Movie with Kieran Long of V&A on young designers

"Young designers have no grasp of design history"

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.