It was a smart person who thought of combining the growing number
of design events happening in September into a festival proper.
Now, for the first time, the city never shy to claim itself the
creative capital of the world has a festival to prove it. Well,
we'll drink to that, (and have been). Here's to the London design
So London, creative city? Well, we think so but what
was kept quiet during the week was that a recent assessment of creativity
in UK cities put Manchester, not London, at the top of the list.
Despite a shrinking design industry there's still a lot of creative
business here. Design, fashion, film advertising and the like, all
based predominately in London, contribute £21bn annually to
the UK economy, putting it on a par with the financial sector. Art
and Design colleges in the city turn out tens of thousands of new
graduates, attracted from across world every year.
The inaugural London Design Festival united established
favourites, such as Designers Block, with new shows, talks and conferences--yet
it was the more established shows that maintained the edge. The
new jewel of the crown, the World Creative Forum, had trouble living
up to it's bold name. At £1, 250 + VAT a ticket, those who
couldn't go said it was overpriced, clearly not meant for designers,
and didn't look that exciting anyway. Those who did found it "underwhelming,"
"unmemorable" and half empty.
This week the design industry reluctantly returned
to work, all seemingly with the same headcold, their collective
resistance lowered by an excess of free beer and infections spread
fast by rampant socialising. From behind our hankies, we bring you
the best (and worst) of the London Design Festival 2003
The London Institute, a collection of five art and
design colleges, does more that it's fair share to fill the city
with young creative types. Future
Map is it's "Best of" show, and brings together the
best work from across the courses and the colleges. Shown here is
the delightfully extreme "Dress and Cat Hat" by Fashion
Graduate Yurika Ohara from Central Saint Martins college of Art
We were touched by Georgia Dean's, "Ceramics
from Memory," also from Central Saint Martins. The forms of
these plates, jugs and pots are based on the shapes she asked people
to draw from memory--a collection of tableware shaped by the collective
At six years strong, Designers Block, as ever, was
the soul of the week's activities. Held in a different semi-derilict
or part-converted venue every year, it returned to it's spiritual
home in the east end.
Taking part in Designers Block isn't about volume
sales--it's about being part of something. The event, also held
in Tokyo, Seoul and Milan, brings together a truly international
community of experimental and hopeful young designers. It's easy
to be cynical of the underdeveloped ideas, but it's amongst this
kind of experimentation that new directions can be found.
in the basement of designers block was like finding the future--white
goods gone biotech. Fans circulate air through four tubes of hydroponically-fed
grass lit by fluorescent tubes, creating an artificial eco-system
that can supply oxygen-rich air. We don't know how you mow the grass,
and we're not sure if it really works, but we want one.
The PET bottle re-use system developed by Argentinean
product designers Miki
Friedenbach & Asoc. reminded us that design can do more
than just make good-looking stuff. The tool, developed for use with
street people living in Buenos Aries, can cut waste PET bottles
into a spiral of plastic. The strips can be woven to create a fabric,
used as brush bristles or made into lampshades as convincingly "designerly"
as anything you might find elsewhere in the show. The big idea is
to create a business model for the street people of Argentina. Already
inundated with offers to sell the products, Miki is now developing
systems to maintain quality in manufacture and talking sponsorship
deals with drink manufacturers.
"Clay Station" ran four days of frantic
stop-motion animation that anyone could join. They described it
as "sort of a Morph meets Anthony Gormley meets Richard Dreyfuss
(in close encounters of the Third Kind) sort of thing." The
resulting animation will be made into a DVD and available online
Despite having 1/4 tonne of plasticine stolen the
night before opening, "Clay Station" was still brought
to us by the the Design Transformation Group, Ma Industrial Design
at Central Saint Martins, Edinburgh College of Art and Goldsmiths
University of London. Police are now looking for a well-organised
group of kindergarten students.
Design UK, the Pick of 2003, was held in the swankily
refurbished Gainsbourough studios--the former film Studios of Alfred
Hitchcock. Curated by Max Fraser, the show purported to pick the
best design in homeware from the last year, along with some new
Numb at the sight of even more furniture, even if
it was of a high quality, we liked this modest selection: Bread
and butter basket and cups in ceramic and wicker designed by Manchester-based
Parsons and made by the Berlin Institute for the Blind. Elongated
clothes pegs for the elderly by Ole Olsen, and "W/sugar"
mug in ceramic with sugar cube by French designer Koray
The flyer for this show promised "an exhibition
showcasing Japanese- and British-based original 'thinkers' and 'designers'".
Intriguing--how do you exhibit 'thinkers'? in a David Blaine-style
perspex case? But, as they say in France, the dress doesn't make
It seemed that the British component were made up
entirely from this year's batch of RCA
graduates . Best of show was Marloesten Bhomer with her stunning
range of paradigm-shifting shoes in plastic and carbon fibre.
100% Design was the carpet-tiled showroom to Designer
Block's clubby playground, and an exit pole we conducted found designers
creativity dropped an average of 7 points after visiting. But the
pain was worth it, and, determined as ever to bring you the worst
with the best, it proved rich hunting ground for the Human Beans
ugly mug award.
Milan-based Japanese designer Ken Yokomizo's Weairever--range
of products was one of the stars at 100%. His bags and clothing,
with subtly integrated LEDs, are designed for personal safety whilst
walking or cycling.
showed an impressive 30 working prototype chairs from it's recent
chair competition. Shown here: Clip
Clap by Hee Welling of Copenhagen; Poly
folding stool by Adrian Wright of London; Pascal Anson's Pocket
Chair which makes sitting truly mobile; Sitybike
by Eli Chissick and Zohar Shoef from Tel Aviv, and the uber simple
by Wolf Udo Wagner from Frankfurt, a bent plastic sheet held in
tension by a stainless steel wire.
Amongst a strong show of work from Belgium we liked
Charles Kaisin's " The
Expandable Bench" shown here in polypropylene but also
on show in newspaper. The honeycomb structure allows significant
change of scale and the unit can be unfolded into a variety of forms.
And the ugly mug award goes
to this thing. The iMac bath, so behind the
times we can only assume that it's a bold
move in future retro cool. Congratulations