The 2010 London Design Festival: creativity by design

Tuesday, October 5, 2010 9:56

Review by Marcia Caines

London pulled out all the stops for the 8th London Design Festival, showcasing the best of its design culture in terms of education, cutting–edge research, talent and creativity. A truly distinctive event, the 2010 LDF revealed the capital’s dual personality; on one hand patriotically ‘cashing in’ on the design sector and the creative industries to compete in a global arena, and on the other an eccentric underdog that gets a kick out of creating. And the two operate in symbiosis. London, the perfect backdrop for contradictions, embraced the lot.

THE 2010 London Design Festival. Images clockwise: The Size + Matter commission Drop by Paul Cocksedge Studio; Graphics from the Anti Design Festival; Victoria and Albert Museum; Outrace in Trafalgar Square by Kram/Weisshaar

Numerous design-related events, most of which were free, were dotted across town in galleries, institutions, design studios and event venues. Some of them, occupying public space, were designed to engage with city dwellers and passers-by – like the heavyweight interactive installation Outrace in Trafalgar Square created by the design duo Kram/Weisshaar, and The Size + Matter commission Drop, an installation by Paul Cocksedge Studio located outside the South Bank centre. In the Brompton Quarter in the West institutions and galleries pushed the envelope with conceptual exhibitions by leading contemporary artists, designers and architects from around the world, while in the East independent studios came to life from Brick Lane to Shoreditch Triangle, culminating in a gathering of uncompromising creatives at the premiere edition of the Anti-Design Festival in Redchurch Street (more on this later).

Designersblock Twenty Ten

Designersblock is organized by a team of professionals who share the same vision and genuinely believe in what they do, and that’s why it works. They’ve been staging the annual Designersblock exhibit in London since 1998 – anticipating the LDF by 5 years – and have introduced many design venues and designers in the process, making a considerable contribution to today’s vibrant design scene in London. An important part of their work is urban renewal, so they choose underused urban spaces to host events, thus giving creativity an active role in the city and stimulating urban regeneration. The designated design venues are purposefully left ‘underdressed’ to ensure exhibition waste is kept to a minimum and to enable the creativity to come to the fore.

Twenty ten marked the thirteenth Designersblock event, which was held at the Bargehouse, a semi-abandoned five-story building on the South Bank owned by the social enterprise and development trust Coin Street Community Builders. In 1500 square meters 100 designers – established and non; UK and non – showcased their latest creations with projects ranging from interior and product design to architectural and automotive design.

‘Morphogenesis Shoe Design’ by Pauline Van Dongen, image from

The website What Women Make , the mission of which is to promote the best of female creativity and entrepreneurship globally, made its debut public exhibition at Designersblock presenting the work of 11 leading female designers from different countries. Curated by the website’s founder Chauncey Zalkin, the designers were handpicked for the thought process applied to their craft and their attention to innovation, sustainability and cultural reflection. Among the works were the womenswear collection Morphogenesis by the Dutch designer Paulin van Dongen , who has developed a 3D printed shoe design in collaboration with the cutting-edge Dutch design firm Freedom of Creation. Van Dongen is among the new generation of designers whose work is imbued with the creative opportunities of new digital technologies, giving rise to a new visual language in the field of design. Paulin describes her shoes, which aren’t quite comfortable enough to wear just yet, as ‘a proposal for the future’.

‘the aesthetics of disgust’ installation at Designersblock 2010, images courtesy Katrin Baumgarten

Elsewhere at Designersblock, interaction designer and technology artist Katrin Baumgarten was showing a rather unusual exhibition of repulsive-looking light switches. The installation the aesthetics of disgust was composed of 14 light switches all connected and presented in a truly repugnant way: there was one with hairs protruding from it; one with used chewing gum stuck to it; one with a suspicious brown stain on it; one which wiggled disconcertedly beneath your fingertip and so on. Not just playfully gross, Baumgarten’s installation is part of her ongoing research project, which explores the emotional impact that objects have on people. In particular she focuses on negative emotions, or rather emotions that are fuelled by fear: fear of others and their actions, and the need to control them to avoid being harmed. The ‘aesthetics of disgust installation’ is based on how the everyday action of turning a light switch on or off has ‘become marginalised into subconscious behaviour’: even though our interaction with it has a direct impact on our energy use and consumption. A virtual light bulb lights up when any of the switches is touched and registers the amount of times that any particular switch is chosen, with the results archived on the designer’s computer to provide research data for her project. Baumgarten seeks to reveal how people are both repulsed by yet drawn to the distasteful transformation of the switches.

‘Bodging’ furniture making in the forest; Bodgers left to right: Gareth Neal, Chris Eckersley, Gitta Gaschwendtner – image courtesy Designersblock

Bodging: A live exploration of ideas, craft and history. Bodging is a green woodworking technique, which involves traditional craftsmanship like steam bending, pole lathing and hand tools to create chairs and furniture.
The craft of bodging was once widely practiced by villagers living in the Buckinghamshire countryside in the early eighteenth century, and it was here that the legendary English Windsor Chair was originally conceived. Artist Chris Eckersley revived this old country craft last March when he abandoned the design studio and took to the forest of Hereford for six days with nine other UK designers to produce a collection of greenwood furniture. The first collection ‘Bodging Milano’ was presented by Designersblock at the 2010 Salone del Mobile. At the Bargehouse, Chris Eckersley and the design team were showing a new series of furniture created in June during a three-day ‘bodging’ stint at the Sitting Firm factory in Coventry. Judging by the positive response to the simple and particularly practical new collection of 16 pieces of furniture, it looks like these antiquated furniture-making techniques have been given a new lease of life.

Results: Left chair by ChrisEckersley,; top right design by Gareth Neal; bottom right design by Gitta Gschwendtner

The ‘Bodgers’ are nine UK designers: Amos Marchant, Carl Clerkin, Chris Eckersley, Dave Green, Gareth Neal, Gitta Gaschwendtner, Rory Dodd, Suzanne Barnes and William Warren .

TENT London: new ways of making stuff, intelligent objects and suitable space
TENT London was established by the founders of 100% Design and 100% East, two important design trade shows which are recognized for cementing the relationship between design and industry in the UK, in response to the growing need for a more diverse, less trade-based event to promote creativity. This year, for the fourth year running, the event was held in the old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, showcasing the work of over 200 designers. The main features were Lab Craft, Tent Digital, Love and Money, Tent Selects, Made in Kingston and KUMA, ShowHow, and the Vonsung Café Bar. Here below is a selection of exhibits that explored new ways of making stuff, intelligent objects and suitable space.

Lab Craft: New ways to make stuff.

Tolstrup’s Branch Out trestle table legs Image ©Hector Serrano, Studiomama

Lab Craft: Digital adventures in contemporary craft is a touring exhibition organized by the Crafts Council previewed at Tent London before launching at the Turnpike Gallery in Leigh, Greater Manchester from October 30 to December 18 2010. Curated by journalist Max Fraser author and publisher of the London Design Guide, and designed by London-based designer and educator Tomoki Azumi Lab Craft showcased the work of 26 British craft practitioners who deploy the latest tools in digital technologies – such as rapid prototype machines, laser sintering, powder fusing and 3D printing – to make things. It was amazing to see what happens when the artisan and digital cultures meet.

Liam Hopkins Bravais Armchair, Lazerian, Image from Craft Council UK

All of the developments presented in the exhibition had, at some stage in their production process, utilized Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and Manufacture (CAM) software, technologies more commonly associated with architecture and engineering. Basically, craft practitioners use software to translate their craftsmanship into data, and then feed this into a computer-aided manufacturing programme which then commands the machinery. The complete production process manufactures computer-generated forms. The whole process is pretty costly and highly technical and still requires the supervision of skilled technicians, and many craft practitioners don’t have access to the technology or the machinery employed in the process or aren’t tech savvy enough to engage with technology at this level, yet a lot of experimentation is taking place in specialized research departments, such as the Autonomatic group at University College Falmouth and at the University of Arts, London. Increasing numbers of craft practitioners are drawn to the creative prospects that technological advancements offer, and recognize the potential they hold. The Lab Craft exhibition suggests that a sort of digital-craft is emerging, in which future design products may well exist in the form of data, or data may well become the ultimate form of design.

The potentially negative ramifications of this were not ignored in the exhibition, but this new visual language is muscling its way into contemporary craft and the show bears witness to this.

Lab Craft presents astonishing stuff made by talents whose love for craft is paramount. Participants included: 1234lab, Gary Allson, Assa Asshuach, Tomoko Azumi, Tord Boontje, Melanie Bowles, Philippa Brock, Committee, Shelley Doolan, Michael Eden, Zachary Eastwood-Bloom, Jo Hayes Ward, Tavs Jorgensen, Chae Yong Kim, Lazerian, Lynne Maclachlan, Geoffrey Mann, Justin Marshall, Drummond Masterton, Gareth Neal, Daniel O’Riordan, Jo Pierce, Ismini Samanidou, Timorous Beasties, Nina Tolstrup & Daniel Widrig

Lynne MacLachlan’s Bubble Jewellery

TENT digital: Ubiquitous technology
Tent Digital showcases and celebrates leading exponents in Interaction Design and Augmented Reality through digitally-enabled products and installations. This was a ‘users only’ affair showcasing digital creatives and digitally enabled design at the LDF, where exhibitors don’t pay to exhibit but are carefully selected through a global call for entries.

Illuminated at large by the artificial light given off by screens and other digital wonders at first you got the feeling that it was more about technology than humankind, but ironically it was the place where children and younger visitors were definitely having the best time. Which points to where the future is heading. Interactive grass sprouting from tree trunks, intelligent objects exchanging information and interacting with each other; bums being scanned on chairs; and groups of strangers graffiti ‘jamming’ collectively from iphones. It was like visiting a hi-tech fun park.

The Whispering Table, GreenEyl Tent Digital 2010, image ©Charlotte-Harrison from Flickr

The multidisciplinary design practice GreenEyl forged the show’s centrepiece with Whispering Table, a round black table laid with white ceramics that have lives of their own. Each piece of crockery contains a traditional food story from a different culture, which you can listen to by holding the object to your ear – like listening for waves in shells. In addition, the objects communicate with each other, being programmed to respond to each other and exchange stories, imitating the behaviour of people during food rituals. The Whispering Table was designed for the Kosher & Co exhibition on Food and Religions at the Jewish Museum Berlin.

A Little Life by William Ho, image Kantan Design

William Ho of the international London-based collaborative consultancy Kantan Design studio exhibited ‘A Little Life’: a project based on the study of user perception and object behaviour. Ho integrates interactive sensors into plant life – tufts of grass – set in abandoned tree trunks. The sensors in the grass blades activate when they perceive movement from above and cause the grass to respond. The result translates the viewer’s movement to the grass, giving it that little bit of life.

Screenshots of virtual grafitti art at TENT

Graffito by The BigDog Interactive of London delivered some serious crowd action with their innovative and free iphone/ipad application which allows multiple iphone users to simultaneously participate in the creation of a digital ‘murales’. Another novel feature of their application is that users located in different countries can join in too. The project was made possible thanks to government funding for the development of technological innovation and since its launch on the web it has reached a significant number of downloads globally and has gained the attention of advertising firms, festival organizers and academics alike. Researchers from institutions have shown interest in studying the archived graffiti painted by crowds for cultural purposes.

A Room to Die In @ the Made in Kingston exhibition
A Room to Die In by Roisin Lafferty at Made in Kingston Exhibition, image courtesy Tent London
The only university with a display at Tent, Kingston University flexed its creative muscle by occupying a considerable amount of exhibition space. Made in Kingston presented both a retrospective of its world renowned alumni along with a selection of work from 150 current MA students graduating from 12 different MA courses. It even hosted an installation, curated by the Design Museum, created by a handful of its star alumni: Morag Myerscough, Jasper Morrison, David Chipperfield and Gitta Gschwendtner.

Tucked away in a corner of this vast exhibition was A Room To Die In, the work of 24 year-old Roisin Lafferty, who is studying MA Design: Product and Space1. Lafferty designed a compact and cosy bedroom – so familiar it was uncanny – that appeared like a vision, the perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle of the show. Once inside, if the visitor closes the door they remain trapped inside a hermetically sealed room with enough oxygen to last for 6.1 survivable hours. A television set in the room played interviews with Nicky Dalladay, a 47 year old woman suffering from Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, and Donagh O’Riain, a personal friend of Roisin’s who has Friedreich’s Ataxia, a rare degenerative disease. The interviewees both express their wish to die, explaining what it means to live in a society that deprives you of that right. Trapped in their debilitated bodies, with no hope of recovery, both Nicky and Donagh share the belief that in a truly democratic society they would have the right to choose whether to live or die. Trapped in the airtight room, the visitor is forced to address the issue from an altered mindset as the comfy bedroom transforms into a death-chamber. By designing a space which the user has to interact with, Roisin Lafferty has created an emotive psychological experience which opens new perspectives on the right to choice.

What a good way to end the show!

Reviews on the Anti-Design Festival and the RCA at LDF to follow.

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12 Responses to “The 2010 London Design Festival: creativity by design”

  1. Marcia Caines says:

    October 5th, 2010 at %I:%M %p

    My take on the 2010 LDF – Creativity by design:

  2. Marcia Caines says:

    October 5th, 2010 at %I:%M %p

    My take on the 2010 LDF – Creativity by design:

  3. Crafts Council UK says:

    October 7th, 2010 at %I:%M %p

    Another good piece on Lab Craft

  4. Design Nation says:

    October 7th, 2010 at %I:%M %p

    RT@CraftsCouncilUK Another good piece on Lab Craft (designed by @tomoko_azumi)

  5. Design Nation says:

    October 7th, 2010 at %I:%M %p

    RT @CraftsCouncilUK Another good piece on Lab Craft (designed by @tomoko_azumi)

  6. craftscotland says:

    October 7th, 2010 at %I:%M %p

    RT @CraftsCouncilUK: Another good piece on Lab Craft

  7. OPX says:

    October 7th, 2010 at %I:%M %p

    RT @CraftsCouncilUK: Another good piece on Lab Craft

  8. David Bennett says:

    October 7th, 2010 at %I:%M %p

    RT @CraftsCouncilUK: Another good piece on Lab Craft

  9. lynn jackson says:

    October 8th, 2010 at %I:%M %p

    RT @CraftsCouncilUK: Another good piece on Lab Craft

  10. Rachel McC says:

    October 11th, 2010 at %I:%M %p

    RT @CraftsCouncilUK: Another good piece on Lab Craft

  11. Tent London says:

    October 15th, 2010 at %I:%M %p

    v. nice write up by @MCaines on Cluster » The 2010 London Design Festival: creativity by design #ldf10

  12. World Wide News Flash says:

    October 20th, 2010 at %I:%M %p

    The 2010 London Design Festival: creativity by design…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

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