Journalism portfolio of Alistair Welch

Month: December, 2012

London Design Festival 2012: Reflections

Review of LDF 2012 for New Design (Issue 100)

There was concern that, after a summer of unprecedented pageantry, ceremony and activity in London, the city’s Design Festival might slip beneath the radar. However, such worries were unfounded as, in its tenth instalment, September’s London Design Festival was an emphatic statement of the capital’s global significance in design. With the royals and the athletes having taken their turn earlier in the summer, the creative community got its opportunity to show off the best of Britain and the world.

The V&A Museum once again operated as the festival’s hub venue, hosting a series of headline installations. Visitors were welcomed in from Exhibition Road by a dramatic canopy of white traffic cones designed by Thomas Heatherwick, who, following the acclaim that his 2012 Olympic Cauldron enjoyed, has cemented his position as a bona fide design celebrity.

One of the things that the London Design Festival has excelled at in recent years is the reinvention and reinterpretation of hidden spaces; this year the trend continued at the V&A in the shape of Keiichi Matsuda’s Prism. Accessed by a tight spiral staircase – the entrance to which is concealed in an anonymous corner of the museum’s ceramics collection – the installation appeared as a giant suspended iceberg set into the V&A’s uppermost cupola.

Prism by Keiichi Matsuda supported by Veuve Clicquot

Prism by Keiichi Matsuda at the V&A

Information in the form of colour and patterns was projected onto different aspects of the installation via internal projectors. According to the designer, the work presented an alternative view of London that “exposed unseen data flows in the capital”.

Building on the success of 2011’s Textile Field by the Boroullec Brothers – a raised carpet that allowed visitors to lounge in the Raphael Cartoon room – the curators this year chose another installation that functioned in dialogue with the museum’s collection and architecture.

So-called Mimicry Chairs, by the Japanese design studio Nendo, appeared in various locations throughout the V&A. Using a simple chair archetype made from pressed and punched metal and painted white, in each location the chair (or chairs) were modified to mimic the particular space and objects with which they were juxtaposed. Particularly successful were the versions in the tapestry gallery, which played with the ideas of framing and looking, and in the daylight gallery where a series of stacked chairs mirrored a nearby staircase.

Activities continued in the courtyard for which leading furniture designers had been invited to create a series of one-off benches, each made from a different material. Visitors, with varying degrees of comfort it must be admitted, were able to rest their backsides on work by BarberOsgerby, Jasper Morrison and Konstantin Gricic.

Bench Years. Felix de Pass with Established & Sons

Festival goers admire the benches in the V&A courtyard

Last year’s festival saw St Paul’s Cathedral host a destination design installation, in 2012 another famous London landmark, Trafalgar Square, got the treatment. For the duration of the festival a mysterious black rubberized pod appeared between Nelson’s Column and The National Gallery. This was the Be Open Sound Portal, an installation that promised to explore the concept of sound in design. Once inside the portal, which was design by Arup, visitors passed through a band of white noise before reaching a space filled by the sound of five specially commissioned works of music.

“It [the portal] offers an intimate number of sensations that will remove the perceived limitations of contemporary design,” commented Be Open’s founder Elena Baturina. The portal was certainly a diverting experience, but for me at least, was more an entertaining distraction than a significant statement about the future of design.

The major trade shows returned for 2012 refreshed and reinvigorated. 100% Design again occupied the Earls Court Exhibition Centre, with the event this year under the new stewardship of the Media 10 organisation. The show boasted a completely new layout with four distinct design zones: interiors, kitchen and bathroom, office, and eco design and build.

Alongside these four areas, Emerging Brands offered a space for young designers to show their work to an influential audience of design buyers, recruiters, and critics.

Devon duo Young and Norgate showed their exceptional handmade furniture, whilst Latvian-born London-based industrial designer Arthur Analts took the opportunity to exhibit a range of previous work, including his ‘Wow’ aluminium shelf, and new projects. Loughborough graduate Emma Britton delighted visitors with her ‘Up the Garden Path’ collection of laminated glass.


Work by Young and Northgate

Undoubtedly, one of the highlights of 100% Design was the appearance of Yves Behar, in town to promote the launch of ‘Source’ his new concept for SodaStream. In conversation with Dezeen editor Marcus Fairs, Behar talked about industrial design’s “new frontier” being the simultaneous development of hardware and software.

“What I’ve been really interested in is, when these things get designed together as one, really new interesting paradigms, really new interesting experiences are happening,” he said.

Out east, sister shows Super Brands and Tent London took up their residency at the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane. Super Brands – as the name suggests – was home to a host of global design brands. Whilst Brick Lane might not be Milan, there were still a number of high profile product launches from the likes of Mosa, Prooff, Kallemo, and Allermuir, alongside a handful of companies, such as the furniture design studio Munna, that were entering the UK market for the first time.

Now in its sixth year, Tent was its typically colourful and bustling self. Over 200 exhibitors showed a diverse range of contemporary interior projects. If pale wood furniture dominated at 100% Design, Tent was a more eclectic affair: there was plenty of pattern on show, particularly on the Ercol stand, and a number of up-and-coming designers displayed work that experimented with knitting and other craft techniques.

Alongside interiors, excellence in graphic design was central to this year’s festival. Leading graphic art outfit Outline Editions oversaw one of 2012’s standout shows, exhibiting work by Noma Bar and Kristjana S Williams – two practitioners whose work, on the surface, could not be any more different.

Kristjana S Williams Fjoluraut PALL_A4_hi-rez

Anachroquarianism by Krisjana S Williams

Williams’ collection Anachroquarianism is inspired by 19th century natural history illustration. Her intensely detailed, intensely colourful work was pure joy. Bar’s work, on the other hand, is famed for its wry use of negative space and its trademark visual humour. The Israeli graphic artist’s work appears regularly in the Guardian newspaper and a number of his new pieces were available to enjoy and buy.

No doubt 2012 has been a vintage year for London. In the Olympic spirit, the London Design Festival was able to run with the baton of a city on top of the world. Now the festival appears to have truly carved its own identity in a packed European design calendar.


3D printing: Talkin’ bout a revolution

3D printing is the talk of the design world at the moment and has received significant coverage in the mainstream media (The Economist and Newsnight both carrying features).

Working in the design press, I have had my eye on additive manufacturing technologies for a number of years and find the current interest in the sector fascinating.

For New Design magazine, I visited the recent 3D Printshow to judge just how game-changing the technology might be.


You can’t fault its timing: the inaugural 3D Printshow, which took place in London this October, came at a moment when 3D printing is enjoying an unprecedented level of public interest and national media exposure.

Close up of a 3D printed object

Close up of a 3D printed object

This excitement surrounding digital product development technology is exhilarating but also somewhat bewildering for the design community. After all, we have been using such rapid prototyping techniques for several years; what has happened in the last eighteen months such that, as The Economist would have us believe, 3D printing puts us on the verge of another industrial revolution?

Certainly, ‘desktop’ 3D printers, such as Makerbot’s Replicator 2, are now ‘affordable’ (starting at around $2,000 (£1240)) and a community of 3D file sharers has sprung up. However, does this really amount to a paradigm shift that will see a fundamental change in the mechanics of manufacture and economies of scale?

Desktop 3D printing (image courtesy of Form 1)

Desktop 3D printing (image courtesy of Form 1)

For the ladies and gentlemen of the press, the 3D Printshow began with a private view of a gallery space hosting a number of 3D printed art and sculpture pieces, including footwear, fashion pieces, and jewellery alongside fine art sculpture. Many of the objects on display were intricate and engaging works that were testament to the technological progress made in 3D printing systems over recent years, particularly in the range of materials, colours, and finishes that can successfully be printed.

Matthew Plummer-Fernandez was amongst the artists at the event to explain their work. His collection ‘Digital Natives’ uses 3D printing and scanning technology to, as he puts it, “disrupt” everyday objects and “examine the interplay between the real and digital world”.

'Digital Natives' by Matthew Plummer Fernandez

‘Digital Natives’ by Matthew Plummer Fernandez

The pertinent question, perhaps, is when will 3D printing break out of the gallery and make a real impact on everyday, ‘real-world’ products. Quirky works of art and high fashion are one thing; enabling consumers to print spare parts for a vacuum cleaner; medics to print patient-specific hip replacements; or agricultural communities in the developing world to print farming equipment is quite another.

On the main floor of the exhibition the well-established names of the digital design and 3D printing universe, the likes of Objet, Autodesk, and Ogle Models were present alongside a number of start-up businesses and companies targeting the ‘hobbyist’ market.

The fact that the 3D Printshow was open to the public (who came in their droves) gave the event the feel of an expo rather than a trade show. Visitors were invited to marvel at the potential of the technology with the show’s organisers happy to embrace a hyperbolic tone: “the internet changed the world in the 1990s – the world is about to change again” and “the Future starts here, so print the Legend” being two typical extracts from the show’s brochure.

One model that received a great deal of attention, perhaps because it appealed to futurists and sci-fi fans, was the Prototype for a 3D Printed House by the Softkill design studio. The work, according to its designers, is intended to investigate the architectural potential of the latest selective laser sintering technologies and to test the boundaries of large-scale 3D printing by designing using computer algorithms that micro-organize the printed material itself. The house moves away from heavy, compression based 3D printing, instead proposing lightweight, high-resolution, optimised structures that, at life scale, are manageable truck-sized pieces that can be printed off-site and then assembled on-site.


Detail from Softkill’s concept for a 3D printed house

Also a crowd pleaser were the many companies showing off the potential of their desktop 3D printers to print various objects – typically toys, puzzles and trinkets – on demand.

A Makerbot Replicator 2 in action

A Makerbot Replicator 2 in action

UK software house Digital Forming were manning the ‘Digital Co-Design Bar’. Here visitors could test a collaborative design platform that would allow design-led companies to set up online customization businesses.

Designers import virtual product designs (using CAD software) and compose a ‘co-design’ experience by setting parameters within a 3D environment. In practice, this meant I could sit at a computer and play around customizing an iphone case with various textures and accessories. Once you are finished fiddling, your design is sent to one of the company’s network of 3D printers across the world for on-demand production and dispatch.

There are clearly the foundations of a vibrant community of amateur (or perhaps that should be ‘semi-professional’ considering the technology gives anyone the opportunity to design, manufacture and market) 3D printers in place. My question is to what extent this community will ever grow beyond a niche subculture.

Makerbot, whose recently launched Replicator 2 was undoubtedly the star of the show, already hosts ‘Thingiverse’ – an online platform for designers to upload and share printable 3D designs. Is this the stirrings of a model that will challenge the principle of volume manufacture?

At the moment the world of desktop 3D printing is, to an extent, a geeks’ subculture – but then haven’t geeks been responsible for some of the world’s most revolutionary ideas? Just look at the internet, Facebook and Star Trek conventions.

Ton up

For its 100th issue New Design published a special supplement featuring exceptional work from across the professional design community.


New Design Issue 100

Entitled 100/100, the supplement features 100 projects, nominated by the industry, that exemplify the scope and achievement of the design business.

Click here to view a digital version of the 100/100 supplement.