‘Big D’ festival in need of a strong central component

So John Sorrell is to go ahead with the London Design Festival he mooted earlier in the year (DW4 April), having courted the support of the cognescenti of design, the creative industries generally and any number of London and political organisations. The full-blown festival won’t be until until 2004, but with a pilot scheme in the offing for next year, the pressure is on for Sorrell and his team.

We know Sorrell will pull it off. Galvanising people into action for a cause is what he does well. Witness the restructuring of the Design Council of the 1990s, for which, as Government-appointed chairman, he adopted a similarly inclusive approach from the outset, taking views from across design and beyond before putting together his blueprint. More recently we’ve seen the innovative approach by The Sorrell Foundation to bring design into schools through its Joinedupdesignforschools programme.

But Sorrell is taking no chances. Having assembled together people on the festival team with whom he has worked before, from researcher Ben Evans to former Interbrand chief operations officer Lynne Dobney, he has made sure it will be well managed.

The big question is what form the Big D – as the festival has become affectionately known by insiders because of its bold red and white logo – will take.

Sorrell describes the festival as an ‘umbrella’ for a host of events, many of which already exist, that help to promote London as an international centre for design. The target audience is as much overseas as at home, making it potentially as much an export drive for UK talent as a cultural affair. And then there is the inevitable aim of raising public awareness.

But how do you bring together the disparate aims of participating organisations towards a common purpose? Design Unity has had great difficulty drawing together the main design bodies and that hasn’t got a public face. And how do you deliver to a diverse audience a range of inspirational experiences that put across the design message in a memorable way? We know from British Design & Art Direction’s efforts with its SuperHumanism seminar last year that fielding high-profile speakers isn’t enough and stringing together existing events won’t sustain interest over time.

The festival is a fantastic concept, but it will only be as good as its constituent parts. It needs a strong centrepiece around which all other activities can spin – trade shows such as the Milan Fair and London’s 100% Design already do this for furniture. What do you believe will really ‘sell’ the capital as a key design centre and create a lot of fun along the way. E-mail your ideas to me on lyndark@centaur.co.uk.

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