Stepping on to the global stage

Australia has long been a fashionable travel destination, so why isn’t the Sydney Design Festival more widely celebrated?

As the hype starts to build for the London Design Festival, a lesser-known Antipodean event is taking place down under.

While appearing to be met with a degree of unfamiliarity from parts of the industry internationally, the Sydney Design Festival is publicised as ‘Australia’s biggest and longest-running design festival’.

This apathy could be for several reasons. Perhaps it is due to the absence of a related trade event, such as 100% Design for London or the Milan furniture fair, which might attract more international visitors. Or the sheer physical distance of Australia from Europe could contribute to the festival being less popular than its European counterparts.

Yet, this is an important event for Australia that has evolved and expanded, both with national and international visitors. And, according to organisers and sponsors, the SDF, while loosely modelled on London rather than Milan, does not seek to compare to either.

With branding by Sydney-based consultancy Boccalatte, the festival runs for 16 days from 4 August, and celebrates Australian and international design with more than 50 exhibitions and events at 20 venues across the city. The main hub for the event is the Powerhouse Museum in Darling Harbour.

Aiming to ‘celebrate excellence in home-grown and international design’, the festival is backed by a programme of international speakers, exhibitions, tours, films and other special events, as well as exploring forms of design such as architecture, digital, interior and industrial design.

In its 11th year, the SDF team has selected a festival programme that will show where design is making a difference in our lives, how designers are addressing the bigger issues of social and environmental responsibility, as well as providing an insight into the creative processes of designers and architects.

The British Council in Australia worked with the organisers on presenting Joel Gethin Lewis from United Visual Artists. ‘It (the festival) began a number of years ago as a collaboration between the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper and the Powerhouse Museum,’ says Grainne Brunsdon, the council’s assistant director.

‘I guess the model is more London than Milan in terms of importance. It enjoys a large number of visitors every year and is a major event for the museum, says Brunsdon. ‘They run exhibitions, talks, events, a young designers market and, like London, there are usually a number of satellite events around the city.’

Several of the events are very Australia-specific, such as the Fashion from Fleece show, celebrating 200 years since the export of the first bale of wool to the UK, and the Homes in the Sky: Apartment Living in Sydney exhibition.

The largest exhibition at the festival is Improving Life – The Design of Swedish Innovations, which describes how ideas are developed into innovations by means of design. This is produced by Svensk Form, the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design, in conjunction with the Swedish Institute, the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Swedish Trade Council.

Vince Frost, whose consultancy Frost Design recently unveiled a new signage system for the Powerhouse Museum, will be speaking at an event called Top 10 Designers, organised by the Design Institute of Australia with a multidisciplinary panel covering interiors, residential, commercial, hospitality, retail, furniture design, fashion, graphics and brands.

According to Frost, the SDF audiences tend to be varied – students, design-aware members of the public and designers in general.

Products entered as part of the Australian Design Awards deserve special mention. A waterless urinal, a candelabra and a clever peg are some of the everyday objects that are among the finalists.

Other products address social, health and environmental issues, including the SolarScan device that assists with the early detection of melanoma (skin cancer), a disease of particular concern to many Australians.

The Home Beautiful Product of the Year Award showcases design products that break new ground. Workshopped is an exhibition of work by young designers and new Australian designs, from prototypes to production pieces, in high-profile commercial settings. On a lighter note, resident entertainer Krispin K hosts a comical show that picks up on the changing mood in ‘designland’.

The festival’s significance is not lost on branding consultancy Landor Associates in Sydney, which is one of the sponsors of the event.

‘I think the festival plays a hugely important role for the broader design industry in Australia,’ says Landor Sydney executive creative director Mike Staniford. ‘Every year it appears to grow and become more popular, both locally and internationally. Being a worldwide network means that we take a global perspective on all things design. SDF is taken seriously in the design industry.’

As well as the blue skies, the iconic opera house and harbour bridge, and the beautiful beaches, perhaps the SDF should be flagged as another good reason to visit Australia. Organisers could well be asking the same question as the country’s global tourism campaign – ‘Where the bloody hell are you?’.

• Sydney Design Festival runs from 4-19 August
• As well as the Powerhouse Museum, other venues include Object Gallery, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Opera House, Museum of Sydney, The Mint, Customs House, Royal Australian Institute of Architects, Sydney College of the Arts, Sydney University of Technology
• This year’s keynote speaker is former Ikea director of design Lars Engman

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