Designer views: Gemma Curtin, Curator of the Designers in Residence 2013 programme at the Design Museum, London

October 22, 2013

1 October 2013, London

The Design Museum’s annual Designers in Residence programme provides a platform to celebrate new and emerging designers at an early stage in their career. The programme is now in its sixth year and is a core part of the exhibition programme demonstrating the Design Museum’s commitment to support and encourage new design talent. The 2013 Designers in Residence are: Adam Nathaniel Furman, Eunhee Jo, Chloe Meineck and Thomas Thwaites. This year’s Residents were selected through an open call in response to a brief to create a piece of work based on the theme of ‘Identity’. The results will be displayed in the Design Museum until 12 January 2014.

Why did the Design Museum decide to set up the Designers in Residence programme? How did it come about?

About a quarter of our work at the Design Museum is with emerging designers. The Designers in Residence programme was first initiated in 2008 and became firmly established in 2011. It is for young designers who have left education for more than one year but have no more than five years’ experience and who are at the start of their careers. The programme was established to offer young designers financial support to produce a piece of work for an exhibition and to provide practical mentoring advice. We identified a gap between young designers not receiving the level of support they needed in the early stages of their careers and saw this as an opportunity to support them from the outset.

What excites you about the Designers in Residence this year?

Either the individual designers or the whole programme. What has been interesting is working with the designers from the proposal and interview stage, right through to preparing the exhibition. They are all incredibly engaged, dedicated and talented young designers. They each have the tools to make our lives better through their designs and it is very uplifting to see young people make a difference in their fields. What I have also found fascinating is the different extremes between each of the designers despite the common theme of identity.

Chloe is focussing on the issue of fading identities and dementia, she uses music and objects, and her work is multi- sensory to trigger thoughts and memories from the viewer. Chloe has developed a memory box to be used by people suffering with dementia.

Adam looks at using 3D printing techniques and plaster in his work, exploring the concept of identity through a cabinet of curiosities. The cabinet will contain products made entirely from 3D printing and Slip Casting.

Thomas will explore how the collating of personal information from the internet could, in addition to boosting consumer knowledge, also be used to inform people about themselves and their own identity. He has developed an interactive webpage that will act like a ‘self-help book’ and may aid people to make some choice changes about their personality and identity.

Eunhee Jo’s research looks at the surface quality of things. During her residency Eunhee will develop new surfaces made of fabric or paper which will be embedded with technology. Eunhee will use this embedded material to create a light and Hi-Fi system that offer new possible encounters with what we regard as everyday items and in doing so creating new aesthetic possibilities.

I am excited by each of the designers because they are each open to the world and what is happening and actively thinking and responding to it. All four designers acknowledge that we are living in a technological age and incorporate this in this into their designs whilst exploring the theme of identity.

What do you view as the biggest challenge and/or opportunity facing young designers?

We have the Designers in Residence programme to bridge the gap between leaving education and establishing a career as a designer. We aim to provide a foundation and structure to support young designers at the early stages of their careers. Becoming a designer is not like any other profession with a clear path and it can be challenging to find an outlet for this talent. In the first few years when designers are on their way to establishing where their talent can be used, this can be very difficult both from a financial perspective and many young designers find there is a lack of support in making contacts and improving their commercial awareness.

We offer our young designers mentoring and support including legal advice on issues such as copyright, royalties and intellectual property. Often it is difficult to put a price on the individual designer’s work, we work with them to offer guidance on how they can make a living from their designs. I believe there is a strong opportunity for designers and professional organisations to work together to learn and collaborate to achieve this.

As a curator at the Design Museum, what is your favourite design at the museum?

The joy of working at the Design Museum is that you get to work with so many fascinating designs. It is the scope and variety of designs that motivates you. Whatever you are working on at the time becomes your favourite as you learn so much about the project through investigation, research and the background and personal story associated with the work. Then you start a new piece of work and start the whole process begins again and that work soon becomes your favourite. I often feel it is quite indulgent to be allowed to research in such depth areas of design and feel very fortunate to be allowed to dedicate myself to this.

What is your favourite design of all time and why?

The B52 chair by Marcel Breuer, the 1930’s Bauhaus architect. I am very fond of the design itself, the optimism and use of new materials. He produced strong designs that don’t dominate, strong designs that are also discreet.

What are the main challenges facing curators?

One challenge facing curators is how to present ideas to the public in an engaging, memorable way. Often curators have a wealth of information that they have to distil into just an hour’s visit for the public. It can be difficult to capture the essence of what objects and people are about and convey this into a short period of time without missing something significant.

When do applications open for the 2014 Designers in Residence programme? How do people apply?

Applications open in January 2014 and more information will be available on the Design Museum website. Applications close at the end of February 2014 and the winners are announced in April 2014.

Originally published in DesignWrites 2nd Edition.