London’s Design Museum unveils the projects created by its Designers in Residence 2021. The group of four designers, operating across different fields, were supported by the museum to develop a project based on the particularly timely theme of ‘Care’.

The Design Museum programme, now in its 13th iteration, aims to support designers at the start of their career, giving them financial and practical means, as well as industry assistance, to develop crucial work. This year, Enni-Kukka Tuomala, Abiola Onabule, Cynthia Voza Lusilu and Ioana Man have been selected to create new work with the support of the museum, and their design explorations will look to improve some of the social and environmental challenges we are facing today. 

Designers in Residence at the Design Museum

This is an important time for creatives to think about how our post-pandemic world can be shaped by design, looking at technology, human relations, the environment and self-care. ‘At a time of upheaval and tragedy, design has shown itself to be up to the task of equipping us to face adversity, with designers manufacturing vital PPE and other equipment during the pandemic,’ says Priya Khanchandani, the Design Museum’s head of curatorial and interpretation. ‘In a post-Covid environment, it is more important than ever that we support emerging designers whose work has the capacity to solve problems, grow empathy and build bridges of understanding.’

The multidisciplinary, all-female quartet represents a new generation of creative thinkers particularly equipped to face the present and future challenges through their diverse specialisms. ‘Right now, it is imperative that designers are engaged in conversations about care as we enter a period of greater social, political and ecological uncertainty. These designers are proposing tools and systems to help us navigate this landscape,’ says Sumitra Upham, the Designers in Residence project curator.

Enni-Kukka Tuomala

Design Museum Designer in Residence Enni-Kukka Tuomala
Forest Empathy/Understanding the Perspectives of Trees. Photography by Enni-Kukka Tuomala

London-based Finnish designer and artist Enni-Kukka Tuomala’s work ‘is focused on fostering issue-based cross-cultural empathy’, which she has addressed through projects such as the Empathy Chamber and Campaigns for Empathy in London and Cambridge.

At the Design Museum, Tuomala focused on developing an immersive ‘empathy training programme’, which resulted in her ‘Forest Empathy’ project, exploring the relationship between humans and trees. For the project, Tuomala created a film to reveal ‘the complex personalities and perspectives of forests’; an Empathy Ecosystem reflecting on the role of empathy in human (and non-human) life; and a tour of the trees local to the Design Museum – an invitation to visitors to connect with London’s urban forests. 

Abiola Onabule

Design Museum Designer in Residence Abiola Onabule
A piece from Abiola Onabule’s project on indigo dyeing, modelled by Oré Ajala. Photography: Jessica Gianelli

Fashion designer Abiola Onabule’s garments are inspired by her Nigerian heritage. Through her residency, Onabule considered the stories of West African women living in the UK to investigate how the exchange of skills and craftsmanship techniques can become an important act of care and conversation. 

Onabule focused on adire, a Yoruba technique for indigo dyeing: in her collection, adire is used to explore the use of West African textile design in contemporary fashion. Through her project, Onabule has also produced a film reflecting on care, looking at local and ‘slow’ production and the conversations around the cultural importance of cloth.

Cynthia Voza Lusilu

Design Museum Designer in Residence Cynthia Voza Lusilu
Part of Cynthia Voza Lusilu’s project, including a series of tools to support mental health in Black British communities in London’s Lewisham

Paris-born Cynthia Voza Lusilu’s design research work has had a focus on care from the start of her practice – ‘put care first, always’, reads her personal manifesto. ‘My recent research is centred around ways of engaging with people through community-based participatory practices. I explore care and repair as vehicles to support emotional wellness and sense of place,’ she says of her work.

Titled BALM (Black Alliance for Lewisham Minds), her project at the Design Museum focuses on how design can support mental health in Black British communities. Voza Lusilu collaborated with a team of mental health professionals, urban planners and Black residents from the London borough of Lewisham to design a series of supportive tools. The tools include care packages and an online platform intended to become a support system to promote resilience and the creation of healing spaces. 

Ioana Man

Design Museum Designer in Residence Ioana Man
A render by Ioana Man illustrating her research piece, based on an imaginary future where agriculture is integrated into urban life

Multidisciplinary designer Ioana Man’s work revolves around architecture, set design and critical practice with a focus on science and biology. Through her Design Museum residency, Man wanted to develop ways to protect ecosystems impacted by architectural planning and modern construction practices, to focus communities around urban nature. 

With the use of new scientific technology, she created a series of interactive digital walks that help imagine a future where agriculture is integrated into urban life, with food gardens forming an important asset for the life of both humans and microbes. 

‘Embarking on their residency, this year’s all-female cohort faced the crucial challenge of considering the question of “care”,’ says Khanchandani. ‘A cause that was long obscured by the pursuit of more, and has now been thrown into stark relief.’ §