Global input to the festival could start with colleges

I recommend you visit the Design Museum’s Somewhere Totally Else show, celebrating two years of European Design. Not only does it offer a tight edit on the most seminal designs to come out of Europe since 2001, it puts many of them in a context that helps to identify current trends, though, in true Design Museum tradition, the focus is more on 3D and digital design than on pure graphics.

The museum’s first biennial European show doesn’t just take the usual ‘objects in a gallery’ approach – a highly dubious way of looking at saleable products that in real life have to compete in-store or from magazine pages. Instead, it creates ‘showrooms’ and juxtaposes artefacts such as the stunning array of chandeliers and the Bouroullec brothers’ kitchen equipment for Boffi in a way the glass case scenario never does.

But more importantly, the show demonstrates that Somewhere Totally Else is actually here, given that many of the names it honours have a strong connection with London. Several of the world-acclaimed designers whose work is on display attended college here, even if, like furniture Jasper Morisson and digital wizard Daniel Brown, they were not born in the UK. Obvious examples are Dutchman Tord Boontje, whose stunning work for crystal manufacturer Swarovski dominates the show, and Austrian maestro Georg Baldele.

The same could be said of the leading lights at 100% Design, which found new energy this year as a formidable trade show following last year’s decline. Shin and Tomoko Azumi, Michael Young and other designers featuring prominently are all UK-trained, wherever they were born or are now based. And if you trace their histories back, you’ll find the strongest common link is the Royal College of Art.

Add to this the knowledge that most players in the automotive industries in, say, Korea owe their ‘expertise to the RCA and that Nissan sited its European design centre in Paddington partly because of the proximity of the college, and you appreciate the influence RCA rector Professor Sir Christopher Frayling and his colleagues wield over world design. How remarkable therefore that the RCA wasn’t more central to the London Design Festival, given the mission of its organisers to attract overseas business folk to the UK capital.

The pilot festival last week worked well on so many levels, but involving world-class colleges like the RCA and Central St Martins College of Art and Design more directly next year might be a great leap forward – after all, they have greater claim to representing world design than most of the sessions at the much-vaunted World Creative Forum, described by one overseas visitor as mainly expressing the Clerkenwell view.

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