Taking Scottish creativity to world at large

V&A Dundee's first international exhibition is celebrating Scottish design, writes Tara Wainwright

Will Morris, left, and David MacKenzie at the launch of Milan Design Triennale. Picture: V&A Dundee
Will Morris, left, and David MacKenzie at the launch of Milan Design Triennale. Picture: V&A Dundee

Design is worth £4.8 billion to the Scottish economy, according to Design Council research, but how can our nation’s designers and design businesses grow their reputation and sales globally?

V&A Dundee will be an international centre for design based in Scotland, bringing Scotland’s outstanding achievements in design together in one place for the first time. A key part of this project is to inspire people of all ages and backgrounds to be more creative, and to see how design thinking can solve problems and create new business opportunities.

At the start of the year we were approached with an intriguing proposition: Would V&A Dundee consider being the official UK representative at the prestigious Milan Design Triennale? It didn’t take us long to decide.

With the support of the Scottish Government and British Council, we swiftly went to work.

We wanted to make a statement about the importance of design – how it solves problems, improves lives, as well as making the world more beautiful and fun.

Importantly, we wanted to shout loud and proud about how our designers are at the forefront of this approach. That 2016 is the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design made the opportunity even more exciting. Our exhibition, Adventures in Design, is based around a comic strip narrative we created with two of Scotland’s brightest design talents, illustrators Will Morris and David MacKenzie. It invites audiences on a tour of our design creativity, connecting our nation’s past with design’s power to change the world.

Using some stellar examples of Scottish innovation, it explores the way in which the most exciting innovations don’t just appear – they are the result of a rich and varied collaborative design process. It explores where designers find their inspiration, and how a country’s heritage can help solve the problems of the future.

For this international showcase we collaborated with some of the most exciting names in contemporary design. A rarely-seen scale model of a Jaguar F-TYPE S Coupé designed by Dumfries-born Ian Callum sits alongside Harris Tweed couture fashion from Vivienne Westwood, Margaret Howell and Ermenegildo Zegna. A special version of Dundee game developer Guerilla Tea’s Play to Cure: Genes in Space is proudly displayed, enticing visitors to navigate space and crunch cancer research data simultaneously.

The exhibition would not have been possible without the outstanding support of the Scottish Government, British Council, British Council Italy, UKTI, La Triennale di Milano, Harris Tweed Authority, Jaguar and Guerilla Tea to name but a few. To us it is a shining example of the willingness and enthusiasm to tell the story of the power of design, and to give established and emerging designers an international platform to raise their profile and develop new business opportunities.

Margaret Howell herself selected the garments we have on show, the Vivienne Westwood outfit is a one-off selected from the company’s archive, Zegna offered to loan us not one but four complete outfits, and Milan-based manufacturer Bonaveri kindly provided the mannequins.

Working together we achieved an incredible exhibition at short notice, all to the benefit of the designers themselves. We are proud to tell the story of these international design triumphs. Harris Tweed is now exported to over 60 countries around the world having recently doubled production of its signature handwoven fabric to 1.7 million metres a year, to meet increasing global demand from luxury brands. Play to Cure, the world’s first mobile game dedicated to analysing cancer data, was designed in a partnership between Guerilla Tea and Cancer Research UK. The project led the way in applying game design technologies to other industries – in this case helping to beat cancer sooner by harnessing the power of game players all around the world.

The Milan Design Triennale reports that the exhibition has so far had 250,000 visitors, giving huge international profile to these incredible designers, regardless of the stage they are at in their careers.

The vision for V&A Dundee is an international centre of design, based in Dundee but active across Scotland and beyond. At the new museum, we are very aware of the contribution Scots have made on the global design stage.

The opportunity to share a small part of this story at this stage in our development, at such a high-profile international event, has proved invaluable. These names and talents are world-leading. We are honoured to be able to export this brilliance as part of our first international show.

Through such dynamic displays V&A Dundee will inspire people, young and old, to see the world’s problems as design challenges ready to be solved.

• Tara Wainwright is Marketing& Audiences Manager at V&A Museum of Design Dundee. Find out more at www.vandadundee.org

• Adventures in Design runs until 19 September at BASE Milano, Via Bergognone 34, 20144, Milan, Italy.