Last week it was Yorkshire, now it’s London that is in the spotlight as a centre for design. But while Yorkshire still has to earn its spurs, through Design Yorkshire’s hoped-for conversion of local businesses to the potential of design in raising the profile and quality of life in the region, London already has all the credentials. By drawing attention to it now, The Sorrell Foundation co-founder John Sorrell is only looking to build on what exists by calling for a London design festival.
Like Prime Minister Tony Blair in the early days of the Labour administration and ill-fated Culture Secretary Chris Smith, Sorrell can see the importance of the creative industries to the economic make-up of the capital. As former Design Council chairman, he has a broader view of UK business than most people in the design industry, and with Blair and friends having seemingly taken their eyes off design, is well placed to once more take up the mantle of champion for the cause.
What Sorrell hasn’t spelled out in his ‘manifesto’ is what form a festival might take. We can assume, from watching him transform the Design Council into a more vibrant force in the mid 1990s, that that will come through consultation with interested bodies and key activists – from within design and outside. We can also assume that it will bring together existing celebrations of design under one umbrella, rescheduling them to come together on the calendar in the way of, say, the various film festivals in Cannes. Why reinvent things that already exist?
You could say that British Design & Art Direction’s SuperHumanism conference last year was a stab at this. But the event was flawed, not least because it stood alone without reference to any other events, its format was too staid and allowed little interaction between speakers and audience and there was no effective follow through. We wish D&AD a better result from its 40th birthday celebrations this year.
But SuperHumanism wasn’t a festival, nor a celebration, both of which are needed in design. Nor was it outward-facing, attracting only the in-crowd of design and advertising. We have the Design Council’s Design in Business Week, which has value and engages non-designers, but isn’t a public event as such.
Design needs to build confidence in itself, as well as to convey its message to the wider world. By structuring a series of events that have general appeal and are fun as well as educational, organisers of a design festival could achieve these aims. By focusing on London, still seen internationally as a lively destination, it could also provoke new global interest in UK design.