Designing the future

Design Museum exhibition The Future is Here offers a fascinating look at modern technology’s impact on design and features some stunning graphics by studio Lucienne Roberts+. Here, Roberts explains her role in the project and how the graphics were created.

Design Museum exhibition The Future is Here offers a fascinating look at modern technology’s impact on design and features some stunning graphics by studio Lucienne Roberts+. Here, Roberts explains her role in the project and how the graphics were created.

If you haven’t already visited The Future is Here, you should. On until October 29, the Design Museum exhibition considers the possibility of a new industrial revolution, exploring the rise of technologies such as 3D printing, crowd-funding and open-source software and their impact on design and manufacturing.

Studio Lucienne Roberts+ created the graphics for the show and designed and commissioned signage, infographics, laser cut illustrations and large-scale photographs to illustrate its content.

“It was an interesting project to work on as we had a semi-curatorial role,” says Roberts, who has designed graphics for shows at the Wellcome Collection, UCL and Kensington Palace. “When working on exhibitions, you always try to help the story along but this project took that to a whole new level. The show deals with some complicated themes and we wanted to help make it simple, accessible and fun,” she explains.

The studio’s LED title signage uses a strikethrough device and places the word ‘is’ over an unlit ‘was’ to highlight the speed at which modern technology is developing. “We liked the name because it has two meanings: the future is here at the design museum but it’s also here and now and changing all the time,” adds Roberts.

Roberts also commissioned photographer Angela Moore to take a series of photographs of spaces where technology is changing how things are made. The photographs have been blown up and appear on each wall of the exhibition space. The five locations – a school, a greenhouse, a shop, a designer’s space and Roberts’s kitchen – were shot at night and lit using only computer or phone screens.

“The exposure was so long that it doesn’t even pick up Angela and her assistant walking around dropping iPhones into plant pots, or the fox that found its way into the greenhouse. The lighting is quite powerful and helps to unify each image,” she says.

The exhibition makes several connections between today’s digital developments and the industrial revolution that began in the late 1700s. This link is also referenced in a collection of laser-cut silhouettes designed by illustrator Mark Hudson and made out of 10mm black perspex. The silhouettes depict rural and industrial scenes from the 16th century to the present day, tracking the development of British manufacturing.

“Each one is three metres long – the maximum size you can work with when laser cutting – and the fine details really tested the technology,” says Roberts. “We wanted the scenes to be quite playful but historically accurate and informative, and chose black to represent the smog and smoke of the first Industrial Revolution. It was fascinating watching people peering at them and trying to identity the different elements, and we were lucky that Mark has a great knowledge of history so had a good idea of what buildings and landmarks to include,” she says.

The UK’s industrial heritage is also referenced in an excellent infographic (below) explaining regional manufacturing identities through the nicknames assigned to football teams, one of a series created by the studio for the show. Sheffield United was nicknamed the Blades, for example, because of the city’s steel industry, while Arsenal’s alias, the Gunners, refers to military arsenal made in the area.

It’s another impressive project from Roberts’s studio – even more so as it was completed in just a month. While most graphics play a supporting role, Roberts’s work for the Design Museum is a central part of the story.

“It was a great project to work on – we really felt like all of our skills were being used, and it was a really collaborative experience. Before I went to art school, I studied stage management and in a way, putting on exhibition graphics is just like putting on a show. The best exhibitions have a bit of theatre and the graphics build the stage that sets the scene,” she adds.

The Future is Here is open until October 29 at the Design Museum, London SE1 2YD. For visitor info see designmuseum.org. To see more of Lucienne Roberts’s work visit luciennerobertsplus.com.

Credits

2D design: Lucienne Roberts, Dave Shaw, John McGill and James Ward, Lucienne Roberts+

3D design: dRMM

Photography: Angela Moore

Illustration: Mark Hudson

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