Designers, artists and innovators are reimagining our relationship to space at the Design Museum in London. 

Designers, artists and innovators are reimagining our relationship to space at the Design Museum in London – and we should pay attention. The museum’s carefully selected 2015 Design of the Year awards were rife with visually stunning and interactive spatial themes. From the practical to the pioneering, each of the designs addressed a timely need to creatively re-engage with geography and to reconceptualize long-held and outdated assumptions about our relationship to space and the way it’s represented and interacted with.

Migration and mobility featured heavily as artists and innovators grappled with life on the move. Two projects in particular illustrate the asymmetry of 21st century mobility – something geographers such as Doreen Massey have been thinking and theorising about for some time. The Refugee Project is an interactive map that combines UN data on refugees since 1975, “complemented by original histories of the major refugee crises of the last four decades, situated in their individual contexts.” It’s a visual tour de force that will no doubt be adopted by educators and learners the world over in order to better explain and understand the history of refugees.

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On the other end of the spectrum is a project that connected technologies that count the steps people take daily (like FitBit) with interactive maps of cities from London to Buenos Aires. The maps represented where people walk the most in red and the least in blue. People an explore their own cities and compare them to other places, making for an interesting and engaging geographic experience.
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Other designers used technology to interact with space in creative new ways. Chris Green’s project ‘Aerial Futures,’ for example, stole the show for me personally. After investing considerable time understanding the malevolent uses of drone technology, his optimistic presentation of a future where drone technology is used from everything like helping us plant rooftop gardens to empowering us with new ways of learning about wildlife gave me reason to rethink the benevolent uses of the technology.

Stephanie Hornig‘s project ‘Interstate,’ rethought furniture for the age of constant movement. Hornig is a designer in residence at the museum and her new work offers “a collection of objects, including a table and a storage unit, that meet the needs of a mobile generation” – rethinking how industrial design will complement life on the go.

Though the projects seem worlds apart each of the designers none-the-less thoughtfully considers how mobility is a central feature of modern life and attempt represent and engage with contemporary space in visually attractive ways. This marks an important improvement for researchers and educators alike interested in sharing their geographic knowledge with a wider community, as attractive design can make for improved learning and engagement.

From architecture, to new products, to new digital representations of space, the Design Museum’s presentations were full of interesting and exciting ways to understand geography. There were too many to list here, but what I took away from the exhibition was an appreciation for how design, technology and art can creatively engage with geographic concepts to offer visually impressive ways of learning and interacting with spatial themes. Renewed interest in geographic concepts mean that geographers must be open to new avenues of connecting with creators and designers to help express their ideas in engaging ways. The Design Museum’s exhibit will continue for several more months. If you’re in the area, I strongly encourage a visit.

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