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California cool: Celebrating the design of the Golden State

Apple, Google and "Blade Runner" are part of an exhibit at London's Design Museum that chronicles California's global influence on technology, culture and design.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It was well worth the hour-long trek across London this week to check out an excellent Golden State-themed exhibit at the Design Museum. Titled "California: Designing Freedom," the exhibit explores California's outsized influence on modern design. Everything from the original Macintosh to the rainbow flag is covered here, with a focus on how design can promote personal liberation and expression.

Naturally, technology is a huge part of the exhibit. Starting with Silicon Valley giants like Apple and Google, it includes an Apple PowerBook 100, a first iPhone and iPod, a Waymo self-driving car and Google Cardboard. But some of the more interesting pieces, like a mould used to make the first Apple earPods in 2001, are less obvious. Keep poking around to find notable gadgets both new and old, like Snapchat Spectacles, the Amazon Kindle and the Atari 2600 complete with a Frogger cartridge.

But like California itself, technology is only a part of the exhibit. Curators Justin McGuirk and Brendan McGetrick broadened its scope to include elements of the countercultural movement and gay rights movements, filmmaking (concept art from "Blade Runner" makes an appearance) and the pastel-saturated graphic design of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

The exhibit makes for an engaging day out at the museum's sparkling new home in Kensington. As some professional art critics have pointed out, the it spends little time on California's less-positive design elements, like tangled freeways and suburban sprawl, but as a native (and occasionally homesick) Californian, I didn't mind. 

"California: Designing Freedom" runs through October 15 at the Design Museum in west London. Entrance to the museum is free, but the exhibit has a £16 admission charge for adults (about $20 or AU$25). You can prebook or pay when you arrive.