Run without the pack

Glamorous design functions mean a lot to those who work in the industry, but Hugh Pearman would much rather develop his design skills than his social skills.

Call me ungregarious – it’s true I’m the antithesis of the party animal. In fact, I’m the quiet-night-in animal. The other night I went out to meet friends, with the firm and rare intention of drinking my face off. After two glasses, I was asking for water. Then I went home early, since I had a rush job on that weekend. What does this tell you about my sense of priorities?

The world is divided between solo operators and those who are happier in a pack. Fine: I tend to side with the former. Which probably explains why I almost never show up at the big conferences, seminars and shows that the design business likes to mount.

As I write, 100% Design is in full swing. It’s bigger, better and beerier than ever and I have the usual sheaf of invites. None of which I have the slightest intention of taking up, any more than I accept offers to take part in discussions between allegedly top players in the industry that leaven the proceedings.

Besides, like Graham Greene novels, they all blur in the mind. Haven’t we already had 100% Design this year? Or am I confusing it with New Designers, or one of the many others? Maybe I’m remembering the overseas ones, like the Cologne Fair or the Milan Furniture Fair, if that’s what they still call it, or even, heaven help us, the British Design & Art Direction awards. But people like these events, and not just because they’re involved and want to sell their product/ skills or win an award. Presumably the pally, bitchy get-together ambience can exert a grip on you equivalent to the global circus of the fashion business. No doubt there’s some design world equivalent of a pecking order which determines who gets seats in the front row. I wouldn’t know.

I don’t operate a blanket boycott, anyway. Some events I can’t realistically avoid – the occasional Venice Biennale, or architecture’s Stirling Prize, say. They have their excitements. Others, like design awards I’ve helped judge, it’s obviously discourteous to shun, though I blush to admit I’ve managed to sidestep a few. It’s the professional head-banging sessions I tend to give the widest berth to. For years, the Royal Academy tried to get me along to its series of symposiums on movements in architecture. ‘That sounds interesting,’ I would say, playing for time. ‘Fascinating, in fact. What day did you say it was? Saturday? Oh dear, what a shame. That’s the time I had booked in for seeing my family.’ They appear to have given up now. Or maybe they’ve stopped doing them. Then there’s the dear old Royal Institute of British Architects. ‘Can we book you a place at dinner with the president at our gritty urban realism conference in Knotty Ash?’ Oh, sure you can.

No offence, but these affairs are for the initiates. They need their mutual support networks, be they aesthetic, political or business. Those of us who look on from the outside should not intrude on private grief. During the autumn political conference season, I send up prayers of thanks that I’m a fannying-around design critic rather than a real journalist. Could anything be worse than having to be at a party conference if you’re not a member of that party?

Once, I went to the Ideal Home Exhibition. Once, to the Milan Fair. Once, to the Motor Show. It’s possible I have previously been to 100% Design, though I can’t be sure. I know I’ve been to New Designers. I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever gained anything from these events that I wouldn’t gain, rather better, from my usual year’s worth of one-on-one meetings with designers and architects. At one such meeting, a brilliant and very famous designer – about to jet off to Milan – was openly aghast that I wasn’t going. I muttered something about not liking it very much. He was nonplussed. What do you mean – not like it?

I get much the same response from the fluffier kind of PR person. ‘I’m sorry – did I hear you say you didn’t want to go on a seven-day, all-expenses paid trip around the design fleshpots of the Far East/ Scandinavia? We’ve got yeses from most of your colleagues on the other papers.’ Or there’s the most useless event yet devised – the public screening of some forthcoming TV programme or series. Meet the producer/ presenter. Um – why? Can’t you send a video? It’s true, the videos tend not to get played, but surely they’re used to that.

So, as you’ll have gathered, I’m a miserable sod on these design get-together occasions. Stifle your grief, if you can. You go off and enjoy yourselves. I’ll stay here and get on with a bit of, I don’t know – writing, or something. Perhaps I’ll have a nice cup of tea, too.

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