Letter: In defence of the Design Museum

The objections of Terence Conran, prompted by James Dyson’s resignation, to trends in the Design Museum’s programme (Guardian, Letters, ‘Concepts of design’ October 5, 2004, in response to ‘Dyson resigns seat at Design Museum’ Jonathan Glancey, Guardian, September 28, 2004) are quite understandable and correct. However, the Design Museum is being pushed in its current direction by forces largely beyond the control of its director, Alice Rawsthorn. It hasn’t the funds to originate many exhibitions. Under New Labour, museum policy and funding has moved towards promoting accessibility and social inclusion, measured in visitor numbers over the presentation of innovative and challenging exhibitions.

And, more broadly, the concepts of humanism, optimism, lateral thinking, and grand planning that characterised Dyson’s heroes – Brunel and Bucky Fuller – are largely absent from political and media debates. Just witness the lack of credit given to the people who brought us Concorde, Pendolino trains, the Channel Tunnel or the Dome. In this climate it is harder to present design in its true complexity and diversity – a diversity which won’t always relate directly to visitors’ experiences. Dyson is rightly frustrated, but little blame can be laid at Rawsthorn’s door.

Nico Macdonald

Published, in edited form, in the Guardian, Letters ‘Design must be more than machines’, 8 October 2004
Published in full (though with modifications from the above letter) in the Observer, Letters, 10 October 2004


See also Deyan Sudjic’s in-depth analysis in the Observer, ‘How a flower arrangement caused fear and loathing’ October 3, 2004

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