Fresh blood, big brother and memories, boxed

The Design Museum's designers in residence give us some food for thought...

By: Clare Howdle,   3 minutes

musical memory box

I’m a big fan of fresh blood. New creative talent keeps our hearts beating and our minds limber. The next generation’s outlook, approach and insight pushes us beyond the boundaries of what we know and challenges us all to see the world differently.

So when I found out there was an exhibition at the Design Museum showcasing the work of four new designers, it felt like the perfect place to Feed.

Since 2008, Designers in Residence has given young designers a platform to develop and exhibit new work, as well as the financial support and mentoring that can be vital in the early years of design practice.

This year’s Designer in Residence theme ‘Identity’ inspired a record response.

The four selected designers pushed the idea of identity in all sorts of different ways, exploring personal, societal and psychological depths, through creativity and technology.

Diverse in form and function, each of the four designers delivered compelling, provocative and innovative exhibitions, but for me two really stood out.

Stories awakened


Brighton graduate Chloe Meineck explored the idea and value of memory in her work, developing a research-led, multi-sensory health tool, which seeks to restore a sense of identity to people with dementia.

The Musical Memory Box works on the principle that keepsakes or objects hold memories, as do sounds and melodies, so by blending music and touch together you can trigger people to remember experiences gone by and reconnect with their families.

“An object that holds a memory for a person has a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag inserted into it, so that when you put it in the centre of the box it sets off a particular song,” Chloe explains, in the publication that accompanies the exhibition. “The one I made in Cornwall was for a blind lady and when I played a particular song she was smiling away and ruffling her hands so I asked her what the song reminded her of. Suddenly she starts speaking about a dance hall where she used to go with her partner. She would wear a taffeta skirt so it is like she’s trying to feel for the fabric. I cut her a small square of taffeta so now when she hears the song she has a little piece of the fabric to feel.”


Life restrained

On the other end of the spectrum, Thomas Thwaites’s research project was all about the proliferation of entertainment and information that bombards us today and how technology could be harnessed to improve our lives – by helping us all make better choices in how and what we consume. Thomas’s research wasn’t concerned with opening up memories and liberating human experience from the confines of fading consciousness – rather he was looking at how to lock down experience, control it so that no-one goes awry and everyone treads the course that is deemed most suitable for them.

His project sees a router take on a guardian role in each individual’s home – monitoring the data they consume, building a picture of a user’s habits and character and then gradually censoring or manipulating what they can access, to make them a better person. This guardianship then carries through to the phones in their hand, the ovens in their kitchens and the shoes on their feet.

“As we have more powerful electronic devices in our lives, we get to choose what we want to do and what we think will make us happier and more fulfilled. This is the free market view of things.  But there is a whole other growing opinion, that people have no idea what is best for them and have very little ability to make actual choices,” explains Thomas of the starting point for his project. “So I am working on a router that essentially has parental controls, but it also knows what’s best for you.”

What next?

The distance between Thomas and Chloe’s work, on the surface, feels vast.  One looking back and remembering, the other looking forward and shaping. One graduate interested in helping to gather and stimulating the breadth of human experience, one interested in setting the parameters for those experiences, to be decided and designed by a technology that ‘knows best’. One using technology to support humanity, and one to control it. But underneath, a striking similarity resides. Both graduates are fascinated by the relationship we have with technology – how man and machine interact for better or worse and how technology can be used to stimulate, shape and define our lives in the years to come.

I left the Design Museum reeling, my head buzzing with ideas, my hand ever so slightly fearful of pulling out the phone in my pocket and using it to navigate my way home…

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