British Design

MOMA / Five Continents, 2010

A stylish dash from the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 to the London Olympics in 2012 in just 8,000 words! This is what happened when the Museum of Modern Art in New York asked me to contribute to their series of books on design in different countries.

The usual suspects are all there: Josiah Wedgwood, Christopher Dresser, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Eric Gill, Robin Day, Margaret Calvert, Ron Arad. Oh, and Wallace and Gromit. But I’ve sprinkled in some neglected design highlights too, from an 1884 bicycle to ‘dazzle’ camouflage on battleships.

Along the way, I look at how the discovery of DNA inspired textile designers, why the Festival of Britain succeeded while the Millennium Dome failed, and why our Parliament is Gothic and not Classical, and what this says about us.

The book is beautifully illustrated with British designs from the MOMA collection, which, it has to be said, is rather bitty, necessarily reflecting the enthusiasm (or lack of it) of the acquiring curators at different times. So expect to see lots of Shell posters advertising the joys of motoring in the British countryside, but no great album covers.

Birthish Design