Now in its 12th year, and with the theme “lose yourself in design” the London Design Festival once again filled the city the New York Times called “the design capital of the world” with design and designers from across the globe.
The big five: 100% Design, Tent, designjunction, designersblock and Decorex, are still going strong and in previous years have seemed to absorb some of the previously independent and more ‘grass roots’ activity. This year welcomed the return of smaller events such as Total Fabrication at Craft Central and the arrival of new design districts, Islington and Queen’s Park, which gave LDF back some of its spontaneity.
In his introduction, LDF Chairman Sir John Sorrell CBE said, “Somewhere on your journey around the festival, you will turn a corner and be confronted by a new idea which challenges your thinking, inspires you, or just makes you smile.”
"Somewhere on your journey around the festival, you will turn a corner and be confronted by a new idea which challenges your thinking, inspires you, or just makes you smile."
Here are some of the things I spotted on my journey that challenged my thinking, inspired me, or just made me smile.
Trend 1: Mindfulness in design
Mindfulness, “the quality or state of being conscious or aware,” is gaining in popularity – said to reduce stress, improve sleep and even help us manage pain. At this year’s London Design Festival, mindfulness started to show signs of penetrating the design world. By making users more engaged with products, designers believe they can not only improve the users’ quality of life, but also help them to bond with objects, extending lifespans and therefore reducing environmental impact. Gently pulling one of the tactile leather and copper tabs on the Random Light by Studio If (spotted at Tent London), switches the lights on one by one. Pulling the other one switches them off, in a different order every time: a much more engaging process than a dimmer switch.
Camilla Akersveen’s Mindful Eating collection (seen at 100% Norway), is designed to enhance the experience of eating and therefore create a bond with the user – insulated bowls enable users to cradle them in their hands, benefiting from the warmth of the food inside.
Also at 100% Norway, the anthropomorphic Boo Lamp by Hedda Torgersen is designed to “trigger the imagination and emotions of the user.” Its porcelain or Corian ‘head’ and ash ‘legs’ are fully adjustable, encouraging the user to help shape its character.
Trend 2: Raw Materiality
In an increasingly urban and digital world, the importance of natural materials has been steadily growing over previous years with wood and warm metallics becoming particularly popular. That trend has now evolved into a real celebration of these materials in their raw and natural state. Bark is left on wood and the tarnishing of materials like copper and brass, once polished out, is now celebrated for the unique patina it creates.
Sebastian Cox’s Underwood collection (spotted at Tent) is designed to use the coppiced hazel pieces that traditional furniture design wastes. “It celebrates the completely renewable, unsung hero of our British hardwoods by keeping it in the round, with the bark on,” says Sebastian.
Daniel’s Scholfield’s Tarnish Collection (seen at designjunction) is a range of solid brass objects with one half ‘mirror polished’ and one half left half un-lacquered. Over time the untreated half tarnishes: “The more they are used, the stronger the tarnishing becomes, creating a patina and story unique to the user of the piece, and in doing so becoming treasured personal pieces,” says Daniel.
Piel Cacahuate (also at Tent) is a set of wrought copper bowls, each with a different level of finish to explore copper’s “different skin layers”. The series was designed by Beatriz Georgina Lamas De Anda, working in collaboration with Mexican artisan Pascual Estudiante.
Trend 3: Handmade
Craftsmanship and the handmade are seeing a real renaissance in the design industry. Now that CNC-cutting and 3D printing have made almost anything possible, designers are looking back to traditional skills for inspiration and consumers want to invest in objects with provenance.
The size of the Crafts Council of Ireland’s presence at the London Design Festival (at Tent) spoke volumes. One of the highlights was watching Joe Hogan weaving baskets live at the show. Joe Hogan has been making baskets at Loch na Fooey in Ireland since 1978. Lorna Singleton’s live ‘swill,’ demonstrations at The New Craftsmen, to showcase her collaboration with Sebastian Cox, held a similar appeal.
100% Design saw the second iteration of The Makings, a curation of handmade luxury items by Nick Wiltshire, that included Barnaby Carder’s hand carved spoons, Beatrice Larkin’s hand-woven textiles, Harry Owen’s leather accessories, Joseph Hartley’s simple ceramic and wood vessels, and Royal Sussex Traditional Trugs made by Thomas Smith.
The Stacking Vessels by Utopia & Utility (spotted at Craft Central) are made from hand-blown glass, hand-turned wood and hand-thrown ceramics. “I strongly believe in objects carrying the story of how they were made. The value and beauty of the energy in the making process is encapsulated in the finished design,” says co-founder Pia Wustenberg.
Trend 4: Redefining Ethnic Aesthetics
Alongside the move towards handmade, craft and artisanal design, is an investment in fair trade products from developing parts of the world such as India, Africa and Thailand. Such work often comes with a certain aesthetic – and an interesting development at the London Design Festival saw contemporary designers working with indigenous craftspeople to challenge these stereotypes.
Africa Calling was launched at London’s Southbank Centre and had its second outing at designjunction as part of LDF. Curated by Shake the Dust’s Kathy Shenoy and Subject Matter Art’s Liezel Strauss, this showcase highlights the work of new and established designers from Africa who are challenging ‘African aesthetics’ and exploring new collaborations and cross-cultural connections.
Tiipoi (seen at designjunction) “invites a new relationship with India.” Using cutting-edge manufacturing techniques in India, Tiipoi sidesteps the ‘artisan’ aesthetic, creating utilitarian Indian objects from luxury materials for new functions in the Western market.
Stockholm-based Studio Ljung Ljung’s smoked bamboo lamps (also at designjunction) are designed in Sweden and handmade in Thailand, in a marriage of contemporary design and traditional craft techniques.
New brand Otago (spotted at Home London) pairs modern designers with artisans from marginalised East African communities to create luxury interior accessories. “By incorporating local artisanal skill with cutting edge design, Otago creates exceptional and elegant pieces for the home,” say founders Anna Rose and Eddie Sercombe.
Trend 5: An element of chance
The London Design Festival saw designers removing part of the design process from their control and leaving it entirely to chance, resulting in unexpected one-of-a-kind products. This process plays into increasing consumer demand for unique products with a story to tell.
Swedish designer Jomi Evers Solheim (spotted at designjunction) makes porcelain vases using moulds formed around balloons filled with water or air. “They’re all different, they all have their unique qualities and I love them all the same,” said the designer.
Dr Jane Norris’ Polychronic Objects (also at designjunction) are a series of stools, bowls and other function pieces that are the outcome of a material research project. Norris uses a randomised map-folding technique to connect materials from different eras and places around the world. She then creates products from those material combinations using small-batch production methods.
Aimee Bollu (also at designjunction) starts the design process of each item in her Hoard collection with something she’s found. She gives new life to discarded objects by combining them with luxury materials such as porcelain, glass, and wood, creating a collection of unique objects, each with a story to tell.