Mhairi Maxwell: Join the Scottish Design Relay

Tours of Scotland usually involve taking in the remarkable scenery, visiting landmarks, tasting local delicacies and enjoying a few drams.

As a nation we have a strong awareness of what our country has to offer when it comes to the great outdoors, culture and – of course – fantastic food and drink.

But how many of us know about the fascinating and diverse design heritage that exists within our towns, cities and islands?

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And do we ever consider taking a peek inside the workshops and studios scattered throughout Scotland when we pack our bags in search of adventure?

V&A Dundee recently announced its next national project, the Scottish Design Relay. Starting in Dundee in August we will travel around the country bringing local designers and young people together.

The eight-month-long journey will celebrate and shine a spotlight on each area’s unique design heritage. Those taking part will be inspired by design objects such as a Fair Isle jumper, a hooded Orkney chair and even a model of the Dounreay Fast Reactor. They will then develop new designs and create prototypes that will go on display in V&A Dundee when it opens next year.

As well as encouraging young people to consider how design can improve their lives, putting them in touch with a network of designers and giving them the chance to produce something that will be displayed in the museum, the project aims to raise awareness of how design is woven into Scotland’s past, present and future.

V&A Dundee will tell the largely untold story of Scottish design through a permanent collection of inspiring objects, including those featured in the relay. But the museum will also, importantly, champion and showcase designers working today in Scotland and beyond and embolden everyone to explore the world of design that exists on our doorsteps.

In preparation for the relay I was lucky enough to visit some of the workshops and studios that are home to those at the forefront of UK and international innovation.

Some were in cities providing jobs to a team of staff, while others were rural one-person enterprises in bespoke byres tucked away in stunning rural locations. Some were full of the latest technology like 3D scanners and 3D printers, while others were packed with traditional tools passed down and adapted through the generations.

But despite the differences between them, inside each workshop was a designer with an infectious enthusiasm for what they do and the ambition needed to create something truly special.

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The designers who will take part in the Scottish Design Relay include Kevin Fox, founder of the luxury travel brand LAT_56, who will team up with young employees from the Michelin factory in Dundee for the first leg.

Hundreds of miles away in Orkney, furniture maker Kevin Gauld will guide young people there through the design process after introducing them to the traditional skills involved in making Orkney chairs.

When the relay reaches Caithness, design group Icecream Architecture, which specialises in community-led projects, will inspire those taking part.

We will then travel to Shetland, where designer Niela Nell Kalra will help island participants tap into the area’s rich textile heritage, before moving onto Govan, where young people from social enterprise GalGael Trust will work alongside 4C, the design agency behind the Glasgow Commonwealth Games baton.

The last leg of the relay in Aberdeen will see college students work alongside jewellery designer Naomi Mcintosh.

At the moment we do not know what the teams will come up with, which makes the project all the more exciting. There is no strict brief to follow, although those taking part will be asked to consider using sustainable materials and develop something that could have a positive impact on their community.

The young people in each area will set their own challenge based on what inspires them from their local design heritage and local issues affecting their community.

The new museum has been made possible by the support of many organisations and individuals, including the Scottish Government, Heritage Lottery Fund, Dundee City Council, the UK Government, Creative Scotland, trusts and foundations, and many private individuals. We are very grateful to the players of People’s Postcode Lottery and the Mathew Trust for supporting this project.

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The Scottish Design Relay has already opened my eyes to the vibrant and creative communities that thrive here and I hope the journey will give everyone a glimpse into the diverse, wonderful and innovative world of design and the fantastic talents our young people possess.

And who knows, perhaps we will help inspire the next generation of exciting new designers.

Mhairi Maxwell is Project Coordinator at V&A Dundee. Find out more at

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