"The Future is Here" is here

I should get the declaration of interests out of the way first. I am a physical sciences geek. As a child I took things to pieces – and occasionally put them back together again. I read science books. I was given endless "science project" birthday and Christmas presents. I trained as a scientist and got my first job as a scientist in industry. Over time, I have added a veneer of being a businessman, but I cannot walk past a cool piece of technology without trying to work out how it works – although the impulse to exploit it comes a close second.

In business, I learned about marketing and branding, but it was a chance encounter with Sebastian Conran in  Wakefield in 2004 that led to the crystallisation of my interest in design. Sebastian was fascinated in how designers could better understand materials properties to push what was possible with design. It complemented my enthusiasm for working out why people chose particular materials for specific applications, and a loose working relationship was born. When I joined the Technology Strategy Board, it seemed natural to continue and extend that relationship, and Sebastian actually spoke at out first “Innovate” at The Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in 2008. Over time, the interaction of the Technology Strategy Board with the design community grew to encompass the Design Council and other organisations in the design space – Design Business Association and British Design Innovation spring to mind. The Creative Industries Knowledge Transfer Network also played its part in us (all) understanding the potential of integrating design and technology thinking to help drive economic growth.

In 2010, Sebastian introduced us to Deyan Sudjic of the Design Museum. The primary reason was to see if there could be any form of inter-working between our two organisations to recognise, emphasise and extend the link between technology and design. Iain and I both visited the new site for the Design Museum and we all began thinking how we could practically demonstrate these linkages and their potential.

In mid 2011, I attended a "Meeting of Minds" event at the British Museum, where Deyan was discussing with Christopher Frayling the contribution of design to commerce. As part of the discussion, Deyan described the links that had existed between designers and technologists during the Industrial Revolution, including the "Lunar Society", but also traced the schism between arts and science to those who rejected the ability of technology to make design more widely available. Over the next few weeks, we discussed this link and separation on several occasions and eventually decided we wanted to do something to bring the two communities together to recognise their common heritage and potential. The discussion widened on both sides and the idea of an exhibition of products and services that exemplified novel technology, good business and good design evolved. We enlisted a stellar advisory group and appointed a curator. Over the second half of 2012, we went through many more ideas than we could possibly exhibit – but also ran into the challenge that we wanted exhibits for 6 months and many could not spare artefacts important for the development of their business!

A core theme of how things are made led, inexorably, to looking at the impact of additive layer manufacturing. We were already developing a competition to support innovation in the area and were able to identify cutting edge developments in the field. Interestingly, we also had conversations with the Science Museum about their similar interests in the same area and hope to work with both ‘museums’ later in the year. But this group of new technologies are not the only developments in how we make things and the exhibition contains much more.

Design is increasingly used to make things easier, and therefore cheaper, to assemble. Design can be used to ensure the efficient use of rare, and expensive, raw materials. Design is also increasingly used to make sure that – post use – products can be dis-assembled and maximum use made not just of the raw materials but also the form in which they now exist.

The exhibition opened last week and the coverage of the link between design and technology was openly discussed – and lauded. Over the summer and in the autumn, the exhibition will form the backdrop to a series of events that we hope will draw out the links and opportunities those of us who have been closely associated with the exhibition have seen and been excited by.

How can you not go and see it?

Technology Strategy Board (remastered) Design
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