Three wonderful months ago, I spent two weeks in London enjoying the fabulous city and experiencing, for the first time, an international design festival. I wrote about it and my article has been published in Issue 14 of Kyoorius magazine. Yay!
I don’t know how well you’ll be able to read it in the PDF, so here it is!
The London Design Festival
Celebrating Design. Celebrating Integration.
Maybe a first time visitor to London is not the best person to write about the London Design Festival. Maybe a person who walked around the city fascinated by absolutely everything she saw won’t be able to give you an honest report on how good the festival was. The thing is, the whole city seems to celebrate design.
Everywhere I looked there was interesting graphic design- Signs on the street, posters for the theatre, the sleeve wrapped around my coffee cup, the Tube map. Everywhere I looked there was art- statues popping out of nowhere, installations of fascinatingly dressed crowds of people. Every corner I turned there was beautiful architecture, every store window I passed was designed to tell a different story. Every other street had an art gallery and every museum I visited contained rooms and rooms of design and art history. So much that is ordinary in London, was to me, great design. Which makes it a little hard to isolate my experience of the London Design Festival from my experience of London. But I’ll give it an honest shot.
The London Design Festival. For ten days, designers, artists and design-enthusiasts come together to celebrate, showcase and talk about design. Three hundred events- talks, workshops and installations celebrated design in one phenomenal city. The festival wasn’t about graphic design or product design or space design or furniture design in isolation. It was about the magic that can be created when design, art, craft and science merge seamlessly into one. It was this integration, this coming together of ideas and craft that was celebrated.
Spread over a few districts in London, every day was packed with events to cater to absolutely anyone interested in design. The landmark projects, commissioned specifically for the festival encouraged artists and designers to respond to that magnificent city. Exhibits on British Ballgowns and the evolution of Japanese Lolita styles celebrated fashion through a historic lens. Installations like Keiichi Matsuda’s ‘Prism’ and displays like that of the Heatherwick Studio looked to the future of design. Hands-on workshops saw artists teach their craft to anybody willing to learn. Talks by designers helped break down the design process, addressed concerns in the industry and debated changes in design. All these events celebrated the coming together of the digital and physical, the theoretical and the practical, the professional and the amateur, the designer and the non-designer. Whether this blurring of boundaries is a good thing or not is debatable. A lot of designers feel that today, this kind of integration is essential for design to progress successfully. A lot of others think of it as a dilution of skill, of specialization. Whichever way you look at it, the sheer genius that seems to come of this kind of integration is hard to ignore. It clearly changes your thinking in some way and helps you respond to problems in new and fresh ways. Let me illustrate this a little better with a few phenomenal pieces of work from the London Design Festival.
Keiichi Matsuda, one of the designers invited to create a piece for the festival, was asked in his brief, to use a space at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) to represent London. There are a hundred conventional ways of doing this- posters, films, photographs..but he chose to do it with an installation-Prism. A structure made of aluminium frames and paper screens on which a live data feed from London is projected, Prism, at the top of the V&A, presented fragments of London in real time in a breathtakingly beautiful way. Integrating a physical structure with a graphic representation of data, Keiichi Matsuda created a visual panorama, juxtaposing the virtual world we inhabit with the physical world. When asked why he chose to do this, he said, “Cities today are much more than just physical. They are a constantly changing network we engage with.” Admitting that he found it limiting to define himself through a single profession, Keiichi Matsuda not only spoke about, but showed us the possibilities that open up when you collaborate, integrate and make connections.
An exhibition of the work of Heatherwick Studio proved beyond all doubt that with collaboration, with the integration of different disciplines, with grounded concepts and with an endless curiosity, design really can help create a beautiful and functional world. Every piece of work in this incredible exhibit left me awed and delighted. The design was intelligent, it was well crafted. It functional seamlessly and it made you smile. For all those designers who struggle with defining their role in society, the work of Heatherwick Studio reinforced that beautiful form along with impeccable function and social consciousness is what we should continue to strive for.
Earlier this year, at Kyoorius Design Yatra, 2012, Masashi Kawamura said, When you do something differently, you’re bound to come up with something different. The events and the work on display at the London Design Festival reinforced this. When mixing one skill set with another, when integrating different kinds of design, it is possible to create something wonderful, something different. If we, as Indian designers, were to step out of our separate worlds and come together to create, the possibilities for new, original design, are endless. Today, with design studios mushrooming over the country, we have no shortage of industrial designers, space designers, animators and graphic designers to work with. We have a rich heritage of art and craft in urgent need of revival. We have the resources. Perhaps its time for them to come together.
The London Design Festival and the diversity of its contributors made me think of India’s place on the global design map. Design, as a profession in India, is still relatively young, but that’s what makes it so exciting! There’s still so much we have left to do, so much we have to offer, but we need a stronger, more confident voice if we want to be heard. With every passing day, we’re growing, evolving, and we have a long way to go. Perhaps a good place to start would be to celebrate design and art a little more. To write about it, talk about it and put it on display for the world to see, to appreciate and to understand a little better. With design slowly gaining importance, with more and more young people choosing to study design, there’s no better time to start.
So much of what I saw and heard at the London Design Festival made me feel good about the direction design today is taking. That the festival manages to bring together people from over fifty countries to think about and appreciate design is extraordinary. That the city seems to live and breathe design made me realize what a fantastic backdrop it makes for an event of this kind. London, the way I see it, practices what it preaches. I saw as much phenomenal design within the confines of the spaces allocated for the LDF as I did outside of them. I saw people of all ages, people from various professions, people from different countries, speaking different languages walk in to look at examples of fabulous design and understand design better. So if that’s what you’re looking to do, I can’t think of a better event than the LDF to do it. The massive dose of inspiration you’re sure to take back with you is just a bonus.