The ‘21 Designers for twenty-first century Britain’ that feature in Gareth Williams’ 21 Twenty One are familiar names to Wallpaper* readers. Indeed a good few, including Studio Glithero, Simon Hassan, Martino Gamper, Paul Cocksedge, Peter Marigold, Max Lamb, Doshi Levien, Moritz Waldemeyer and Industrial Facility have collaborated on Wallpaper* Handmade and other Wallpaper* projects. In that sense, this is the generation of British-based designers – less than a third are actually British – that we have pushed, promoted and commissioned. The majority have also passed through the RCA, where Williams’ teaches – they should get some of the credit, of course – and have come to prominence in the last ten years or so.
All of Williams’ selection are small, independent studios and, as Williams says, their work tends to the fantastic rather than the functional (Industrial Facility might be the obvious exception). And for product designers there is a remarkable lack of actual product going on in this book.
As the author points out, if these designers represent British design now, it is a very different sort of design from that practiced by agencies like Seymour Powell in the 1990s.
This is design that sees itself as a cultural activity and has been happily accepted as such by institutions, such as the RCA, galleries and magazines, like Wallpaper*, that have positioned the UK, and London more particularly, as a global design hub.
Beautifully designed by A Practice for Everyday Life, William’s book reminds us how much design – and the conversation about design – has become to ideas of what contemporary Britain (metropolitan Britain at least) is or should be. And how radically this generation of designers has rethought it ends and means.