Essentially, everything that surrounds us, except nature, is, one way or another, designed. From the clothes we put on and vehicles we ride, to books we read and letters that compose those books, everything that we encounter every single second is a piece of design. This Triennial, an inaugural show called “Design Culture Now” organized by Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, gives a good “overview of contemporary design in America.”

The show is divided into eight sections, based on a “dictionary of ideas” – fluid, physical, minimal, reclaimed, branded, local, narrative, and unbelievable – rather than different design types. Each section scans through various types of work from architecture to product design, graphic design, and new media that share certain aesthetics.

What’s most intriguing is the juxtaposition of different design disciplines that reflect one idea. For instance, in the “minimal” section, one sees a Palm Pilot by 3Com next to fashionable handbags designed by Kate Spade next to a poster and an interactive module by John Maeda. The whole exhibition is full of these juxtapositions and it is rare to see such a wide range of pieces in a very cohesive manner.

While this organization of the show is engaging and fairly successful, it does not leave an impact on the viewer (or at least on me, it didn’t). The show looks like it came straight from a design annual review of I.D. Magazine. Also, one of the problems with exhibitions, especially with big-name museums like this one, is that they try to be academic. Probably out of the fear of losing to other institutions as well as their own internal politics, the exhibition tries to present itself as a grandiose show. And it tries a little too hard.

Another disappointing element was the poor (to say the least) representation of new media. Most of the works in this category in the show from select well-known firms are rather weak, giving print designers another reason to look down on web designers.

Overall, this exhibition is a good show and while it is not mind-blowing, it is worthwhile visiting.

Text and Photo: Rei Inamoto From Interfere.

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