Design in Britain

Every ten years or so the British design scene undergoes a spot of reflection, musing on what it means to design, build and manufacture objects and places that truly reflect the national culture. In the aftermath of World War Two, there seemed to be professional and political impetus to re-shape society in a modern idiom, a gentle avant-garde that made its presence felt in everything from tea cups to concert halls.

But as the latter half of the century wore on, manufacturing fell by the wayside, the great post-war initiatives foundered and the country settled into comfortable consumerism. 'British design' started to refer to something intangible and archaic, to wood panelled rooms and reactionary thoughts, to tea towels, gift shops, chintz and kiss-me-quick hats.

Design in Britain, the new monograph from the Design Museum, is subtitled 'Big Ideas (Small Island)', a nod to the legacy of perceived parochialism that has straitjacketed the design industry's domestic perception. For the problem is largely our own fault. The high esteem in which British design is held overseas has never wavered, and now that British born and trained protégés sit in the studios and boardrooms of fashion houses, computer companies, car makers and design studios all over the world, it seems monumentally churlish to deny that the country is a major player. And more to the point, the British design system has proved a world-beater when it comes to shaping and directing brands.

Edited by the Design Museum's director, Deyan Sudjic, Design in Britain is a swift and authoritative trawl through the key sectors of the modern industry, cars, architecture, graphics, fashion, branding and digital. Roping in the likes of Wally Olins, Simon Waterfall and Rick Poynor to make the point that the very best British design is not content to rest on its laurels (nor, indeed, does it have to hail from Britain or British companies), we imagine this monograph being a mainstay on embassy coffee tables around the globe.

Design in Britain, the latest tome celebrating the British design tradition, by the Design Museum

Future Systems' Birmingham Selfridges and the media centre at Lords, winner of the Stirling Prize in 1999

Britain's most capable and original supercar - the McLaren F1

The growth of virtual identity - seminal London underground posters from the 1950s

The Aston Martin DB4 Zagato, 1961

Book and magazine graphic design from the first five years of the the 21st Century

The 2005 redesign of The Guardian by Mark Porter

The Jaguar F-type concept (left) and the V12 Jaguar XJ 220, produced in 1992

Vivienne Westwood A/W '95 (left) and S/S '96 (right)


Design in Britain: Big Ideas (Small Island), edited by Deyan Sudjic, Conran Octopus, £45


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