There was a time when “made in Italy” was a phrase that conveyed smart and stylish design; these days, “designed in California” is taking over the world, and the counterculture movement had significant influence in this regard.
Just like Ferrari, Gucci and Versace became brand names associated with chic design and luxury, Apple, Vans, Tesla Motors, and the Android operating system are now widely respected brands in terms of design. On May 24, the London Design Museum opened California: Designing Freedom, a new exhibit that looks at how the West Coast was thoroughly transformed by the counterculture movement of the 1960s, inspiring the future generations of design around the world.
From Hollywood to Silicon Valley and from surf culture to New Age, California’s influence on modern design is undeniable. When someone in Madrid purchases a new iPhone, the phrase “designed in California” will appear on the box and on the device itself, and this is something that the late Steve Jobs insisted on.
It so happens that the design associated these days with California was influenced by the counterculture revolution. The so-called “blotter art” printed on sheets of lysergic acid diethylamide, the psychedelic album covers of the Grateful Dead, the stickers sold by surf shops, the flames painted on hot rods, and the graphics affixed to skateboards: these are all examples of California design that was inspired by what was known as the Age of Aquarius of the epoch of personal liberation.
Jobs himself was a child of the counterculture; as a young man disillusioned with university education, he was motivated to travel to Asia and learn about Eastern philosophy. His exposure to Zen Buddhism prompted him to embrace minimalism, a concept that he first applied to the Macintosh and later to the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Pro.
The curators of this exhibit are injecting historical information that illustrates how various underground movements inspired California design. Geodesic domes, for example, were used as affordable housing solutions by hippies, who are part of the same group that published the Whole Earth Catalog, a precursor to online tools such as Wikipedia. This personal liberation and self-sufficiency trend inspired the Homebrew Computer Club in San Mateo County, which was pivotal for the establishment of Silicon Valley culture.
The exhibit will run until October 2017.