Exhibition Review – The Future Is (Was) Here at the Design Museum

6 October, 2013

Recently I went to the Future Is (Was) Here Exhibition at the Design Museum. Here are my thoughts:Future Is Here Exhibition Design Museum

The Timing Of the Show

Over the past few years, the Design Museum has displayed a fantastic sense of timing with the shows they’ve chosen to curate. Their very own 3D printing exhibition launched only a few short weeks after the Guardian starting publishing articles shouting the praises of 3D printing, and proclaiming how it was on the edge of entering mainstream culture. The rest of the media soon followed. In fairness, their exuberance had some good backing evidence– in spite of the durability limitations of many of the currently available materials currently used by 3D printing, new 3D printing based commercial projects seem to appear every month– bespoke dolls, gunscreative plastics and ceramics, and even a pop up 3d printer shoppe inside Selfridges this Christmas. In light of all this activity in the news, 3D printing itself is certainly positioned to be the trend of the moment regardless of application.

Which is, from what I can tell, precisely where the Design Museum’s show comes in. They knew the exhibition hall would be flooded with masses teeming with more enthusiasm than technical understanding, so they designed their show around the two most simple questions:

What is 3D printing? And what is all the fuss about?

The Good News

Feathers Couture Shoulder Piece By Catherine Wales
There were many examples of both everyday and non-obvious uses of 3D printing, such as Catherine Wales’ feather shoulder piece for her couture catwalk collection.

The biggest achievement of this show is how they manage to successfully walk a
balanced line between enlightening total beginners while allowing varied levels of technical complexity to not bore the already initiated.

They do this by not just talking about the process, but by showing the historical and cultural forces which led to the birth of this technology, right alongside many colourful examples of this technology being used right now. Indeed, with the two designers working on the spot with FDM printers and laser cutters, this is technology being used literally right now!

From there, the Design Museum curators take that starting point to ask questions about where this could go in the future, including how other modern innovations and cyclical cultural developments will interact with the propagation of these manufacturing tools in light industry. For example, if 3D printing allows for the small scale manufacturing of items previously made only using larger production lines, will 3D printing result in a change of factory sizes in the future, and thus a redistribution of manufacturing back to the Western World from the Far East? And if many of these technologies print objects using essentially classic formulas for industrial plastic, how will recycling interface with 3D printing in the future?

Amazingly, all this is done with enough wonder and easy enough writing to not alienate the non-technically minded.

What’s more, the supporting information for the show is first rate. The website for the exhibition was excellent (update: it is now closed), and the Design Museum is featuring an accompanying series of some of the most accessible lectures they’ve ever matched to a show. While they are not free, they are aimed squarely at total newcomers (as with the rest of the show), which is in and of itself a novelty for the Design Museum’s talks.

The Bad News

My only real criticism of this show was how difficult it was to resist touching the displays. Considering so many items were at tabletop height, and so many of the designs and materials were made to be used and handled, it almost felt like they were teasing us with “do not touch” signs. Perhaps some touchable samples next time?


All in all, this is one of the most fun exhibitions the Design Museum has put on in quite a while. Give the visitors toys to play with next time and you’d have a top rate show!

(At Design Museum until 29 October, Tickets £11.85 for adults, call or check designmuseum.org about lecture times and ticket prices.)


Jack Meyer

Bespoke jewellery designer, and specialist in jewellery CAD/CAM and emergent technologies that affect jewellery.

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