Dezeen and MINI World Tour: in our next movie recorded at the MINI Paceman Garage in Milan last month, MINI head of design Anders Warming discusses the design of the new MINI Paceman and design journalist and curator Kieran Long gives us his thoughts on how the current generation of designers compares to the great masters. 

"Young designers have no grasp of design history"
Anders Warming

Warming explains that the idea behind the design of the MINI Paceman was to combine the signature styling of the classic MINI with new features such as four-wheel drive and horizontal tail lights. "When you look at [the car] you feel and you see MINI, but you realise there is so much new to it," he says.

"Young designers have no grasp of design history"
MINI Paceman

He also stresses that a lot of the design of the car was done by hand. "People say cars are just [designed] by computers today," he says. "A car is really done by hand. It's designed with sketches, we choose the lines that we like and we also spend a [lot of] time forming the shapes in clay and then from that make the tooling."

The guest in our Dezeen and MINI World Tour Studio is Kieran Long, senior curator of contemporary architecture, design and digital at the V&A museum in London. He believes the work of the current generation of designers lacks the boldness of the post-modern design Italy became famous for in the 1970s and 1980s.

"I sense a sort of tentative nature in the design that you see - even [work by] the younger designers, students and so on," he says. "There's not much boldness either in formal or colour terms, but also philosophical and ideas terms.

"Young designers have no grasp of design history"
Kieran Long

"It really struck me visiting the exhibition at the Triennale on Italian design, what a big contrast that is from the grand era of Italian design. You see the boldness of those forms and remind yourself of what Italian design was known for and you see now a sort of pastel-y sort of invisible feeling to design."

"Young designers have no grasp of design history"
Haze chair by Wonmin Park

Despite this, Long says there are detectable trends that young designers are exploring. "We've had this fixing, repairing, ad hocism thing now for a couple of years," he says. "This year it's really identifiable that young designers work is occupied by new materials, often sustainable materials, new organic materials in the kind of Formafantasma mould. If somebody would just capture that and make a manifesto about it, it would seem like a real movement.

"Young designers have no grasp of design history"
Salmon stool by Formafantasma

"I think the big problem is that they have no grasp of design history," he continues. "They have no idea of where they sit in relation to anything. It's my observation that most of those designers wish they were taught a formal didactic history of design alongside the freedom that the art school education gives them."

More generally, Long believes that design needs to be less introspective to remain relevant. "I think we've overrated what designers do as the thing that's interesting about design," he says. "What's really interesting is the problem solved, or the relationship made, or the fashion trend started or ended - those cultural currents that design contributes to.

"I think they could learn something from architecture in that sense; when you're an architect, when you write about architecture, you can also write about the city, and the city is everything in it. Design needs to find a category like that. They need to relax and say: 'what I do is not the interesting thing about design, it's what happens after it leaves my office.'"

"Young designers have no grasp of design history"
Our Dezeen and MINI World Tour Studio

See all our stories about Milan 2013.

The music featured in this movie is a track called Konika by Italian disco DJ Daniele Baldelli, who played a set at the MINI Paceman Garage. You can listen to more music by Baldelli on Dezeen Music Project.

  • At last! Somebody talking sense. I completely agree with Kieran and his view that young designers have no sense of history or context. No sense of whose shoulders they are standing on and why. Little or no concept of how their work will have impact on society, and therefore to me are practising merely craft not design.

    Exercising the desire to say who they are, not the value they have to real people. Design is to solve a need, to make peoples’ lives easier, of course with a sense of taste. I am sure this is not an issue of their making or that they even, sadly, recognise, more that education and critical journalism is failing them and ultimately the consumer.

  • Simon

    FINALLY! Someone on here has written about something I agree with. So sick of these young pretentious twats who don’t know anything about what they’re doing.

  • Dan Leno

    Young designers have no grasp of anything useful. With what Dezeen is feeding them I wouldn’t expect any better than that.

  • Nathan

    FINALLY! I always come on here looking for a voice as smug, superior and ptetentious as my own; judging by previous comments I'm not alone! Much of what made the past greats so great was their intrinsic belief that they were superior human beings, and so carried themselves as such. Todays little twats have none of that! Why just within the past number of months I've spoken with three different architects who are legitimately great architects in their own right; on the other hand, they were humble and generally pleasant to be around. Such a waste!

  • BriH

    Surely we have a case of design “evolution” here; if the designer’s work is that “poor” no-one will want to use it. The designer will then evolve the article until it is “useful”.

    Nothing wrong here, don’t fix what ain’t broke! What does design history have to do with it?

    • tin

      What are you talking about?

      • BriH

        I am commenting on the statement that "young designers have no grasp of design history". Specifically I am replying to the comment by David Tonge.
        Sorry if I didn't make that clear.

  • burnside

    It’s uncharitable of me I know, but I read this as distress over our young contemporaries neglecting to form a collective – something nameable or (especially) teachable. Jugendstil or whatever.

    I suspect – at my age – I might find Long’s own familiarity with the scope and history of design a little pale. But native curiosity and a few decades should set that to rights as indeed they will for those younger than himself.

  • and

    Great design does not depend on knowledge of history, a particular new material or a colour.

    Great design does not depend on “critics” that only want to write a good article and be clever, rather than to use and cherish creation.

    It doesn’t even need a designers name, a particular brand, nor a school of thought. Good design only needs imagination and love.

  • Richard

    He is missing is own point, not seeing where this minimalistic sense of contemporary aesthetics is leading us to. V&A is lacking in vision!

  • In one small part I agree with Long but surely as a historian he should be thrilled in such clear movements our young designers have been creating over the last few years. Surely design being introspective is capturing moments of global and local financial burden, the environment drastically needing help, general public no longer feeling stability…

    Young designers are reacting to what a mass of people are feeling and they are looking at how to improve their future. Yes sometimes those ideas are abstract but inspiration comes from those moments and before we know it we see real problems being solved.

  • Guy

    I suspect Long is speaking off the cuff without doing his homework properly. My postgrad research is precisely about situating contemporary trends like repair and the (re)emergence of new materials (which are often old materials submerged by petro-chemical culture) within historical discourse and I could easily name many designers with similar awareness of their practice in relation to historical movements.

    It’s strange too that he praises Formafantasma without acknowledging the conscientious way they practise within a historical discourse. Still, any commentary that encourages young designers to look at history should be praised I suppose.

  • Kassim V.

    Excellent article. Octavio Paz says in a document called “El uso y la contemplación” (Use and contemplation) that the tendency in industrial design will be always the same as in art, but arrives a little bit retarded to design.

    I think he is right when we see the new non-sense design and we compare it with non-sense tendencies in art such performance art and installation: much of them lacking of technique and full of cheap rethoric: Tracey Emin, for example. Design is resenting the poor artistic scene.

  • Bri

    Yes, yes, the new crop do need to have a better grasp of design history. But the fact that the context or the ‘next big design movement’ Long and Fairs themselves mention and seem to seek is framed around an old concept in the ‘great Italian designers’ shows that writers and journalists really do not understand the great transition in design going on here.

    They are seeking something that will not reproduce itself. If they knew their design history they would know that it took the destruction of a country to allow young Italian architects to be able to start from nothing and re-construct (to some degree) their society.

    Anyway, the aspect of young Italian designers not killing off the design fathers is true only because the design fathers killed them off before they could do it to them first (ancient history 101).

    Look at the state of the design studios in Milan – they seem to be running more or less on skeleton crews. Not the thriving bustle of youth one thinks about. Milan is in danger of becoming a design ghost town. The Italian industrial-political system saw to that.

    Is is to be understood that design critics sit around and COMPLAIN that designers don’t know what they are doing or have not produced a ‘scene’ for them to discover? That designers are not giving them fodder to do their own jobs?

    Just a thought.

  • NubianCzar

    Many “old” designers started their own thing and were noticed for them. Why can’t young designers be themselves?

    Someone once said that to be innovative, you should know what everyone else has done. So I guess you can only go back as far as you want. Not just store info you know you won’t need, that’s a waste of time.

    History is a reference, not necessarily a foundation for new designers.

    I agree with him on the historical part of that history, but the title sounds like young designers must somehow memorise history to be deemed designers.

    Let them (us) be them (our) selves.

  • Vicki

    I feel compelled to comment here on the sponsors message – the car. Interestingly, it draws an ironic parallel to this banter about young designers not paying attention to historical design references. What about this car? It is so sad.

    MINI is losing its uniqueness in shape, style, and design and is looking le every other car out there! Look at the “greenhouse” as they are calling the windows. They’re smushed down! It can’t be good for visbility. Don’t people want to see outside while driving? The adorable boxy mini is going away and becoming more bulbous and generic. Look at the first MINI Coopers! They are boxy, little, and have a certain personality and style about them that the new mini’s are loosing!

    It seems to me that car design is just getting so incredibly monotonous. Every new car looks the same. We don’t want any more dulling and rounding of edges! Every car does that! Go back to articulation! Elongating the tail-lights? Why? Blasphemy! Keep them round. No, don’t take that element too and make it like any other car.

    I’m sorry if my rant doesn’t provide enough examples of “looking like every other car”. I don’t have them at my fingertips because for as long as I can remember I have stopped paying attention to new cars because of the lack of creativity and uniqueness that car designers have put out. It’s obvious the market is driving the design and nobody wants to gamble. However, the first MINI in 2002 was a breakthrough. It was cute and unique. Now what? They re caving to market pressure. They want to serve every category.

    I’d love to read more reactions to this parallel.

  • loon

    Oh compared to design masters who made it up as they went along too… Poor modern day designers. I know, get them to just copy what’s out there already, all the successful young graduates do that already. Lazy uncreative so and so’s.

  • Silky Johnson

    More signs of the new POMO.

  • Jamie

    It’s not just young people, it’s also people in their 30s and late 30s. One tutor from a different college studio unit commented on my work based purely on its aesthetics of the project and completely ignoring my explanation on how it was related to the philosophy of Post-modernist Rossi. Because of her ignorance, they under-appreciated my work. People are historically illiterate these days.