California: Designing Freedom

by Marisa Sanchez-Dunning

A few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to attend the ‘California: Designing Freedom’ exhibition at the Design Museum in London. I was intrigued to go for many reasons, the obvious one being that I was born and bred in California, but also around this idea that you can design freedom?! Seeing how they brought the state and its history to life, was inspiring to say the least.

The exhibition was split into five different areas; Go where you want, Say what you want, Join who you want, Make what you want, and See what you want. The exhibition explores California and how it became to have such powerful influence on contemporary design. It explores tools of personal liberation that California has pioneered.

  • Go where you want:

    In this area, the exhibition explored Google Maps, Waymo’s self-driving car, and a chopper with the American flag design on it. Who knew that there were so many layers to Google Maps?!

    Say what you want:

    This area might have been my favourite. It explored the freedom of speech in California, the movements that were born throughout the state and the different mediums people used to voice their opinions and views. The Black Panthers originated in Oakland, California and seeing old photos from that era were amazing. There was a piece that was all about the Black Lives Matter movement and how it originated from a Facebook status, which then turned into a hashtag on Twitter, then eventually becoming one of the biggest movements in America’s history.

  • Join who you want:

    This area of the exhibition explored everyone from bike gangs, computer savvy people, skateboarders, and surfers. It went deeper into the idea that creating and being a part of your own community is essential to success and survival. They had everything on show from old biker denim vests, to the first skateboard.

    Make what you want:

    This area explored everything from the original Apple 1 to a home genetic engineering kit. It was amazing to see how much this industry has evolved in such a short amount of time. From the ads that were put out with the Apple 1 to what is being advertised now, seems like light years apart. It was pretty humbling to see how far the industry and California have come, but also, how far the two have taken the global community.

  • See what you want:

    This area was also one of my favourites. It played on the idea that everyone sees the world differently, from viewing the world through acid trips to a VR headset. It showcased what it would be like to see the world from both. So, there were 3D glasses and prints that were done by people either on acid or that were inspired by acid trips and a VR headset you could try on.

  • The Design Museum portrayed California and its history in a powerful light. I felt really proud of where I grew up and the movements I grew up in at the time, that I didn’t even realise.

    When I left the design museum, I bought the obligatory souvenirs and then made my way to the Whole Foods Market Kensington. I mean, it has a cheese room. A room, just for cheese.

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