All eyes are on London’s inaugural Design Festival

So here we are, in the midst of the first London Design Festival. With so many events packed into the week, there’s hardly a moment to spare for the day job if you really want to partake in what promises to be the biggest design fest since the mid-1990s when the Design Council launched Design in Business Week.

The big difference now is that the umbrella initiative covers a broader range of design, from business-to-business communications to furniture and accessories via 100% Design and Designersblock. There’s architecture through the Open House venture and fashion through London Fashion Week.

It’s all very stimulating, but is it too much to expect punters to embrace, even those travelling from overseas to celebrate design in the UK capital? Most visitors will have a particular angle on design and not be interested in all the events on offer, but it is still a heavy programme.

This year’s festival is a pilot and includes many events that would have happened anyway. But is the umbrella branding putting too much pressure on participants and opening them up to too many invitations?

Festival instigator John Sorrell has expressed disappointment at the UK design community’s lack of interest in the World Creative Forum, the festival’s core event. But while no one doubts the benefits of such conferences, consultancy heads say they can’t justify the cost of a ticket (£1250 plus vat) or time out of the office with the pressures of business being tight.

The scenario prompts a couple of thoughts for the festival’s future. Perhaps, for example, the organisers should shift the forum to the weekend next year. If the speaker line-up is powerful – and less home-grown than this year – it might appeal to a broader audience. Certainly, a weekend commitment wasn’t a deterrent to the old Designers’ Saturday annual fixture and the weekend is traditionally busy at 100% Design.

And might it be better if the festival ran for two weeks straddling the forum rather than one? Then more people might get to more of the events and the tourist trade would surely welcome an extension.

Successful international events such as the Milan and Paris fairs are generally contained within a week. But these are largely single-subject events, with even the sideshows on a consistent theme.

If the London Design Festival is to encourage people to sample design across disciplines, then Sorrell’s team needs to look to ways to facilitate this, rather than present too many options. As it is, some organisations could have too few takers for their events, leaving them reluctant to take part next year. It is a reality the festival folk may have to face.

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