Innovation at London Design Festival

Please be seated
London Design Week showcased socially-aware and ecologically-minded design principles ripe for a city in flux.


I've ducked out of Design Week for some years, consciously opting out of an obsession with branding and gentrification. Perhaps I'd grown embittered by a dearth of affordable housing for locals. 

But this year, the festival instilled great optimism through art, aestheticism and functionalism, environmentalism and considerate design. That's to say, it wasn't all privileged entrepreneurial millennials making fortunes in their pursuit of 'design for design sake'.

The festival platformed activist designers and biodiversity projects, coupled with a signature stance on international collaboration. All this makes for an exciting time in the design world, even for this old cynic. 

Coming of age

Designers hold the keys to a new future in a country made increasingly precarious by Brexit and climate crisis. 

London Design Festival (LDF) has excelled itself, growing annually into a gargantuan entity. The festival is divided into organised and accessible 'design districts', each area loaded with installations, events, talks, presentations and innovations that represent the best in UK and international creativity.

These extraordinary offerings restore a sense of pride in being British at a time of great confusion. Far from sentimental, design reveals itself as elemental, progressive, tech-aware and bold. LDF offers something for everyone, particularly as it goes above and beyond in its platforming of all areas of design, even in its incorporation of Artificial Intelligence. 

This year's Emerging Design Medal winner is Ross Atkin, who focuses on disability and is a designer to follow.

Renowned creative Yves Behar's keynote asked 'How can designers build a better future?' Behar's work combines commercial briefs with democratised design to empower communities. His long-term work with the homeless, providing sustainable shelters in Latin America, showcases design committed to communities' needs and cultures. 


100% Design,  the UK's largest and longest-running trade event for designers, celebrates a quarter of a century. It never fails to platform futuristic design, ahead of the times and in turn, on-trend - a must-go for anyone interested in design and in need of inspiration.

Designers here know the double edged sword - tempting consumers with stupefyingly beautiful and useful designs, all the while knowing that 'less is more'. In addition, its several topical talks hone in on wellbeing, and present special guests such as design maverick Marcel Wanders who gave a typically off-beat and philosophical talk.

Speaking to several creatives and punters reveals how LDF is impacting positively and widely. International collaborations inform key environmental decisions, while the 'design districts' place significant emphasis on the environment, sustainability, heritage and localised ways of working. However, what arose from several fertile discussions is the necessity to work collaboratively across industries.

Thee V&A (Victoria&Albert) museum was 'Home-Zone' for the week. This globally-renowned  icon of culture hosts LDF events and the 'Thought Leadership Programme'; the associated 'Global Design Forum' in 2018 drove 170,000 visitors to the Museum during the festival's tenure. The V&A's day of sustainability proved popular with punters, high profile designers and activists. 

Social design

Listing top recommendations is almost impossible. Many are worthy. But Paul Cocksedge's Please Be Seated was a personal favourite, and is on display in Finsbury Square until 11 October. 

The large-scale installation comprises everything social design should be. Using recycled wood from scaffolding - it was love and lust at first sight. Organic-style design, curvaceous, fluid, functional and utterly beautiful - its hybrid nature at once both feminine and masculine.

Beckoning with welcoming 'arms', its cool, polished, soft and sinuous wood whispers, come hither. Like a flower in which to find your own little corner to curl up and dream. An escape from urbanism and the urbane.

London's East End is now hyper 'design wise' - but this installation breaks barriers that gentrification sets up, with local workmen lying cradled in its curves, scoffing sandwiches and watching the world go by.

As Cocksedge notes: “Every aspect of the installation is tailored to its environment as well as the function it serves. The curves raise up to create back-rests and places to sit, with space for people to walk under, or pause and find some shade”.

Working with interiors company White&White to re-imagine and re-use building wood, different 'dwellers' occupy the installation throughout day. It will be missed in the area. (Why can it not stay?)

Waste not 

The already established Design Junction welcomed Kings Cross as the latest addition of design geography across the city, with Granby Workshop launching the world's first ceramic tableware made from 100 percent waste.

The workshop comprises an installation and pop-up shop in Coal Drops Yard, with products available to order exclusively on KickStarter.

The Liverpool ceramics studio researched a wide range of post-consumer and industrial waste streams through experimentation and chemical analyses, to then reproduce the physical and aesthetic properties of conventional glazed stoneware. 

Brompton Biotopia is a series of animal habitats designed to support urban biodiversity. Marlene Huissoud at the Interaction Research Studio at Goldsmiths University worked with the Material Architecture Lab to design habitats from an animal's perspective. The project explores applications of natural materials with designers at the forefront of innovative material research, architecture and technology.

Designers' dedication to fully reflecting on global ecological challenges was in evidence throughout.

Creative economy

The festival underscored the importance of looking holistically at design projects' wider impact -     including sourcing and styling products. This work is urgent but cannot be done overnight.

LDF Director Ben Evans is a man on a mission. It's apparent that he 'lives and breathes' LDF, determinedly raising its profile and funding: “London has the biggest creative economy in the world, and design is a key part of it.

"LDF celebrates and promotes London’s design excellence in a period when showcasing creativity is even more important.”

For an event lasting only a week and taking the year to plan, such vast choice can also be overwhelming. Impressively the fest is well organised, with maps (on recycled paper) in each district, endless informed volunteers, a stellar media team and an general eagerness to help, as well as listen to suggestions from professionals and punters alike.

All this is incorporated into future strategy. The festival annually raises the stakes, encircling ever widely what constitutes an already burgeoning discipline. Here's to LDF 2020 and an added Design Biennale. I for one, can't wait.

This Author

Wendyrosie Scott is an anthropologist, journalist & stylist focusing on design & creative communities. She looks at positive partnerships between lifestyle trends & the natural world.

Image: Martin_VMorris, Flickr

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