London Design Festival Day 1: Fusion of Cultures

Text & photographs by Zahira Asmal

The International Design Connections programme at the London Design Festival commenced with lots of sunshine. Max Fraser, Deputy Director of the London Design Festival, made the introduction to the festival – now in its 11th edition. LDF13 highlights that design is not confined to objects on pedestals at museums and exhibitions but it was, mainly, about the mundane. Design is about the everyday – the objects and services that we use on a daily basis.

Max stressed that the festival was also primarily about engaging with the public and the focus was on furniture, product design, graphics and illustration, digital and social design.

It was interesting to see that a city like London faced similar challenges as South Africa, even considering its level of design development, with regards to accessibility of design information and misconceptions of its role in society. The measure of success in media terms is for design to be included in the main media newspaper rather than in a designated design supplement making the festival easily accessible to the general public.

Also faced by London design institutions organising a citywide event –are issues of bureaucracy and accessibility, and so planning an event of this scale becomes about designing systems and partnerships as much as developing content. The accessibility of a design focused festival makes events like the London Design Festival an even greater success a result of fascinating content, strong partnerships and the navigation through bureaucratic systems. And with London being the ultimate global city, it is also no surprise that the festival is so international.

We went on an insightful studio visit at Barber Osgerby – the duo that design for Knoll, Flos, Vitra and Capellini to name a few. They presented two key projects; a Tip Ton chair for “Building Schools for the Future” where they highlighted that movement is a part of learning. They have researched that even slight body movements make a difference to blood circulation, which is vital to learning. They also believe in cross disciplinary design work stating that “we are increasingly finding that design skill is transferable: architecture, graphic, product – so we are happy to work across disciplines.” 40,000 units of the Tip Ton product are sold annually

Ed & Jay also presented the remarkable process of design and development of the Olympic Torch for the event in London last year, where 11,000 units were made and 15 million people took to the streets to watch the Olympic Torch relay in 2012 – the largest public gathering in the UK since World War II.

Kieran Long, former journalist at the Guardian and now newly appointed Senior Curator of architecture, design and digital at the V&A, welcomed us to the museum and introduced us to the work done by the respective design curators. A particularly intriguing exhibition is the upcoming “Disobedient Objects” curated by Gavin Grindon who mentioned that the exhibition will explore the main themes: “What is culture for?” and “Who produces culture?”

Kieran says that the design department at the V&A worked on educating the world through what designers do. I asked him for his professional opinion – what is the purpose of a museum? He says that a museum is where the conversations are always about the objects and where the communication is constantly a part of a public record.

The Global Design Forum kicked off at 6pm with a conversation between music journalist Paul Morley and Peter Saville, famous for record covers for Joy Division 25 years ago. The 1 hour 45 minute ramble about himself not being the “It” designer, but a brand was not the most interesting aspect of the programme. However, he did make a few good points, which I’ve highlighted below:

“People enter visual arts because they like the surface look of things”

“You can do mediocre work for a great album – and it becomes iconic”

“A city that makes a place logo is not a good idea – it states ‘We have not made it’ – society wants leadership not logos. When there is well being – people are usually happy … when it is not the case – they look to leadership for direction”

Be sure to follow us on Twitter as I will be tweeting everyday as well as sharing our journey on Facebook. Twitter hashtags include #ConnectZA and #LDF13. Make sure to also visit British Council’s Back of the Envelope.