Simplicity reigns at London’s biggest design festival.
(A) With upwards of 300 product launches, installations and exhibitions, London’s annual nine-day design festival is a showcase of head-spinning choice. In many ways that’s the beauty of the extravaganza, everyone has a different experience and takes something unique away from it. There were however some intriguing themes and trends in this year’s edition that spoke to larger social or cultural preoccupations.
(B) One was the launch of two consumer electronics products designed to simplify and beautify our technology-addled lives. Both chose the new London Design Festival venue of Somerset House to show their wares. The first was a mobile phone launched by Swiss company Punkt and designed by Jasper Morrison that allows users to make calls and texts only (well, it has an alarm clock and an address book too). Punkt founder Petter Neby doesn’t believe it will replace your smart phone but suggests users fit it with the same SIM card as your main phone and use it in the evenings, weekends and on holiday.
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(C) The other electronics launch came from the unlikely French sibling duo of the Bouroullec brothers. Though tech companies like Samsung are usually prescriptive about their products the Bouroullecs (who admitted they found most TVs sad and ugly) seem to have been given free rein. Their new television for the mega Korean brand looks more like an item of furniture than an ultra-large and ultra-slim piece of tech. More importantly, it comes with simplified on-screen interaction and a ‘curtain mode’ that turns your screen into a shimmering pattern during ads or half-time. Again, their focus was on dialing down digital insanity.
(D) Customizable online furniture was also very much in vogue at this year’s festival. But rest assured, weird and unreliable software or off-the-wall designs sent to a 3D printer somewhere and arriving months later, seem to be a thing of the past. Customization may finally have come of age. Two examples were Scandi-brand Hem that combinded good design by the likes of Luca Nichetto, Form Us With Love and Sylvain Willenz with affordable price points. The fact that the brand opened a pop-up store in Covent Garden during the festival is a recognition of the importance of both physical and online spaces that work seamlessly together.
(E) Another online configurable brand to make its debut after years in development was Warsaw-based Tylko. Like Hem, Tylko has spent time and money on very powerful and easy-to-use software, but with only three designs – a table, a shelf and salt and pepper mills – it has a way to go. Its augmented reality app is simple to use however and its table has been developed with a nano-coating option that really does appear to keep pesky stains at bay. Craft and ‘making’ in all its forms was once again a big hit and nowhere more so than at TENT, the East London design event that gets better every year.
(F) A definite highlight was the massive space taken over by the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland and filled with weavers and potters doing their thing and showing their wares. Irish Design had another delectable stand over at the Rochelle School in East London too. The Souvenir Project was a series of nine non-cliché ‘souvenirs’ made in Ireland and included a rainbow plate by Nicholas Mosse Pottery that featured rows of animals, flowers and watering cans and commemorated the legalization of same-sex marriage in Ireland in May 2015.
(G) If there was one material that could be said to define the festival it might just be Jesmonite, the wonder man-made building composite. Lighter and more sustainable than concrete, its dramatic capabilities were brought to life by London-based design studio PINCH and their tour-de-force limited edition Nim table and Swedish artist Hilda Hellström’s giant colorful volcano made for the restaurant in London’s Ace Hotel. A show called Matter of Stuff near Covent Garden was in on the jesmonite act too, but even more intriguingly was presenting vases made out of Propolis, a resinous material collected by bees and used to seal gaps in hives that, according to their designer Marlene Huissoud, behaves like glass.
(H) Finally, this was the year that Chinese Design finally displayed a well-edited and inspired showcase of products. Despite the mouthful of a title, Icon Presents: Hi Design Shanghai stand at 100% Design was a meaningful selection of designers exploring materials and ideas. Young design duo Yuue’s offerings were the most representative of a new conceptual approach to design that seems to be emerging. Their lamps were functional but also thought-provoking and humorous. What more could one want from the stuff that surrounds us?
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