London Design Festival Day 2: Ideas Are Fragile

Text & photographs by Zahira Asmal

Endless Stair: From Forest to Festival

Our day commenced with a visit to the Endless Stair at the Tate Modern. A very fun and striking sculpture made from American tulipwood cross-laminated timber located on the lawn in front of the gallery. We were invited to climb and explore the structure whilst enjoying views along the River Thames.

The complex construction is designed by dRMM Architects and engineered by Arup. Alex de Rijke, Co-Founder of dRMM Architects and Dean of Architecture at the Royal College of Art, has described timber as ‘the new concrete’, advocating its role as a high quality and sustainable material for the future of construction.

Global Design Forum

This edition of the Global Design Forum was riveting with great facilitation all round with ideas so exciting and thought provoking. There were four sessions in total.

  1. Imagination, innovation, application; a journey of ideas
  2. Five by Five: ideas to shake the world
  3. Creative city, smart city, successful city
  4. Designer or Brand – chicken or egg

For me there seemed to be a disconnect with the “idea generators” and the “idea implementers” where the former considered themselves cooler than the latter. However, I think the so called “suits” had stressed the importance of taking ideas to market which is highly relevant to growing a business, but also to make products, services and technologies available to customers and clients. There is still a very strong notion of “us and them.” For great ideas to be realised all types of expertise are required, especially in our highly globalised world where numerous cultural reference points need to be considered.

In the first session, Lee Shuneman, Head of Studio at Lift London / Microsoft suggests that we ought to “be better, not perfect“ stressing also that service is more important than the technology. He urged people to be available to their customers and start at good quality.

Designer, artist and writer, Daisy Ginsberg, commenced her presentation with a provocation about the purpose of design – making a better life for all – she questions: What is better? Who defines this? And how is ‘better’ defined?

She says that we assume that design and technology will make life better. Daisy suggests that we should use design to question what we are making and why we are making. “If we ask better questions, we will have better problems to solve”

In Five by Five: Ideas to shake the world, Daniel Charney presented Fixperts. It was one of many presentations at the forum that made reference to returning to a time and place of “making”. Daniel also suggested that design and communication should work together. I couldn’t agree more.

The final session was of great interest to me and was very well facilitated by the delightful Peter York, who held the session playfully. I am a great fan of Jaime Hayon and Ross Lovegrove, however, I was disappointed in the bashing of clients on this forum (this was also a common practice by Peter Saville). Perhaps they were jaded after years of working with big corporate companies, but I had hoped that being designers of this caliber (and age) that they would offer insight to the young and cosmopolitan audience at the Global Design Forum. Also, this forum made me reflect on design in South Africa. Big name architects and designers (and their respective iconic designs) vs building for social circumstance – where designers are not recognized, but they get on with the work in improving situations and making significant change. Work by 26’10 architects comes to mind.

But I guess the setting was London and not Marlboro South. Ross Lovegrove suggests that “if you want to be somebody you must be readable” and that you must have passion in making to be a good designer. He says that all this design though needs to be motivated by money that would feedback into the system.

Jaime Hayon offered the following for his work and philosophy:

  • Design an experience
  • Explore tradition
  • Bring back emotions
  • Keep tradition alive
  • Explore the process
  • Challenge companies
  • Exchange knowledge
  • Create fantasy for the consumer
  • Its all about telling a story

Carmel Allen – the Brand Champion of Heal’s says that it is all well that we debate the importance of the designer vs the brand, but what about the customer – suggesting that sometimes designers are arrogant and often don’t care to engage with customers. And finally Alexei Orlov summed up the session and the forum suggesting that what we should aim for is not a brave client but an enlightened one. This is true, but only comes from a one to one engagement with clients. People / clients will make better, more informed decisions when they are informed.

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.