCO launched the Creative Cities Network to recognize cities around the world whose creativity has an impact on their social, economic, and political development”; Business Insider spotlights 16 design-focused cities, here. Through a mix of city council initiatives, the presence of museums and universities (with students travelling to study and then relocating), and Design Festivals and Biennales that disperse the power of promotion, designers are living and working beyond the industry’s powerhouse cities (Milan, Paris, Tokyo, New York, London), in places like Oslo, Cape Town, Istanbul, Los Angeles and Hong Kong. Hints of that trend were evident in the career choices of the designers selected for this award, perhaps because they foregrounded making in their practice as opposed to mass-production. The shortlist featured Jane Atfield, Robert Kilvington, Mary Little, Michael Marriott, Guy Martin, Jim Partridge, Simon Pengelly and Michael Young.
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Turning the century; contemporary design at the V&A


Design Since 1945
Permanent Display, Room 76, Level 3
Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road, London SW7
Visited on 27 August 2015

The other day I popped into the V&A for a quick refresher. It was a busy weekday near the end of the school holidays, and while there were queues outside the Natural History Museum and the V&A’s ground floor galleries were full of bodies, the upper floors were relatively quiet. I took the opportunity to see how the permanent display of contemporary design might have evolved since I last too a look (not sure when that was). On the V&A’s website the Design Since 1945 gallery in Room 76 (one of three rooms labelled “Modern” on the Museum Map) is described as showing art and design from the end of the Second World War to the present day; it also aims to present contemporary developments. Continue reading