Jane Pavitt: I’m just going to say a few words to get started. I’d like to welcome you all here. I’m delighted that we have such an illustrious room full of speakers and guests, and I’m sure that some very lively and fruitful debate’s going to occur.
Now, as Lauren said, the intention of the Contemporary Programme of the V& A has been to set up a series of debates as a way of extending its initial remit, which was never to be simply an exhibition programme, but to engage with design culture in more diverse and provocative ways and, and one of those ways was to become a platform for critical debate. And so it’s in the spirit of this that Lauren and Zoe and the team have organised this event.
And when I came to make some rudimentary introductory notes for this… for tonight, I realised it had been a while since anybody had asked me to think about contemporary practice. I’m kind of buried in preparations for an exhibition on post-war design, but I could therefore think of 100 different ways in which designers had framed their ambitions and their potential role in society in the aftermath of World War II. This generation were oft as not moralisers: they were proselytizers; they were prophets of the new world, where the job as the designer, as they saw it, was to contribute to the building of a new, humane and progressive society and it seemed an interesting place, at least for me, to start. And maybe throughout the next generation, through the 50s and 60s, designers divided themselves – or were divided by politics or circumstances, perhaps – into two camps: the kind of divisionary camp or the bureaucratic camp.
If you fast forward to the 80s, there’s been an emergence of a kind of celebrity culture for designers, which I’m sure we will come back to tonight, where signature becomes a kind of brand name and we were just as likely to see designers in the pages of the Sunday papers as we were perhaps describing their perfect weekend or the contents of their fridge. A few years on, and the fridge would have become full of organic produce as designers declared their environmental credentials. Now, of course this is a kind of clichéd account of the shifting positions and perceptions of the future role of designers.
But tonight we’re going to hear from four very different perspectives on the future roles from four people very closely involved in shaping the way in which design, and designers, will perceive their role in the future.
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