Cultural institutions have been hugely impacted by the events of the past year. Like many, London’s Design Museum in Chelsea has had to adapt to the limitations of stay-at-home restrictions. The museum has risen to the occasion by bringing its annual Beazley Designs of the Year Exhibition to the virtual realm.
Though I entered assuming nothing would match the enjoyment of being at the museum, navigating the virtual map of this exhibition is clear and fun as a stand-in for the real deal. The celebration of design here spans projects from January 2019 to January 2020, in a new chronological countdown format of designs from the twelve months leading up to the pandemic. The showcase manages to be boundless in its scope. Touching on everything from the cultural resonance of ‘Stormzy’s Stabproof Vest’ designed by Banksy and worn at Glastonbury, to the scientific leaps of the molecular biology paired with AI creation of cell-regenerating computer organism ‘Xenobot’.
Particular issues of urgency stood out. Many instalments demonstrate how circular economy is now more than an ideal but a genuine cause which designers are uniting to address. From the ‘DO Black Carbon Emissions Credit Card’ which tracks the carbon costs of purchases and poses a carbon limit, to Lucy Hughes’ ‘MarinaTex’ bioplastic formed of fishing waste and algae that can decompose within six weeks. The plea for protection of the planet plays a large role in this exhibit. ‘Colour of the Year: Bleached Coral’ is a faded off-white tone designed to critique Pantone’s Colour of the Year 2019 ‘Living Coral’, chosen after half the Great Barrier Reef had been killed by heatwaves in 2016. The good news though is that by 2020 researchers had made great strides with their Coral IVF programme.
There is an array of products which tackle worldwide political and socio-economic problems. From the simple inspiration of ‘NüNude’ skin colour matching plasters for diversity, to the ingenious ‘The Uncensored Library’ hidden deep within the videogame world of Minecraft, which houses a vast collection of block-written texts permitting access to freedom of speech to those living under oppression regimes rife with censorship. Similarly powerful in its inventive design to overcome, ‘ModSkool’ is a dismantlable school structure created to deal with forced evacuation on the river floodplains of the Yamuna in India.
For some light relief to balance the gravitas of ambition to heal societal issues which emanates from much of the show, there is plenty of playful brilliance and creativity. Sweden’s ‘The Station of Being’ bus-stop encourages sensory communal relaxation for passengers waiting to board, ‘Scrap-Case’ displays Nicole McLaughlin’s quirky reimagining of garments by upcycling them into new designs, and ‘Soundbops’ is an interactive block game which helps children grasp music through the creativity of play. Architecture and design is taken to new heights with the beautiful ‘L’Arbre Blanc’ multipurpose living complex, the mansion in Lee Ha-Jun’s ‘Parasite Set Design’, and even in the video game ‘Manifold Garden’ which explores how impossible architecture can manifest in the graphics of the virtual world.
The Beazley Designs of the Year 2020 Exhibit is awe-inspiring and viewing it in a virtual medium doesn’t take away from this. Learning about these ideas, amongst many more, leaves you safe in the knowledge that creativity thrives, and design will continue to create a better world. Recapping where we were before the world as we knew it was drastically altered is surreal (especially looking at ‘Self Sanitising Door Handle’) but also a reminder of how design is the greatest tool there is to adapt and overcome challenges.
Beazley Designs of the Year 2020 – The Virtual Experience is available until 28th March 2021.