Designed In California


1 August 2017

Early July saw the Matter team make our usual pilgrimage to London for the latest New Designers exhibition. While we were in London, we thought we would make the most of our time in town & go check out some other exhibitions. As such, a few of us decided to head to the Design Museum for their new California exhibition. 

“Designed in California” is the new “Made in Italy”. While California’s mid-century modernism is well documented, this is the first exhibition to examine its current global reach. Picking up the story in the 1960s, the exhibition charts the journey from the counterculture to Silicon Valley’s tech culture. - Design Museum website.

Humble Beginnings

You have to start somewhere right? In part, a theme of the exhibition was tracing the journeys of some of today’s biggest household brand names // cooperation’s from their humble beginnings to where they are today. It was fascinating to see that quite a few of these blue-chip powerhouses, be it Amazon, Disney, Google or Apple, all started life in the back of a garage.

This journey is traced all the way through to the designs & plans of their new headquarters and how their unique brand values are instilled into their individual designs.

For example, the design of Apple Park is that of a circular construction that encases a vast green space. Here you could argue the notion of sustainability is reflected in its layout or, in other words, core to Apples values? But dig deeper, arguably this also reflects the secretive nature of Apple? Either way, its no co-incidence it’s an infinite loop - the address of their current headquarters.

An equally fascinating example is Facebook’s new “ground scraper”, this will be the largest open planned space in the world on completion. Here the open planned nature of the space encourages connections - the foundation stone of Facebook. It also removes hierarchy bringing all employees to the same level. Like it!

While on the subject of Facebook, there was a visualisation of the world-wide reach of Facebook between 2010 to 2015. We found it fascinating & refreshing to see that as of 2015 there are still vast areas where Facebook hadn’t yet reached.


While Apple was not the sole focus of the exhibition, the story of Apples journey from the back of a garage to where it is today was traced & exhibited. For us as product designers it’s hard to ignore this story. Especially when so many of the artefacts that help to tell it, were there in the flesh.

The story starts with the Apple 1, all built in 1976 by Steve Wozniak & Steve Jobs in the back of a garage - mind blowing. Things quickly gained momentum for the Steve’s. A key highlight in the exhibition was the Macintosh 128K which was the first mass market computer to utilize a GUI.

The focus here being the GUI, as exhibited next to the Macintosh, is the actual sketch book from the apple design team in which so many of the icons for the first GUI were designed. What really resonated is that such ground-breaking work started life with a pencil and a humble sketch book - we all have both in our studio!

In the same breath, we were also treated to an insight into some of the quickly hacked together prototypes that eventually led to the iPhone as we know it today. For example, this iPhone antenna prototype from 2007, hastily wrapped in copper tape to simulate the conductive metals used in the final design. This was fascinating to see as so many of our own ideas go through this same iterative process, quickly hacking something together to firstly gain a better understanding & then improve.

The exhibition also gave a fundamental insight into the intricacies of producing these iconic items. Once such highlight was the rear casing of the original iPhone for example. This goes through 6 processes before finally being ready for assembly. Each stage is captured as a genuine tooling sample, each as fascinating as the next.

Also on display was the actual tooling for the Apple EarPods, which produces a stunning (subjective of course) organic form which is so recognisable today. The complexity of this shape is reflected in the fact that this small tool performs 56 actions in one cycle, all to a tolerance of less than 2 microns. To some this is mass production jargon, but to us as designers, to be able hold tolerances like this is the holy grail!

Nestled next to the Mackintosh 128K was a screening of Apple’s “1984” television advertisement. Directed by Ridley Scott, this was the introduction of the Apple Mackintosh and was only aired once during the 3rd quarter of the 1984 Super Bowl football game. 

Based on George Orwell’s novel 1984, Scott captures the eerie vision of the dehumanising technologies of that time. Apple with it’s energetic approach, destroys the ‘Big Brother’ to free and change the world as we know it with it’s inspirational full colour and creativity.  

This was not the first of Ridley Scott’s influences in this exhibition as he linked to another feature which displayed concept visual art by Syd Mead for the movie Bladerunner.


One artefact exhibited caught us off guard, as it is something taken for granted in many of today’s work spaces, plus some of us at Matter sit on them in our studio! (along with some other design classics). This is of course the Herman Miller Aeron chair. Designed in 1994 by Don Chadwick & Bill Stumpf, Aeron was designed to maximise comfort & fit pretty much any body size and weight, while being 94% percent recyclable. It is little wonder that this chair has become such an icon... and synonymous with some late nights at work. 

As of 2016, estimates state that one Aeron is being produced every 17 seconds. Staggering. 



There was an insight into what may be next in terms of how we consume digital media. “Duet” is an interactive cartoon (created by Disney & Google advanced technology in 2014) where by the user (Row in this case) physically moves the tablet around in order to follow characters within & throughout the story. 

Here the tablet acts more as a lens than a screen, which puts a really fun & engaging twist on how we absorb digital media!


Most people are familiar with the gay pride flag (or LGBT pride flag) but this is the real McCoy devised by Gilbert Baker for the 1978 San Francisco Pride Parade. 

 Baker was an artist and activist who served in the army for two years before being discharged, he then taught himself to sew and was asked to make a symbol of pride for the gay community. It’s been hinted that Baker took inspiration from the gay icon Judy Garland with her “Over the Rainbow” and the Stonewall riots which happened shortly after her death. 

 We found this fascinating as this dyed cotton flag tells a much deeper story than meets the eye. The majestic Rainbow Flag has eight fabric stripes each having a specific meaning.... So we have: PINK (sexuality), RED (life), ORANGE (healing), YELLOW (sunlight), GREEN (nature), TURQUOISE (art), INDIGO (harmony) and VIOLET (human spirit). 

 Since 1979, it has been simplified to six colours by removing pink and indigo, and royal blue as a replacement for turquoise. 

 So the next time you see the colourful symbol of pride, see if you can recall one of the coloured meanings!