New Design Museum exhibition claims 'the future is here'- but are we ready for home manufacturing?

 

The Future Is Here - A New Industrial Revolution is to open at London’s Design Museum. It’s a chance for the public to get up close to new technologies that are as significant to the future of global manufacturing industries as they are popular on Twitter and Youtube. 

Beyond the array of new machines, customisable fashions and funky wooden furniture, it’s an exhibition that questions the conventional wisdom of how we make everyday objects, and what happens when they’re thrown away.

According to Kit Malthouse, Deputy Mayor of London for Business and Enterprise, these technologies are one of the reasons why the UK ranks in the top ten manufacturing economies of the world, meaning this exhibition is also a low key celebration of Britain reprising it’s Victorian role as a world leader for design and innovation.

Sustainability is a common thread in the exhibits, which explore products and manufacturing techniques designed to be less wasteful and more recyclable.  Environmentally friendly “Unmaking” (or recyclability) is a relatively new direction for producers of mass market consumer items, illustrated by Puma’s biodegradable trainers and fully recyclable furniture. 

Another closely related theme of the exhibition is crowd sourcing, or designers collaborating with consumers. These concepts are entering mainstream industrial thinking, increasing the lifespan of products and addressing pressing environmental issues like pollution and managing natural resources.

The crowd sourcing idea is best illustrated by a ‘democratically designed’ sofa that was created as competition run by the museum, the Technology Strategy Board and Made.com. The winning entry isn’t just the most popular entry, voters also contributed their own ideas as part of the competition process, meaning the winner is something the public helped to make, which, of course, explains why they like it so much. It’s a slightly circular process, but it creates more useful, more saleable products by involving the customer in the design and manufacturing process. 

Taking the theme further is the WikiHouse Project which promises, in just ten steps, to let anyone produce a usable blueprint for a new home, free of charge. It’s an example of ‘open source design’ - free designs that we usually expect to pay for. It makes designing a house as simple as planning a new kitchen on the Ikea website, more or less.

However, we’re not living in a sustainable, crowd sourcing product Utopia just yet. An Ipsos MORI poll commissioned by the museum suggests consumers aren’t ready to design their own sofa, let alone their next house. Sixty six per cent of people would rather leave design to the professionals, and over 70 per cent aren’t comfortable with the sheer pace of change. 

Alex Newson, the exhibition’s curator, is testing those preconceptions as part of the exhibition. He points to a worktop decked with 3D printers and other home manufacturing kit, saying: “You can see a desktop factory in the corner of the exhibition with six of our front of house staff, who have had no experience in digital manufacturing at all. We've let them loose in the factory to see what they can create. I suppose their failures will be as important as their successes.” 

You may not be keen on the idea of designing your own products, but these technologies will undoubtedly benefit the public. They give small businesses, start-ups and freelancers affordable tools to produce things that, a decade ago, were the preserve of the world’s manufacturing giants. That creates competition, which is good for consumers. 

A third of those who answered the Ipsos MORI poll considered these technologies the only way to provide a sustainable future for the planet, which is good for everyone. The big picture is that digital manufacturing reduces our dependence on huge factories making and shipping goods around the world, offering alternative methods to produce and distribute the material stuff of life.

Newson doesn’t think it’s purely an invention of the digital era either. He says: “There’s a wonderful JM Keynes quote, ‘it’s easier to ship recipes than cakes and biscuits’, that sums it up perfectly”.  

This forward-looking exhibition of the computerised industrial world definitely has a whiff of steam engines and the Spinning Jenny about it, showing us that even though technologies change, innovation never gets old.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?