I cannot think of a city better than London to host a design festival. I can’t say I’ve travelled extensively and it’s possible that the next great city I visit will overwhelm me enough to make me retract my statement above. But for now, London has my admiration and respect- at least as far as design and art is concerned. For the thing is, London seems to respect and celebrate design- not just during a ten day festival. Permanently.
Design, the way we’ve learnt to define it, is all about problem solving. Maps are designed to help people find their way easily, directional signage is designed so people don’t get lost, footpaths are designed so that people have a place to walk, safe from traffic… these are little ways design can intervene to make life easier, but a lot of cities don’t seem to get these little things right. London, the way I see it, gets the basics right which allows you to be wowed by the beauty of it all. A person new to the city can find his way without a problem. The city is sensitive to people with disabilities. (Footpaths have ramps, multi-storied structures, whether they’re stores or stations have elevators in addition to escalators and stairs, maps detail out the areas that are accessible to people in wheelchairs) The information provided about most spaces is detailed and easily and freely available. Signs are easily legible and when required, in multiple languages. The city is not just planned. It’s designed.
It’s when a city gets the basic right, that it can celebrate design even as styling without being seen as superficial. Design in London checks the function box and it does not ignore form.
Every single thing I saw either amazed me or just, well, made me smile. Everywhere I looked, there was beautiful design. The buildings I walked past, the signs on the street, the blocks of colour on front doors, the products lining supermarket aisles (for that matter, even just the layout of the supermarket aisles!) Every corner I turned, there was something to surprise me- statues popping seemingly out of nowhere, graffiti high in the sky where no one’s really looking. Every shop window I passed was elaborately designed to tell a different story. While I was in London specifically for the the London Design Festival, I saw as much design outside of the spaces designated for the festival as I did within them. That one observation was what made me fall in love with the city. It wasn’t all talk and hype. Design and art really is a big part of London. It’s clearly thought of as important and forms not just a part of the city’s appearance, but a part of it’s spirit.
It made me wonder when India would be able to host a festival of this kind. Which city would host it? Which city in our large, beautiful, diverse country can honestly celebrate design as something it believes in? London practices what it preaches. It talks about design, but it also makes you believe in it.
Given all that I’ve said in praise of London, I thought I should share some of the little things in the city that captivated me. None of this was part of the design festival. For those of you who are interested in art and design and haven’t visited London- Go. The first chance you get. I promise it won’t disappoint you.