Reflections on Design Culture Salon 12: Is innovation overrated and what is the role of design here?

A select group gathered in Clore 55 for this pre-Christmas discussion in which we buried innovation with a stake through it and then resurrected it in partial glory. If ever there was a perfectly shaped, end-to-end debate, then this was it.

l. to r.:  Jamie Brassett, Lucy Kimbell, Duncan Fairfax, Guy Julier Photo:  Jocelyn Bailey

l. to r.: Jamie Brassett, Lucy Kimbell, Duncan Fairfax, Guy Julier
Photo: Jocelyn Bailey

Opening play, I tore into the possible circularity of the dominant, economic arguments for innovation. ‘We live in turbulent times, and so we have to innovate to stay ahead’ we are told. But where does this tubulence come from? Okay, we could name climate change, the rise in commodity prices or the increasing economic weight of BRIC countries. But we might also add in a vigorous, ideological adherence to a belief in innovation itself as something that is constantly destabilizing markets and social life.

Noting the way that so much policy was being reframed under ‘innovation’ (e.g. the Technology Strategy Board being re-named as InnovateUK), it was asked whether innovation itself has reached the ‘peak of inflated expectations’? (This is taken from the so-called Hype Cycle that describes a common pattern to expectations regarding new technologies.) How far have we actually come from the 2005 Cox Review of Creativity in Business?

Useful working definitions from the 2005 Cox Review

Useful working definitions from the 2005 Cox Review

Jamie Brassett responded by arguing for a re-framing of innovation. First, he noted that understandings of innovation were largely configured around a ‘for economic growth’ discourse and that there is little critical opposition to this notion. Second, ‘innovation’ is really about the promotion of sciences over other fields where it might be equally important. Third, and leading on from this, he invoked Joseph Schumpeter’s 1911 discussion of innovation expounded in his Theory of Economic Development; here, Schumpeter included social and cultural change within his definition of innovation, something which the drive around economic growth has left behind.

Lucy Kimbell mapped out three current and prominent scenarios for innovation. These were: financial innovation where attempts are made to create new systems and arrangements for flows of capital; innovation in government and public policy making; and innovation in energy production and conservation in the context of climate change. Focusing more on the second of these, Lucy gave an outline of the Cabinet Office Policy Lab that she is working with as an AHRC Research Fellow. She drew attention to how, by including ethnographic approaches or creating ‘personas’, policy-makers are innovating their processes. In this they are thinking about the socio-material arrangements within which policy is bound up. At the same time, it is also recognizing the constantly performing provisionality of policy – that is, it is never finished.

Duncan Fairfax picked up on this idea of the performance of innovation. He argued that innovation is ‘over-rated’, meaning that it is subject to performance analysis techniques and, indeed, is framed by these. In other words, innovations are only innovations when they are recognized as such and it takes systems of measurement to do this recognizing. Practices that are outside understood systems of measurement cannot enter into the frame of innovation, therefore. Innovation becomes a performative practice, done in order to satisfy pre-ordained targets or requirements. Invoking Derrida, Duncan argued that it is impossible to get out of this; invention is always within the known space of actualization.

(Or as Derrida put it in an interview, ‘… the choice is not between repetition and innovation, but between two forms of repetition and two forms of invention. So I think there are inventive forms of respecting the tradition, and there are reactive or non-inventive forms. But I would not say that in order to invent something new, or to make something new happen, you have to betray the tradition or to forget the tradition.’)

This leads us to think outside the box (ha! ha!) and to ask what innovation could be? Design thinking seems to sometimes get reduced to an algorithm, a set of abstracted procedures that conform to known structures and outcomes. What else is there? How, for example, can we get beyond the false construction of ‘user needs’ where users are positioned as ‘needy’ and in some form of poverty?

At this point there was talk with reference to Jean-Francois Lyotard’s 1974 text The Libidinal Economy. I’ve always taken Lyotard to be wrapped up in all that Postmodern stuff around unending, superficial, jouissance-inflected sets of glances and exchanges. Certainly the libidinal economy is about an intensive drive to get out there and do your thing, regardless of the consequences. However, it seemed that, in contradistinction to the narrative around innovation that had been gathering through the evening, the libidinal economy at least offered a place to exercise our desires outside the strictures of audit culture. And if our desires are, in fact, social justice, sustainable living or democratic participation (as opposed to ‘growth’ or consumer culture), then we might be going somewhere else.

This is where we moved to a more optimistic and less-restrained view on innovation. Things were looking up. Within this Lucy Kimbell made reference here to Geoff Mulgan’s take on social innovation in which scaling is a key factor. Thus there is the sense of continual prototyping and developing wherein scaling itself involves new forms and processes. At the same time, I asked, can we talk also about scaling down to produce more precision, intimacy and stewardship?

Drawing on Gilles Deleuze (who else with Jamie Brassett in the room who is about to publish a book on Deleuze and design?) we discussed the proposal that acts of creativity should open up spaces for the creativity of others. There may be other ways of allowing this to happen by, for instance, deliberately not innovating or not designing. Preservation might be a radical act. Equally, managed decline might be a more human and more sensible approach to problems sometimes.

Duncan Fairfax, on a final counter-attack that expanded on a brilliant intervention from an audience participant, added that  ‘provisional performativity’ is where we might be going and where there is a sense of on-going prototyping and experimentation. This dumbfounds accepted notions of innovation as an end. The outcomes of innovation might not necessarily be preordained or formed around received systems of measurement and evaluation. Thus, he slotted the final goal into the back of the net with two moves:  let’s imagine innovations that can be efficiently destroyed and/or produce ones that can be turned into something else. This represents a fundamental challenge to our current modes of cognition and intention.

 

Guy Julier

 

 

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Design Culture Salon 12: Is innovation overrated and what is the role of design here?

Friday 12 Dec 2014

6:30-8:30pm

Clore 55, British Galleries, V&A Museum

Government think-tanks, policy wonks, business gurus, management book publishers and lots and lots of design commentators stress a need for innovation in order to ‘compete globally in these turbulent times’. Alternatively, innovation also gets tacked onto thinking about how new social arrangements, welfare services or participatory processes can unfold. But has innovation become an unthinking default position? Is this verve to aim for invention actually missing important challenges like implementation, poor leadership or infrastructure? What is the role of the State in promoting particular versions of innovation? Can designers provide a critical space where something else might happen? This Salon investigates how a certain cultural understanding of innovation has emerged, what it is doing and how alternatives might be forged.

Chair: Guy Julier, Professor of Design Culture, University of Brighton and Victoria and Albert Museum

Panel:
Jamie Brassett, Subject Leader & MA Course Leader, Innovation Management, Central Saint Martins, London
Duncan Fairfax, Lecturer in Design, Programme Leader MA in Design & Environment, Goldsmiths, London
Lucy Kimbell, Principal Research Fellow University of Brighton and Associate Fellow, Said Business School

Dr Jamie Brassett has been working at Central Saint Martins college of the University of the Arts London since 1995 working across most of its subject provision – product design, fashion design, graphic design, textile design and fine art – and has been Subject Leader and MA Course Director of Innovation Management since 2008. Jamie has also consulted for a number of design and innovation agencies, and global commercial, public and voluntary sector organisations. He graduated with a PhD in Philosophy from University of Warwick in 1993, producing a thesis on Deleuze and Guattari, Kant and Bachelard called Cartographies of Subjectification, supervised by Nick Land. Jamie has published on a number of topics since 1991 and has spoken nationally and internationally at conferences since 1989, chairing ‘Out of Control’ the 8th International Conference on Design and Emotion in 2012. A volume for Edinburgh University Press called Deleuze and Design, co-edited with Betti Marenko, is to be published in June 2015. His own work for this book deals with philosophy, design, innovation and biology. Jamie is currently working on projects covering style and design, futures and trends, materialism and ontogenesis, sometimes all at the same time.

Duncan Fairfax is the current director of the Prospect and Innovation Research Studio (Pi) at Goldsmiths, University of London. He lectures in both the Design Department, and the Institute for Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship at Goldsmiths, and Trinity College Dublin. His research and teaching areas include Leadership, Innovation, Management, Design Process/Thinking, and Sustainability.

Dr Lucy Kimbell is Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Research Fellow embedded in the Cabinet Office Policy Lab, part of the Open Policy Making team, and Principal Research Fellow at the University of Brighton. She was co-Principal Investigator leading a study on Mapping Social Design Research and Practice, the report of which was published in September 2014. Since 2005, she has taught an MBA elective in Designing Better Futures at Said Business School, University of Oxford, where she is Associate Fellow. For Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, she scoped and designed a new MBA programme centred on creativity and design. Lucy was previously Head of Social Design at the Young Foundation and her new book Service Innovation Handbook will be published by BIS in early 2015, aimed at managers and entrepreneurs trying to design new services.

The Salon is now fully booked, but you can contact me, L.Armstrong@vam.ac.uk, to join the guest list.

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Reflections on Design Culture Salon 12: How do fashion cycles and design culture interact?

Reflections on Design culture salon 12: How do fashion cycles and design culture interact?

Panel L-R, Marloes ten Bhomer, Cher Potter, Lisa White, Joanne Entwistle, Chris Breward.

Panel L-R, Marloes ten Bhomer, Cher Potter, Lisa White, Joanne Entwistle, Chris Breward.

For those working in the field of design culture, the term ‘trend’ carries an awful lot of baggage. Specifically, for those interested in sustainability, the term and its associates (‘fast fashion’ and ‘fashion cycle’) are regularly deployed as ‘dirty words’ in design discourse. Design researchers can also be guilty of discussing these concepts as if they are distinct and separate to the study of design culture. It is something happening ‘over there’ in fashion studies. So, how have these barriers come to exist between the study of fashion and design culture? What can we learn, as design researchers, from the theories and ideas generated through the study of fashion cycles? This salon aimed to ask some reflexive and self-critical questions about the apparent division between design and fashion research and seek a more productive conversation between the two.

Fashion historian Professor Chris Breward, Principal of Edinburgh College of Art, offered an interesting route into this conversation by introducing one of the most fundamental questions that binds together the study of design culture and fashion cycles: time. Specifically, he suggested that fashion theory has something to offer design culture here, in its discussion of fashion as an embodiment of time and space. To illustrate this point, he quoted a wonderful passage from the diary of an American woman returning from China to New York in 1947, published in Fred Davis’ important text, Fashion Culture and Identity:

At every airport where we stopped on the way back from China I started watching the women coming the other way. At Calcutta the first long skirt and unpadded shoulders looked like something out of a masquerade party. At the American installations in Frankfurt (also in Vienna) a lot of the newer arrivals were converted and were catching everyone’s attention. At the airport in Shannon I had a long wait; I got into a conversation with a lady en route to Europe. She was from San Francisco, and told me that there they hadn’t been completely won over; just as many were wearing the long skirts as not. But as she flew East, she found that just about everybody in New York had gone in for the new styles and she was happy she wasn’t staying or her wardrobe would have been dated. By the time I took the train from New York for home, my short skirts felt conspicuous and my shoulders seemed awfully wide! Two weeks now and I am letting down my hems, trying to figure out which of all my China-made clothes can be salvaged, and going on a buying spree!

  • Langs (1961:470), quoted in Fred Davis, Fashion, Culture and Identity, (1992), p.151.

This narrative presents fashion, literally and physically, in motion.  This experience is at odds with our experience of fashion culture today, Breward suggested. The fashion cycle is now intensely regularized by a wider constituent of agents, encompassing the media, fashion forecasters, futurologists and fashion bloggers. We’re in the odd position, he suggested, of being in a ‘fluxive moment’, which can be paradoxically characterized by power shifts in how trends are understood and also a ‘weird homogeneity’. The street styles of New York, Paris and Berlin look disconcertingly similar. The challenge for the evening was therefore to think about how these ideas, which have emerged from thinking about fashion, can move out across other design disciplines. How can we think of a linkage between different forms of design that share these challenges and possibilities?

Cher Potter, Research Fellow at London College of Fashion and V&A, was the first to respond to this question. Cher initially reflected on her own position at the Museum as an indicator of recent attempts  to address such challenges and possibilities. She was initially appointed as a resident forecaster at the V&A, an interesting role to adopt within an institution traditionally concerned with narratives of preservation and historicisation. New dialogues about the relationship between fashion, design and time are therefore already in motion, it seems. Cher reflected on her work in Creative Direction at WGSN, where she works to present macro trend forecasts informed by research into art, philosophy, design, architecture and fashion. These so-called cycles are longer and more conservative than we might think, she argued. Consequently, the term ‘cycle’ might not be a helpful one. As an alternative, she described the geological theory of change proposed by Stewart Brand, which suggests different frequencies of change across nature, culture, governance, infrastructure, commerce and fashion. Within these sediments of change, fashion is presented as highly responsive and the most dynamic layer. The data-driven nature of fashion forecasting, which also takes place in real-time could also be better analogised as a ‘feedback loop’, she suggested.

Lisa White, Content Director of the website HomeBuildLife, also at WGSN, was next to speak. Interestingly, Lisa discussed the correlation and convergence between ways of thinking about fashion and design as a natural phenomenon, within her sector. Visible and physical manifestations of the cross-fertilisation between the two can be clearly identified in interior design, she suggested. For example, she has noticed a correlation between bed spreads and fashion clothing- which have begun to adhere to the same aesthetic. In addition, the concept of ‘fast fashion’ or ‘rapid response’ has a strong presence in patterns of design consumption too. While furniture design might observe longer term trends, interior accessories such as pillows and cushions are considered more short-term and fashion focused. Lisa’s response highlighted the cultures of taste that are implicated within the fashion cycle.

Our next speaker, Marloes ten Bhomer, took us away from the world of trend forecasting and spoke from her perspective as a shoe designer. Marloes originally trained as a product designer and opened her response by posing an intriguing question: ‘what is the relevance of the trench coat in the time of drone wars?’ This question wonderfully introduced the incoherence and anachronism which exists in the form of ‘classic’ fashion objects, such as the trench coat or the brogue. These objects are interesting, from both a fashion and design perspective, because they take a fundamentally familiar and stubbornly resistant cultural form.  What do the manifestations and circulation of these classic objects tell us about the rationale of fashion cycles in our society? They  highlight some of the inherent contradictions (and conservatism) in the concept of the ‘natural’ fashion cycle. The recurrence of fashion is constituted here not as an agent of change, but a ‘tightly wound machine’. This can be limiting and potentially devaluing, from a design perspective, she argued.

Joanne Entwistle, Senior Lecturer at Kings College, London, the final respondent for the evening, situated the discussion in the academy of fashion and design research. She introduced the significance of the body and the gendered body to account for some of the friction between design and fashion research cultures. This returned the conversation to Chris’ opening articulation of the importance of ‘embodiment’. There is an ambiguity about the body, she argued, which has inhibited and restricted possibilities for critique. The image and construct of the body thus steers fashion research in a different direction to design discourse. The ‘classic’ fashion object, like the little black dress, has played an important role in rooting fashion within the museum and has given it a shared status with design. Yet, lingering feelings of inferiority remain within fashion and in relation to design, she argued.

In the absence of any immediate questions from the audience (these salon attendees were a little more reticent than usual), Chris probed further on some of the emergent themes. Rather than focusing on the seemingly ‘natural’ links between fashion and design suggested by the first two speakers, this focused on the inhibitive factors that appear to be obstructing the flow between the two. The speakers returned to the idea of fashion as a sensorial experience, intrinsically linked to concepts of identity formation and individuality. There is also something tacit about the process of fashion forecasting which again links us to the body- the idea of a ‘gut feeling, ‘the eye for’, Joanne observed. Nevertheless, the lens of ‘lifestyle’, a popular term among cultural historians in the 1980s, can productively pose links between the idea of individual taste and wider cultural values. Perhaps this was a moment when the aims of fashion and design research were aligned.

Cher reflected upon some of the challenges of instigating new models for thinking and using fashion within the university today. She spoke from her experience of establishing the Fashion Futures course at London College of Fashion. The very essence of this course is about expanding the notion of the range of ‘futures’ with which fashion can engage. Nevertheless, the emancipatory potential of such ideas can always be tempered by the constraints of the employment market.

A member of the audience challenged the idea of the ‘fashion classic’, positioning this as a major point of divergence with design, suggesting that fashion has an ‘in-built obsolescence’. The idea of fashion as constantly in motion continues to be seductive. Another questioned the forms of capital that are generated through forecasting and the extent to which this is slavishly tied to economic rationale. The formulation of this question sparked a debate among the audience and the panel about the representation of fashion as constantly in ‘collusion with capitalism’. Why should fashion, more than design, be so insistently denounced and tainted in this way? One attendee suggested that fashion will always be treated as distinct from design precisely because of the apologetic way in which it circulates in our culture. However, it was also suggested that this might be something to protect and value. Fashion ‘doesn’t want to be respectable’, she argued, ‘it is transgressive’.

This Design Culture Salon set out to identify the commonalities that might regularize the relationship between the study of fashion and design culture, but by the end of the conversation, I wondered if this might be an elusive goal.  There are good reasons for thinking about the relationship between fashion and design culture- particularly in relation to the ‘function’ (or dis-function) of fashion objects within a wider cultural system. Nevertheless, it was interesting to note that the evening’s discussion took us to places of introspection- the body, feelings and forms of tacit knowledge- which have rarely featured in previous Salon conversations. Perhaps there is, as one salon attendee put it, something special to be cherished about fashion discourse on its own terms.

Leah Armstrong, Research Officer, University of Brighton / Victoria and Albert Museum

The next Design Culture Salon is on Friday 12 December and asks, ‘Is innovation overrated and what is the role of design here?’ It is now fully booked so please email me at L.Armstrong@vam.ac.uk to join the guest list.

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Design Culture Salon 11: How do fashion cycles and design culture interact?

Friday 14 November 2014

6:30-8:30pm

Clore 55, British Galleries, V&A Museum

Fashion has featured very little in the conversations and debates generated in previous Design Culture Salons. This is surprising, given that the concepts of movement and mobility, central to the study of design culture, are also central to the study of fashion theory. Fashion also dominates how design is understood and consumed, particularly through the media. At the same time, the ‘trend’ orientated fashion system appears to be oppositional to those seeking to pave alternative systems and cultures of consuming design. So, how useful are the dynamics of fashion as a method of examining and understanding the role of design in contemporary culture? How can we compare the cycles of fashion and furniture design, for example? What can we learn from trend forecasters about design culture? What might account for the apparent separation of the academic study of cultures of fashion and design?

Chair: Christopher Breward, Principal, Edinburgh College of Art

Panel:
Cher Potter, Research Fellow, V&A and London College of Fashion
Lisa White, Content Director, HomeBuildLife, WGSN
Marloes ten Bhomer, Designer and Fellow at Stanley Picker Gallery, Kingston University
Joanne Entwistle, Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Creative Industries, Kings College, London

Professor Christopher Breward is a leading cultural historian. Appointed Principal of ECA in September 2011, he is also Vice Principal for the Creative Industries and Performing Arts and Professor of Cultural History at the University of Edinburgh. His publications and exhibitions have considered the cultural history of fashion in the West, the history and status of London and other cities as global capitals of fashion, men as consumers of dress and related histories of dandyism, and ideas of fashion, modernity and memory. He has worked on major collaborative curatorial projects funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Cher Potter is London College of Fashion / Victoria & Albert Museum Senior Research Fellow. Before starting at the V&A, she led the Creative Direction at WGSN Forecasting Agency – the global leader in design research and trends. In 2012, she curated the 23rd edition of the Impakt Arts Festival, focusing on post-western arts and design practice. Her writing has appeared in various publications, including a regular feature on design futures in 032C Magazine.

Lisa White Lisa White is creative director of WGSN’s Think Tank and the Homebuildlife website, at the crossroads of fashion and design. A multicultural multinational, Lisa White is an American who has spent half of her life in France. She began her career at Chanel, then joined the trend forecasting office of Li Edelkoort, where she launched and edited the iconic professional magazines View on Colour, INview and Bloom. She also wrote on design for a variety of international publications, including Vogue, Surface, Beaux Arts and Form.

Critically acclaimed designer Marloes ten Bhömer aims to challenge the generic typologies of women’s shoes through experiments with non-traditional technologies and material techniques. By reinventing the process by which footwear is made, the resulting shoes serve as unique examples of new aesthetic and structural possibilities, while also serving to criticise the conventional status of women’s shoes as cultural objects. Ten Bhömer’s work has been exhibited internationally. She is currently a Professor in Fashion at the Universität der Künste Berlin and Senior Research Fellow at Kingston University.

Dr Joanne Entwistle is senior lecturer in culture and creative industries and PhD Programme Director and PhD Admissions Tutor at Kings College, London. She has previously worked at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts, London; University of North London (now London Metropolitan University), and in the Sociology Department at the University of Essex. Her most recent published works include Entwistle, J. and E. Wissinger, Eds. (2012). Fashioning Models: Image, Industry, Text. London, Bloomsbury and Entwistle, J. (2009). The aesthetic economy of fashion: markets and value in clothing and modelling. Oxford, Berg. She is  Co-Investigator on the ESRC project ‘Configuring light/ Staging the Social: Dialogues between the social sciences and lighting practices’.

This event is free, but booking is essential. If booking is full, please email L.Armstrong@vam.ac.uk to join the guest list.

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Reflections on Design Culture Salon 10: How is the Urban Mobile Cyclist Designed?

Debates about transportation, how we choose to move around in the city, have become increasingly tense and fraught of late. The question of how you get to work, particularly if it is by bike, is a loaded one, which can reveal a host of attitudes to gender, citizenship, empowerment and age. The identity of the ‘urban mobile cyclist’ is charged with tensions in which design plays a crucial role.

These tensions were palpable on Friday evening as a packed audience gathered for the first of the third series of Design Culture Salons at the V&A Museum to address the question of ‘how is the urban mobile cyclist designed?’ The discussion was lively and punctuated with outbursts of humour and enthusiasm, countered by moments of vented anger and frustration. It was a topic which captured strong opinion.

Kat Jungnickel demonstrating her cycling costume based on a design patent lodged by a woman in Bristol in 1897.

Kat Jungnickel demonstrating her cycling costume based on a design patent lodged by a woman in Bristol in 1897.

In her opening statement, chair for the evening Kat Jungnickel from Goldsmiths University, London, introduced the relationship between citizenship and cycling which would recur throughout the ensuing conversation. The identity of being a cyclist is something we have to work hard to achieve, she said. Importantly, the cultural work involved here has a long historical trajectory, which is often hidden from mainstream view. Jungnickel spoke about her recent work on the ‘bikes and bloomers’ project, which traces a new design history of cycling for Victorian women in Britain. These women were viewed as both socially and physically dangerous by stepping outside the accepted norms of gender and mobility. By researching design patents for cycling costumes lodged by women at this time, Jungnickel has identified attempts by these women to negotiate fixed social and cultural boundaries. She generously modeled one such design for the Salon audience, which she had hand made from a design patent lodged by Mary-Anne Ward of Bristol in 1897 (pictured above). This formed a vivid and emotive introduction into the formative relationship between materials, design, citizenship and gender which steered much of the subsequent conversation.

Panel from left to right: Rachel Aldred, Carlton Reid, Kat Jungnickel (chair), Justin Spinney and Jenni Gwiazdowski.

Panel from left to right: Rachel Aldred, Carlton Reid, Kat Jungnickel (chair), Justin Spinney and Jenni Gwiazdowski.

The next to speak was Rachel Aldred, Senior Lecturer in Transport from the University of Westminster. Aldred made two inter-related points in her response to the evening’s question, which dealt with idea of cycling as a dangerous or ‘liminal’ activity and notions of exclusivity. In contemporary society, ‘cycling’ is generally viewed as a healthy, good activity whereas ‘the cyclist’ is often presented as anti-social and annoying figure. We currently have very narrow regulations on cycling in the UK which remain woefully outdated.  Questions of competency and safety are fixed on the visibility of cycle clothing, lights, gear and other paraphernalia, which make the act of cycling a highly materialistic and gendered performance. She also spoke about the importance of re-thinking the relationship between cars and bikes, arguing that cycling regulations and transport modelling often relate the two. We tend to analogise cycling problematically, she argued, to either driving (so cyclists as squashier cars) or to walking (so cyclists as dangerous pedestrians).

Carlton Reid, the next speaker, picked up on these central themes of citizenship and exclusivity, but also spoke more directly from his extensive knowledge of the cultural history of cycling. Reid uncovered much of this history in the writing of his book, Roads Were Not Built for Cars, which establishes a longer trajectory for attitudes to cycling and explains how it has always been an exclusive activity governed and controlled by an elite group, namely white, middle class men. Going back to gender, he described how Edith Wharton, the New York society novelist, erased her identity as a ‘cyclist’ from her diary in the later years of her life. Fascinatingly, Reid also addressed the relationship between cars and cycling, arguing that the emergence of normative car culture actually evolved from many aspects of cycling- including the process of fixing, which was first learnt through the mechanics of the bicycle. Finally, Reid proposed that there will be no quick-fix solution to the design of the urban mobile cyclist, which should be the product of a longer term cycling culture. Designers should aim to build this cycling culture as a priority. The bicycle needs to become a national symbol, he said.

Jenni Gwiazdowski, founder and director of the London Bike Kitchen brought a new perspective by speaking from her experience of initiating a new model of education around bike repair from her workshop in Hackney, London. Here, Gwiazdowski sees education as a method of empowerment. It is not a shop, she said, but a learning space where people can begin to feel more comfortable and confident about understanding and relating to their bike. She made a profound statement in suggesting that ‘how we treat our bicycles says something about how we see ourselves and each other’. Again, the issue of value, both social and material, was raised. It is clear that some of the social hierarchies around forms of transport present a problem. People are afraid, ‘terrified’, of their bikes and of their incapacity to fix them. Danger, again emerged as a theme. Allowing people to work with their hands and gain a material appreciation for fixing culture was one method of overcoming this fear.

The final speaker, Justin Spinney, lecturer in human geography from the University Cardiff, returned to the idea of exclusivity in a focused and precise way. There is an inherent uniformity in the production of the bicycle both as an idea and a physical object, he argued. It always has two wheels. It is always designed for the middle aged, middle class, white male as a vehicle for commuting or for professional racing. Where are the spaces in between and why are these not being designed? Design has therefore been part of the problem inhibiting the movement of the urban mobile cyclist, but it can also be the agent for change, he suggested. The figure of the great white male, the recent protagonist of Grayson Perry’s New Statesman issue, again came into view. He quoted from a recent design paper which defined the ideal bicycle as ‘innovative engineering, ergonomics in an aesthetically attractive package’, to illustrate the narrow cultural attitudes which underpin bicycle design and production. Spinney seemed to be suggesting that the project of re-designing the urban mobile cyclist should also be a project of expanding our imaginations in relation to mobility and citizenship.

By this point, many hands were raised and the Salon opened up to a vibrant discussion between the panellists and the audience. Questions circulated around many of the central themes that had already been brokered. One audience member argued that the invention of a cycling culture would necessarily come from the margins, as a form of protest, rejecting the idea of centralised change. Others raised questions about the design of wider sets of infrastructures, including housing and schools, in relation to cycling. These systems are mutually dependent and inter-related. This reminds us of the necessarily interdisciplinary nature of the debate around cycling, which also needs to take place at high level. The panel was pleased to quash some myths, including that London roads are too narrow to accommodate cyclists. While it was satisfying to hear this refuted, (London’s roads are among the widest in Europe), it also served as a reminder of some of the important challenges around communication.

In conclusion, the Salon brought into focus the tensions and urgent concerns which are currently driving a new conversation about mobility, age, migration, citizenship and consumer behaviour in relation to urban transport. These are all themes we look forward to returning to and working out in the rest of this series.

The next salon is on 14 November 2014 and will address the question: ‘How do fashion cycles and design culture interact?’. Book here.

Dr Leah Armstrong, University of Brighton/V&A Research Officer

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Design Culture Salon 10: How is the urban cyclist designed?

Design Culture Salon 10: How is the urban cyclist designed?​

Friday 10th October 2014
6:30-8:30pm

Clore 55, British Galleries

The way a society moves reveals much about the nature of its citizenship and what they deem to be important. Yet, not all forms of mobility or mobile bodies are equal. Some are designed to fit with mobile everyday life more than others. How is the urban cyclist designed? How does clothing, infrastructure (or lack of it) and policy presuppose a particular type of cyclist? How does one become a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ cyclist? How have our cycling pasts shaped our contemporary practices and what futures might be possible?

Chair: Kat Jungnickel, Lecturer in Sociology, Goldsmiths

Panel:
Rachel Aldred, Senior Lecturer in Transport, University of Westminster
Jenni Gwiazdowski, Founder and Director of the London Bike Kitchen
Carlton Reid, Executive Editor of BikeBiz and author of ‘Roads Were Not Built For Cars’
Justin Spinney, Lecturer in Human Geography, Cardiff University

This event is now fully booked. I will be posting some reflections on the discussion on this blog next week. 

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2014/15 Design Culture Salon season

We’re delighted to announce a new series of Design Culture Salons for 2014/15. This academic year we are presenting seven salons. These take place on the second Friday of each month, October-April.

They are presented with the generous support of the University of Brighton, College of Arts.

We have slightly changed the format this year. Firstly, Salons 10-15 will take place in Clore 55 of the British Galleries. This offers an interesting space in the corner of the museum, overlooking Exhibition Road and Cromwell Road. Secondly, we are extending the Salon session to two hours, starting at 6:30pm. This, we hope, will allow for the discussion to expand and become more informal as each Salon progresses.

To see the full programme, click here.
All Salons are free to attend, but you must book. Please do this via the V&A ‘What’s On’ pages.
You can book for the first Salon here.

We are aware that occasionally the Salons get fully booked and yet on the evening there are still seats untaken. Demand for these events is high and we hope that everyone who books actually attends. If you are having problems booking, please contact Leah Armstrong (l.armstrong@vam.ac.uk).

 

 

 

 

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