First Visit; Vitra Schaudepot

Exterior of the Vitra Schaudepot, by Herzog & de Meuron. Photo © Vitra Design Museum, Julien Lanoo

Exterior of the Vitra Schaudepot, by Herzog & de Meuron. Photo © Vitra Design Museum, Julien Lanoo

Vitra Schaudepot
Vitra Design Museum
Charles-Eames-Str. 2, Weil am Rhein, Germany
Visited, 31 May 2016

I used to go on press trips so regularly that I thought I didn’t need holidays. Travelling on planes and trains across Europe, America and further afield I visited designers, studios, factories and museums. Having swopped my peripatetic lifestyle for a more sedentary teaching gig, this press trip came out of the blue. I previously visited Vitra for a MUSCON conference (read about it, here) and marvelled at the Vitra Haus (read, here), so was aware of the upcoming addition to the extraordinary campus and keen to see the Schaudepot (Open Storage), a relatively new development in museum practice. A return visit wasn’t on my agenda though, so when this invitation popped into my inbox along with a commission to review the Vitra Collection’s new home, I was up for it! My article appeared in Blueprint magazine (no.347, p.36) and is available online at Design/Curial, here. This post adds details from the press conference and a conversation with Curator Janna Lipsky.
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Denmark for design museums; a discussion

Design Museums for the 21st Century; a round table 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.

My reporting of the round table is from my notes, with additional my comments; 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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Conference Paper; The Contentious Constance Spry, or, ‘Not in My Museum!‘

I’m taking some time this summer to document activities over the last few years, including occasional academic papers delivered at conferences and workshops. Images are from PowerPoint presentations and include quotes projected so as the audience can read along with references in the text. This paper was delivered “live”, and although it’s been re-edited for the page, I decided not to include footnotes or formal citations; all documents referred to are in the Design Museum archive, which is being catalogued, and mentioned texts are listed at end. This is a work-in-progress relating to my doctoral thesis, so if it feels truncated that’s because I’m using this blog as an “ideas store”, with the intention of expanding and deepening my arguments in the thesis.

Curating Popular Art
Whitechapel Gallery
77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London E1
14 June 2013

Organised with the University of Brighton Design Archives; a study day to accompany the exhibition
Black Eyes and Lemonade: Curating Popular Art
9 March to 1 September 2013


As the recipient of an AHRC Collaborative Doctorate Award, pairing the University of Brighton with London’s Design Museum, I’m looking at how definitions of design are produced and evolved within museums.

Good Victorian that he was, Henry Cole’s aim as founder of what is now the Victoria and Albert Museum, was to create an institution that informed manufacturers, workers and the public about the benefits of “good design”, so as to encourage the production, consumption and export of well-designed and efficiently-made “everyday” products, which would reinvigorate British industry. Jump to 1917, and Hubert Llewellyn Smith, Head of the Board of Trade and an early advocate for design education and design promotion suggested that a new museum of industrial design would help this cause. (The Board of Trade went on to set up the Council of Industrial Design, later the Design Council, and administrated the Victoria and Albert Museum up until the early 1980s). Such rhetoric around design promotes a series of promises; that “good design” will facilitate economic development, cultural innovation and social improvement. This discourse of design promotion has been central to the growth of institutions dedicated to the collection and display of designed objects. I’d suggest that now there is a more pressing need to present a truly comprehensive vision of the role and benefits of design; instead of “good design” might we consider “design for good”? But are design museums still fixating on Cole’s vision? Promoting individual designers and showcasing “the best” products of the year may fulfil the aims of a design museum, but explaining the design process and its multifarious activities and outcomes – showing design to be a tool for engagement and change – would more closely demonstrate “what design is now”. So, when it comes to design in museums, we are on the cusp of change.
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Conference Paper; Design History at the Design Museum, perfect fit or culture clash?

40 Years On: the Domain of Design History. Looking Back Looking Forward
The Open University
Berrill Lecture Theatre
Milton Keynes MK7 6AA
22 May 2015

Here’s an edited and slightly expanded version of the paper that I gave; I’d like to thank Dr. Elizabeth McKellar for organising the event and for inviting me to participate. The images are from my PowerPoint presentation.


Since 2011 I’ve been working on an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award, which partners University of Brighton with London’s Design Museum, so this paper comes out of a larger work-in-progress and started life as a search for mentions of the Design Museum in academic journals.

A bit of background; from thinking that my application for this award was a random act of “career development”, I’ve come to realise how important the Design Museum (“upper case”, meaning this specific institution [capitalized in this text]) has been to my design-focused career spanning teaching, publishing and curating. I started on an Art and Design Foundation Course in 1982, the year in which the first incarnation of the Design Museum, the Boilerhouse, opened in the basement of the Victoria and Albert Museum. During my Art History degree at University of Sussex it was exhibitions at the Boilerhouse – on Memphis, Issey Miyake, Handtools and British Youth Culture in particular – which enthralled me to design, from the objects on display, to the installation and display, and even the much-maligned white-tiled gallery. While the Director of the Boilerhouse, Stephen Bayley was considered “very bothersome” within the V&A and aimed to discourage people “wandering in from the V&A” (as he put it), I wandered the other way onto the V&A/RCA History of Design MA. Graduating in 1989 just as the Design Museum opened in its new Thames-side location, my work as a design journalist included reviewing exhibition; not always nice, not always nasty. For the last four years I’ve been: invited to nominate for Designs of the Year; observed the goings on in the café (not that this is a sociology of the Design Museum); talked to staff (on and off the record); enjoyed sporadic access to an “under construction” archive; visited every exhibition; dealt with the contradictions of a Supervisor who is also top of my list of “interviewees” and a very busy museum Director; and witnessed the museum prepare for its next phase.
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From the Archive; Design Criticism in New York

This post was originally published on Eye Blog. I’m reposting it because I recently added a separate post about Fiona Raby’s talk at this conference, which provides background to the Dunne & Raby exhibition, “United Micro Kingdoms: A Design Fiction”, reviewed here.

The 2013 D-Crit Conference, School of Visual Arts, New York City
Attended 11 May 2013

Brigette Brown argues that segregation is alive. Drawing by Nina Frankel.

Brigette Brown argues that segregation is alive. Drawing by Nina Frankel.

Monday 12:15am, 24 June 2013
“Sharing the stage…sharing ideas”
by Liz Farrelly
Originally published on Eye Blog

Five D-Crit students team up with experts to make presentations at their graduate symposium

It’s that time of year again, when a host of graduating art and design students prepare to launch themselves upon the world. The degree shows have gone up and this year’s crew are buzzing with anticipation. That’s fine if your work looks good on a wall or in a gallery. But what about the new breed of design critics on Masters courses on both sides of the Atlantic? Just how do writers make their mark?
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Show Don’t Tell, with design fiction

Communo-Nuclearists let the train take the strain. Image by Tommaso Landa. ©All rights reserved by d_&_r

Communo-Nuclearists let the train take the strain.
Image by Tommaso Landa
©All rights reserved by d_&_r

United Micro Kingdoms (UmK): a design fiction
Design Museum, Shad Thames, London
1 May to 26 August 2013
Visited 30 April and 15 August 2013

I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, attending a Designer Breakfast (8am start!) at the Design Museum, and was invited into the Press View for United Micro Kingdoms. There I bumped into Fiona Raby and Anthony Dunne, the instigators of this groundbreaking exhibition, which is billed as “a design fiction”. True to my journalistic roots, I fired a few questions and scribble some answers, before PRs whisked them away.

Tony and Fiona use design to provoke debate; they call it “critical design”. With “UmK” they’ve created a near-future scenario for our little island, populated by four tribes defined by differing attitudes to technology and ecology. These in turn are manifested as imagined transportation and energy choices, which mirror each tribe’s ethical and ideological beliefs.
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From the Archive; Collecting Digital Art and Design

I’m reposting these talk-and-conference reviews from 2010, as the issues covered are now to topical. With Louise Shannon recently made Curator of Digital Design at the Victoria and Albert Museum, debate continues around what museums might collect from the field of digital art and design, and how it should be conserved (MoMA’s Architecture and Design Department set the pace with its Video Games acquisitions, which I spent a fun afternoon playing on my last visit). Louise co-curated the seminal show, Decode: Digital Design Sensations, staged in the Porter Gallery, and hearing one of the co-curators of the latest show to open there, “Sky Arts Ignition: Memory Palace”, on BBC Radio 4’s “Start the Week” (17/6/13), made me think about how we might be “reneging on remembering” by relying on digital storage to save our real-life memories. But what happens when digital formats deteriorate and/or become obsolete, and those files are on longer accessible? Check back for my review of Memory Palace, coming soon…

John Maeda in conversation with Alice Rawsthorn
Attended 2 February 2010

Decoding the Digital Conference
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Attended 4-5 February 2010

John Maeda talks at V&A

Monday 7:01pm, 22 February 2010
“Discussing the digital”
by Liz Farrelly
Originally published on Eye Blog

John Maeda on dirt, de-cluttering and the power of art

Even though John Maeda wasn’t speaking at the conference, “Decoding the Digital”, staged alongside the exhibition Decode: Digital Design Sensations, his work and words (from this lecture earlier in the week) were referenced during the proceedings.
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