London Design Museum‘s new Sneakers Unboxed exhibition looks to have been a mammoth design task to put together – even more so since the whole thing was done from the designers’ homes during lockdown.

Sneakers Unboxed: Studio To Street opened at the Design Museum on 18 May and celebrates all facets of the global sneaker phenomenon. The designs were created by two London-based independent studios: InterestingProjects, which handled the 3D design of the exhibition flow and installations, and Studio LP, which took on the 2D design elements, such as signage and infographics. Puck Studio designed the graphics for the show.

The fact they were collaborating during lockdown, meaning site visits and in-person meetings weren’t possible, meant that the teams had to be especially creative, organised and resourceful.

“For me, this project highlights the importance of collaboration when it comes to good design, especially the cross-over between 3D and 2D design,” says Joana Filipe of InterestingProjects. “It’s about both sides sharing the same vision and speaking the same language to understand plans, measurements, colour references, materials and finishing processes.”

The studios were first briefed on the project in late 2019, pausing when the pandemic hit and resuming work on the project in early 2021. By then, the brief had expanded, and due to lockdown, the team relied solely on site floor plans, elevations and photos to create their designs. The designers improvised in their homes in order to design the exhibition: signage was printed out and pinned to doorframes and walls, for instance, while the exteriors of their homes were used to get a sense of heights.

“The entire exhibition was curated, organised, designed and produced in homes and over Zoom, Teams, WhatsApp, email, text and phone,” says Studio LP’s Lauren Chalmers.

Sustainability was a key factor in the exhibition design, with the designers looking to use sustainable, reused materials where possible, as well as those that could be reused for future exhibitions: 85% of the perspex cases used to display objects were reconfigured from existing Design Museum stock, and labels were produced using EKOply, a material composed of 100% recycled plastics.

Throughout the exhibition, infographics are used to convey information around sneakers’ construction, design and production of sneakers. The colours on the infographics were chosen to work with the surrounding installation elements and are displayed on suspended lightbox panels.

Design Museum Curator Ligaya Salazar commented: “Creating an entire exhibition from our homes was a challenge, but thanks to a truly collaborative attitude and approach by everyone involved, we believe we’ve created a unique experience we are all very proud of. Now it’s exciting to see how people are reacting to and interacting with the exhibition, which is always the most satisfying part of the job.”

The final Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street exhibition space is divided into three areas, each telling a different aspect of the story of sneakers. The show opens in a large white space that pays homage to the sneaker and its cultural relevance in the world. The space uses elements such as white curtains used in the fabrication of Puma shoes to create a chapel-like feel to highlight the reverence many people have for trainers.

The second area focuses on style. It traces key moments in youth culture “when sneakers went from being functional sports shoes to style icons,” the agencies explain, with backdrops referencing Los Angeles, New York City and London. The space uses billboard-like displays, dark grey colours and cement-like surfaces to evoke an urban landscape, while city streets and brands are linked with sports and music personalities.

This section is rounded off with a display focusing on 1990s Tokyo when limited-editions and fashion collaborations emerged and turned trainers from streetwear into highly sought-after collectable items.

The third space focuses on performance. Designed to suggest the idea of a science lab, the space highlights innovation in speaker design through materials, sketches and design constructions. The final section is dubbed a “green room” and invites visitors to consider the carbon footprint of sneaker production and showcases alternative, more sustainable methods of fabrication.

Sneakers Unboxed: Studio To Street runs until 24 October 2021 at The Design Museum, 224-238 Kensington High Street, London W8 6AG.

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