Terence Conran’s drive to democratise good design has shaped the look of the everyday life of the UK more than any other designer of his generation. Next week, Tate Modern, in partnership with the Design Museum, presents an evening drawing together leading figures from the various visual worlds that Terence Conran has influenced to discuss his impact. Transcripts of these presentations will be available at the The Way We Live Now exhibition at the Design Museum in November. Director of the Design Museum, Deyan Sudjic, will be chairing the evening and writes for us here on Conran and his impact.
For the last several months, Stafford Cliff, a designer who has worked with Terence Conran for getting on for five decades, and I have been putting together an exhibition about Terence which opens on 16 November at the Design Museum. The exhibition is called The Way We Live Now, which of course was the title of Anthony Trollope’s society satire. We chose the title to suggest the impact that Terence has had on so many aspects of everyday life, in so many different ways. Conran’s view of the world may not be as sharply sceptical as Trollope’s, but it is certainly shot through with a wry wit. And by looking closely at what Conran has done, we can get as penetrating an insight into the life of contemporary Britain, as Trollope offered of its 19th-century incarnation.
Conran has provided the furniture of everyday life, metaphorically, and literally. He has shaped the stages, domestic and public, on which it is acted out. He was there for the Festival of Britain, for the Independent Group, for the Kings Road of the Mini Cooper and the mini skirt, for the Three Day Week when London blacked out, and his brand new Habitat store struggled through rolling Christmas power cuts, lit by Camping Gaz cylinders in the 1970s. In the 1980s, he and Stephen Bayley ended up stuck in a lift with Baroness Thatcher when she came to open the Design Museum, and brought her handbag with her. And in the 1990s, he went public, survived the stock market boom and bust, and invented the giant restaurant.
Terence has been designing since he was a schoolboy. But it is not just by working as a designer that he has had such an impact. It’s the people he has worked with, and the designs that he has made possible.
Deyan SudjicDirector of the Design Museum