Whoosh! ‘Email is Dead,’ say the Design Museum and Intuit Mailchimp

Take an immersive tour through the history of email at the Design Museum in London

virtual clouds in Email is Dead exhibition at London Design Museum
(Image credit: Design Museum x Intuit Mailchimp)

‘There’s been chatter about the death of email for over a decade, and every time there’s a new thing, “experts” speculate on its extinction; see: SMS, social media, and instant messaging platforms,’ muses Christian Widlic, group creative director at Intuit Mailchimp, an email and marketing automations platform for growing businesses. ‘With the rapid expansion of AI that’s happening, we found the chatter about the death of email to be, quite frankly, hilarious. In fact, with the help of AI, our inboxes are becoming increasingly personalised, helping marketers reach the right audience with the right message at the right time. In essence, email is becoming smarter than it’s ever been.’

It is a subject that forms the core of the Design Museum’s new exhibition, ‘Email is Dead’, though the Intuit Mailchimp team are quick to reassure us they are not, in fact, mourning email, but rather celebrating its longevity over the last 50 years. Its journey is traced in the exhibition, which encourages visitors to touch, listen, look at and even smell email throughout the decades.

‘Email is Dead’ at London’s Design Museum

giant yellow envelope installation at Email is Dead, Design Museum exhibition

(Image credit: Design Museum x Intuit Mailchimp)

‘Our core concept was to “make the mundane magnificent”, and we knew early on that we wanted to make this experience feel immersive with tangible, interactive touchpoints. Some of our favourite art experiences are extremely interactive and engaging, like laying down in a Turrell skyspace, or walking through a Richard Serra sculpture. For us to achieve this we really had to take a 360-view of email. One big question for us was what does email look, smell, feel and sound like? And we put a lot of intention into exploring those themes throughout the exhibition. 

‘The whole exhibit is interactive, but some of our favourite moments are the email-personality-test-machine, which discovers what kind of emailer you really are. In looking at the future of email, we are displaying inventions that might tackle some of emails flaws – like your dreaded piles of unanswered emails or the temptation to fire off an email that really shouldn’t be sent – and offered up dreamy cures like an Inbox Elixir (recipe included) or an Email Therapy Machine for everyday problems.’

virtual clouds in exhibition Email is Dead at Design Museum, London

(Image credit: Design Museum x Intuit Mailchimp)

Synthesised sounds of the familiar whoosh and ding, a scent developed with Something Special Studios and Tatiana Godoy Betancur, and a celebration of the typeface used in the first email sent by Ray Tomlinson in 1971 are just some of the immersive facets of the experience. ‘We wanted to bring email to life in that same bright and playful way, using sculpture and digital content to amplify the joyfulness of the executions using a variety of scale, surprise, and imagination,’ Widlic adds. ‘And while the playfulness helps visually to tell the story, we think visitors will be pleasantly surprised at just how much email helps shape our work lives, relationships, cultures and economies.’

‘Email is Dead’ at the Design Museum, 28 September – 22 October 2023, designmuseum.org

Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.