Yesterday, I got a sneak preview of the new Cambridge Design Icons Exhibition. Based in the Ruskin Gallery, the exhibition (which runs from now until the 23 February) highlights 20 exhibits that they argue represent examples of iconic design from the glorious region of Cambridge.
Before I entered the exhibit, I have to admit I was somewhat sceptical about the claim that there are 20 examples of iconic design in Cambridge’s recent past. I had little doubt there would be some great examples of design on show and that whatever was selected would prove interesting, but I was concerned whether what I was about to see was ‘iconic’, which to me wasn’t just a matter of pedantry.
To claim to be iconic is to claim ubiquity and some sense of historical importance, not just make a claim to being great design – in my mind that meant iPods over Zunes and I went into the exhibit with a certain amount of hesitancy.
So it came as something of a surprise that there were a lot of exhibits in there that were actually iconic. We had the Sinclair ZX spectrum, backbone of the British home programming industry, the Sinclair C5, a gloriously memorable failure, and the Sepura Tetra Radio, instantly recognisable as the radio of choice for all our emergency services.
On top of that there was the Easi-breathe asthma inhaler, an absolutely iconic design, and the Kenwood Juice Separator, which is the obvious ancestor to all our home equipment. Within minutes of entering the exhibit, I realised that a good quarter of the items on display were cast iron icons and worthy of their place.
As for the rest, it was more difficult to say. There were some beautiful aesthetic pieces, like the Meridian Audio M80, the Moss Table and the Prestige kettle, which drew the eye with their innovative design.
There were interesting technical pieces, like the SureFlap, the Duo Fertility and the Propiro Prosthetic Foot, which were obviously revolutionary pieces of technology. And there were many other practical pieces, like the Eon Torch and iCAP Spectrometer, which undoubtedly represented excellent optimisations of what existed previously in their field.
But none of these pieces made as convincing a case as iconic pieces. Some felt too early in their development cycle to be included, others felt too obscure and some failed to pique my interest beyond a cursory glance.
Despite that, there may have been a solid case for many of the items on display to be considered iconic. As Julian Huppert MP said to me at the exhibit yesterday, many of the items on display may well have been iconic to those who were had an interest or were involved directly in the industries that I will admit I have less interest in.
Regardless of my reservations, I feel it remains a worthwhile exhibit to go and explore. While it may not have met my expectations of iconic design on all levels, it provided an awful lot of food for thought and I spent the rest of the evening wandering around my house identifying items I thought were examples of iconic design.
So if you get an hour free in Cambridge over the next couple of weeks, I do recommend anyone with an interest in design to have a look around. Whether or not all the items in there are iconic in your view, pondering the inclusion of each item can open your eyes to the great design that is constantly around us and that we sometimes take for granted.
Information on Design Icons: Cambridge Innovation Festival, can be found here.
blog comments powered by Disqus