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Fri Aug 25 2017

California: Designing Freedom

California: Designing Freedom

Google's Waymo & the motorbike from 'Easy Rider'

New typefaces from Adobe

'We The People' Advert, 2016

California: Designing Freedom

Facebook's newsfeed algorithm

Diagrammatic representation of Google's 'Maps'

Evolution of the skateboard

‘California has changed our lives’ – so The Design Museum’s latest exhibition, ‘California: Designing Freedom’ tells us, as we enter a futuristic space on the museum’s ground floor. After you’ve finished navigating the expansive show and start to document your visit on your Cupertino-hailing iPhone and with the help of Palo Alto’s very own Facebook - it’s hard to argue with that premise. The new exhibition explores how this forward-thinking US state forged the world in which we live – from the counterculture movement of the 1960’s right through until the present day.

Self-expression and freedom was central to the counterculture movement of the 1960’s, and its these principles that have consistently guided Californian designers from all fields and is a running theme throughout the displays here: movement, perception, expression, self-reliance, and association.

From the creation of the Pride flag in San Francisco and the artwork of the Black Panther movement in the 1960’s right through to Twitter’s involvement in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Californian design has helped drive political and social change throughout the world. The first part of the exhibition explores how the artistic expression of activists helped define the various liberation movements of the 1960’s and have now also found renewal in the post-Trump world.

As political agitation gave way to a sense of individualism, this sense of self-expression infiltrated the world of entertainment and leisure. Early editions of WIRED magazine can be viewed, alongside cutting edge (at the time) computer games from Atari and ‘Pong’. LSD blotting paper designs are perhaps one of the most unusual items on display here, and show how that even in narcotic sub culture there was an element of design excellence.

The exhibition also tells the story of the major Silicon Valley companies like Apple, Facebook, Google and Twitter. Early iPhone prototypes are on show – and staggering to behold. You can also glimpse the algorithms for Facebook, as well as seeing cutting edge product developments like Snapchat Specs and Google's self-driving car, now branded Waymo (the first time it’s been exhibited in the UK).

You’ve only got a month left to catch the ‘California: Designing Freedom’ - it closes on 15th October, so get your skate(board)s on.

Lorcan O'Donoghue