; ; 25 Jan 2017


by Vivien Chan and Alistair Small

Image by Johanna Himmelsbach

Welcome to Unmaking Things, a blog by the V&A/RCA History of Design programme. This is ‘Restarts’, the first keyword for our new take on the blog.

To begin, we should explain what we’re up to; the team got together and we realised we wanted more out of Unmaking Things: more content that was varied, exciting, and open –  a platform to reflect the discipline of History of Design. Informed by our different backgrounds and interests, we are exploring the ways that we can incorporate our multiple disciplines. Testing ourselves during our first year by curating the Reimagining Objects exhibition and our collaborative publication Sooner, or later, we want our digital platform to do the same.

‘Restarts’ is our reboot. It comes with a new look, but also a new structure, incorporating long and short articles, interviews, and reflections, but now includes multimedia content, photo essays, podcasts, and films. Traditionally a second year activity, UMT is relaunching as a collaborative project between first and second years. As this edition’s keyword, restarting is an opportunity to delve into the unknown, collaborate, and rejuvenate our ideas of what history of design is, and what it does. Restarting is a challenge, a risk, a premonition, a hope, an injection of adrenaline.  

As the events of the year continue to confound and anger, how can restarting drive us to overcome? Where do we direct energy when we hit walls? Restarting is the instinctual flicking of the ON/OFF switch, but can also be a prolonged period of reflection. It’s taking something dormant and making it anew. Globally, locally and individually we are seeing restarts. Shifts in the geopolitical landscape, when viewed in the framework of a new year, creates a reassessment of our identities and futures.

In London, amongst these political tensions, The Design Museum reopens in the Commonwealth Institute with the ‘Fear and Love’ exhibition; the development of Crossrail continues, whilst rail strikes stop and start the flow of the city; and the plans for Stratford, the rejuvenation of the Olympic Park, progresses with the birth of VARI, the V&A Research Institute. Martin Roth, director of V&A, leaves the institution as it begins to explore territories outside of the capital, and Tristram Hunt succeeds the position, with mixed thoughts of what this means from inside and outside of the museum.

On History of Design, the programme is changing more than it has in a long time – as some tutors have moved on from teaching us on the programme, we look forward to the introduction of a new Head of Programme at the V&A, alongside a new MA planned with Theatre and Performance at the V&A [1]. The announcement of a move to White City, a new RCA campus set to open in September, divides our community on whether it will isolate us, or draw us closer to Visual Communication and Architecture [2]. As individuals, the coming of a new year leads us to reflection, and many may sense an opportunity, perhaps a pressure, to ‘restart’.  

Restarts, by its nature is full of questions and potential, excitement and anxiety – How does design respond to the unknowns of the ‘restart’? How does the notion of the ‘restart’ influence our practice as design historians? To what extent is restarting simply a means to comprehend the chaos?


1. RCA, Heads of Programme Welcome, 2017, https://www.rca.ac.uk/schools/school-of-humanities/hod/head-of-programme/
2. RCA, The Royal College of Art: Designing the Future, 2016, https://www.rca.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/royal-college-art-designing-future/
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