California: Designing Freedom at The Design Museum, London

The design museum currently is home to an extraordinary exhibition, “California: Designing Freedom”. This exhibition shows California's influence on how 1960s counterculture became the tech culture that we know today, and how the term, ‘Designed in California’ became a global sensation. 

This exhibition shows how many cultural movements, symbols and personal tools that permeate modern society originated in California. Surfboards, iPhones, Facebook and computer games are just some examples.

The exhibition is extremely colourful and bright, with hundreds of items on display for viewers to marvel at. The bright colours and beach vibe, with The Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” playing in the background, conjures up the sunny feeling of being in California, without leaving London’s Royal Borough of Kensington.

This exhibition shows how design has been influenced by certain cultural movements; Gay activists, black activists, surfers and hippies all used design to help promote their causes. 

One of the most well known designers to come out of the Hippy Movement was Steve Jobs, one of the creators of Apple. 

The exhibition has different sections on different types of design. In one area screens demonstrate how video games, animated characters and virtual reality are created. This area is highly interactive with headphones and videos to watch, and tablets for the viewer to control games with. 

This section explains how the high use of LSD in California inspired creators to make virtual reality games, giving people a safer way to disconnect and explore a new reality of their choosing. 

Another part of the exhibition demonstrates the advancement of computers and phones, with displays of the very first prototypes and models of Apple computers, phones and laptops. The displays show the progression from the first designs to the modern tools that now hold important places in our daily lives.

Freedom is a huge factor in this exhibition, displaying poster art for gay activist and black activist movements, including the use of Twitter to help promote the various causes. Also on display is the first ever, hand-stitched, Gay Pride rainbow flag, which was designed to bring freedom to the LGBT community.  

The creation of Twitter and Facebook networks are exhibited here as designs that create platforms for people to freely share and express their thoughts and opinions. 

The exhibition also showcases the Captain America Chopper from ‘Easy Rider’, and the Waymo self-driving car, which takes centre stage on a podium in the middle of the room.  

After examining all that this exhibition has to offer, it is hard to deny that that California has changed the world we live in. Californian designs have affected all of our lives in some way, from phones to skateboards, to the extent that you could almost say we’re all a little Californian now. 

This exhibition also makes you think that as technology has already come so far, what will happen if the freedom of design continues and becomes too advanced? However, as with past inventions that seemed too advanced for some at first, as ‘Californians’ we’ll ride those waves as they come.