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April 30, 2013
Situated on the Thames, moments from the 1894 Tower Bridge and the 2002 City Hall, the Design Museum's location invites reflection on London's design and architectural history. Once inside, the focus shifts to often mass-produced items that are generally people-sized. Its new exhibition, Extraordinary Stories about Ordinary Things, takes a close look at iconic and lesser-known objects. The museum is scheduled to move to new digs in Kensington in 2015; the Extraordinary exhibit of about 150 items will be on display until then. Some of the collection's objects can be seen in the Design Museum Collection app.

Stacking chair by Anna Castelli-Ferrieri for Kartell.

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Perhaps the most interesting section of the exhibit, especially for a foreigner who readily experiences English money or mailboxes as curiosities rather than everyday items, is Identity & Design. 

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How does civic design become a part of national identity? In the case of the public phone booth, the answer is rapidly. The UK installed more than 20,000 K6 telephone kiosks, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, by the 1930s.

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The UK has had some sort of currency in circulation for more than a thousand years. Matthew Dent designed the most recent iteration in 2005—the first update since 1971. To appreciate the full design, one must lay out coins of different denominations to see how they add up to a single heraldic shield.

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In 1964, the Transport typeface by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert had its debut at the Preston By-Pass, after testing fonts for readability in difficult conditions. When laying out traffic signs, the width of the capital letters used directed the size and positioning of all other components. Transport is in use today all over the UK, as well as on roads in a number of other countries.

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The Typewriter Valentine by Ettore Sottsass for Olivetti was dubbed the Biro of typewriters.

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By selecting high-density chipboard casing instead of then-ubiquitous black plastic in 1994, Phillippe Starck's Jim Nature Portable Television was at the forefront of questioning the unabated use of plastics.

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Sir Clive Sinclair remains a key figure in British electronic tech design. His 1985 C5 electric vehicle may have been ahead of its time in design and concept, but was a commercial flop. It just received the dubious distinction of worst innovation of all time by technology buffs, according to The Telegraph. The manufacturing process for this tiny vehicle was the same as that for making car bumpers, joining two pieces of polypropylene together in 70 seconds.

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British-born Jonathan Ive, recipient of the museum's Designer of the Year 2003, studied art and design at Newcastle Polytechnic before designing Apple's iMac G3. First released in Bondi Blue (seen here in Strawberry) in 1998, it was the first desktop to exclusively offer USB ports as standard.

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Early in Jasper Morrison's career, he built a table of beech wood, glass, and two bicycle racing bar handles to give the piece a "mass-produced quality" without benefit of a manufacturer. In 1983, the materials for one table cost about £20.00, and he sold them for five times that. "The somewhat eclectic shape of the table itself was fitting to the mood of the time and my own frame of mind, a kind of poetic, anti-establishment, business-like attitude," Morrison is reported as saying years later.

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Visitors accept the invitation to design a typeface with pencil and paper, and to vote for their favorite chair via a democratic Tiddlywinks system. Photo by: Max Colson

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dm london stacking chair

Stacking chair by Anna Castelli-Ferrieri for Kartell.

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