“Designed in California” Is the New “Made in Italy”

A London exhibition celebrates the freedom of California design.

While California’s mid-century modernism is well documented, this is the first exhibition to examine the state’s current global reach. Picking up the story in the 1960s, the exhibition charts the journey from counterculture to Silicon Valley’s tech culture. Its central idea is that California has always pioneered tools of personal liberation, from LSD to surfboards and iPhones. This ambitious survey brings together political posters, personal computers and self-driving cars but also looks beyond hardware to explore how user interface designers in the Bay Area are shaping some of our most common daily experiences and expanding what we think of as design.

California: Designing Freedom, a new exhibition at The Design Museum in London, is composed of over 200 objects, curated in five thematic sections. Collectively, these works assert that design in California is distinguished by an emphasis on individual freedom.

The exhibition’s five themes explore different facets of this freedom:

Go Where You Want: Tools of movement and escape

So many of the innovations associated with California, from LA’s freeways to Google Maps, revolve around freedom of movement. This section of the exhibition focuses on mobility, from navigation to portability and exploration. Exhibits include Waymo’s self-driving car, the first consumer GPS device and a replica of the Captain America chopper from Easy Rider.

See What You Want: Tools of perception and fantasy

California is best known as the land of make-believe, the home of Disney, Hollywood and videogaming. This section explores how California has pioneered new ways of looking at the world, from acid trips to virtual reality. Exhibits include Syd Mead’s artwork for Blade Runner, LSD blotting paper and early videogame graphics.

Say What You Want: Tools of self-expression and rebellion

California has its own history of enabling freedom of expression, from new graphic languages to social media. This section explores the state’s culture of communication through posters, magazines and online platforms. Exhibits include Emory Douglas’s Black Panther posters, David Carson’s design for Ray Gun magazine and Twitter’s interface design.

Make What You Want: Tools of production and self-reliance

Perhaps no place has done more to democratize access to industrial technology than California. This section features tools that have made ‘making’ easier and more accessible, from the Whole Earth Catalog, the counterculture’s bible of self-sufficiency, to the Apple Macintosh and the open-source tools of the ‘maker’ culture. Exhibits include an original Apple 1 computer, IDEO’s voting booth for Los Angeles County and a home kit for genetic engineering.

Join Who You Want: Tools of collaboration and community

Since the founding of California, the freedom to create your own community has been considered essential to success and survival. From hippy communes to Facebook, this section examines tools that enable communities both on the ground and online. Exhibits include a geodesic dome, Sussman Prejza’s designs for the 1984 LA Olympics and documentation of the early Burning Man festivals.

Diverse, engaging, revolutionary and addictive, Californian design has impacted so many aspects of our lives. California: Designing Freedom reveals how this culture of design and technology has made us all, in certain ways, Californians.

Going to London before October 15? Book tickets to the exhibition at designmuseum.org.

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