‘Recessions help clear out the crap,’ says London Design Festival director
LONDON, Sept 22 — Trained as a design historian, Ben Evans is the director of the London Design Festival, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. More than 300 events are being held across the city between September 14 and 23. From design trade shows to museum exhibitions, the London Design Festival has become one of the most important events of its kind in the world. Ben Evans opened up to Relaxnews about his thoughts on design programs around the world, the effects of recession on design and areas to keep an eye on.
On cities leading the way in international design: London and Milan
Currently, the two leading cities in the world of design are London and Milan. The bigger, more culturally developed cities have a great advantage over emerging cities because of their infrastructure. Milan has been going for over 50 years now; the city is very industry-focused and it is relying on its history and the strength of its own.
The idea of a national identity in the UK is gone; design has become borderless because design talent migrates, it goes from place to place, and it goes where it thinks there are like-minded people and an opportunity, where there are companies that they can sell to or work with.
London has the reputation of being probably the most international city in the world — you can find food from any country here and communities from everywhere. That has been very helpful to us in terms of creativity because people have come here to be educated — we have a strong design education system — and they have stayed. That talent is something that we can own — we don’t care where they have come from.
So being open like that and giving a kind of platform where all talented people from all backgrounds and all nationalities can come and engage is a very important condition in making your design festival and your design city successful.
Berlin I think is a city to keep a watch on, because it is a young city in terms of population; it is cheap to live there. However it is not yet competitive in terms of art and design.
On design initiatives in other major cities
There are some cities, for instance Paris, which has had a major very successful show, Maison et Objet, for many years but has just started to organize a design week recently. It should have happened some time ago; the marketplace is quite congested now. I think it is going to be quite hard for Paris to grow and evolve there.
Paris feels bourgeois
In London we are critical of Parisian culture at the moment because it feels too bourgeois, a bit more monoculture, that’s just a perspective. The London view of Paris is very negative and it is seen as old-fashioned and stuck in a particular kind of culture.
Meanwhile New York has struggled to do it because there isn’t anyone there organising — it is as simple as that. When you try to invent something from the beginning, you need someone to push for it and you need support from the city. In New York the mayor’s office is not very interested and there isn’t an institution or a group of individuals to organise it.
US no longer a design leader
I also think it is reflective of American design, it is not in a great place at the moment. It was one of the world leaders early on in the 20th century — it was one of the great leaders of design, some of the most important figures in design history have been American, but what has happened? How many great American designers can you name at the moment?
China as an emerging design platform
In China they want to go from ‘made in China’ to ‘designed in China’. This is the declared ambition of the government and the Chinese way of doing things is, “We have a five year plan and we are going to accomplish it”: it is a very controlled system.
5 to 10 years of gestation
There are more people learning design in China than in the rest of the world put together. I think there are around 1.3 million design Chinese students, but at the moment it is hard to name a successful or interesting designer, in five to ten years that will change completely.
Innovating with materials a major trend
The trend at the moment is materialism, designers are looking more and more for new materials, natural materials and fabricated materials. The new material creates a different finish and a new layer of interest. A lot of designers are exploring how new materials can give them some distinctiveness.
The next designer to watch: Japanese Keiichi Matsuda
For me, there is one young talent to keep an eye on and that is Japanese Keiichi Matsuda. His first big project, Prism, is currently being exhibited at the V&A as part of the festival. He only graduated a year ago, trained as an architect, he is very good at digital and new media but he is also good at conceptualisation and scale. Architects can do scale while lots of designers struggle with scale. I like that scale which is in between a piece of furniture and a building; it is a no man’s land. Matsuda is at the beginning of a long and successful career.
On global recession and design
I want to give a positive spin on global recession. I think most of the things we see in design are crap, they are rubbish, and most design is bad.
Recessions help clear out the crap
Recessions are harsh but they help us to clear out the crap. Through recession times the bad doesn’t survive and the good works harder because it has to.
Difficult economic times bring a greater energy, greater quality, and people take more risks. Sometimes you can take away the polluting influence of money and the designers work on projects because they want to say something rather than sell it and I hope that they consequently make some income. Recession times allowed conditions like that to happen; recession is quite positive for design. — AFP/Relaxnews