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 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
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
Life and Style
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

    £70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - SQL Server, T-SQL

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Data Analyst (SQL Server, T-SQL, data)

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst...

    Ashdown Group: European Recruitment Manager - Cheshire - up to £48,000

    £40000 - £48000 per annum + bonus and benefits: Ashdown Group: European Recrui...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions