Britain Can Make It Exhibition

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James Gardner (1907—1995) designer and graphic artist

Victoria and Albert Museum

Dorothy Braddell (1889—1981) designer and decorative artist

Misha Black (1910—1977) architect and industrial designer


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(BCMI) (1946)

This morale‐boosting design exhibition was held at the Victoria and Albert Museum and was the first major public promotion organized by the newly established Council of Industrial Design (COID; see Design Council). Aimed at enhancing Britain's post‐war export trade, encouraging manufacturers to invest in design, and educating consumers of the benefits of well‐designed environments and products, the exhibition attracted 1,432,369 visitors over a fourteen‐week period. Designed by James Gardner with Basil Spence as Consulting Architect visitors were able to consider many aspects of design in a series of sequenced exhibits, commencing with ‘From War to Peace’ (the reconciliation of wartime production and organizational techniques with the opportunities of peacetime), ‘What Materials are Made of’ (raw materials in production), through to such displays as ‘Shop Window Street’ where all kinds of goods (such as pottery, glassware, hardware, and shoes) were enticingly displayed. Of considerable interest to the public was the Furnished Rooms Section, which displayed a whole series of room settings by leading designers (including Dorothy Braddell, Edna Moseley, Elizabeth Denby, Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, Frederick Gibberd, and David Booth) who responded to the call for the provision of a variety of furnished living environments for fictitious families drawn from a range of occupations, income levels, ages, and family sizes. The public were also involved in educating themselves in design matters by participation in the Design Quiz. Issued with a series of plastic coins on entry to the exhibition they were able to ‘vote’ for their favourite designs in different categories by placing coins in the appropriate slots of a number of ‘Quiz Banks’ displaying photographs and questions that were to be found at various points in the itinerary. Such means were typical of the COID's desire to educate the public in matters of ‘Good Design’ over the next two decades. There was quite a mixed reaction to the exhibition from manufacturers, a considerable number of whom were irritated by the fact that the COID‐appointed selection committees rejected about two‐thirds of the 15,836 goods submitted by industry for inclusion in the exhibition. Many industrialists also failed to appreciate one of the key pieces of COID propaganda, the section entitled ‘What Industrial Design Means’, designed by Misha Black. This slightly ponderous and heavily didactic display sought to show how industrial designers made design decisions, working in conjunction with management, engineers, and sales representatives. Dissatisfied manufacturers felt that the ‘taste‐making’ metropolitan elite of the London‐based COID did not fully appreciate the realities of manufacturing in the regions, had limited understanding of the markets that they sought to satisfy, and generally believed state intervention to be undesirable. At the time of BCMI the manufacturing and design restrictions for the Utility Scheme overseen by the Board of Trade were still in place on the domestic market. In fact, many of the goods on display at the exhibition were prioritized for export and not available for purchase; some would be by January 1947, and others at an unspecified future date. About 7,000 overseas buyers visited the exhibition, which was calculated to have generated orders of between £25 and £50 million pounds.


Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.

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