Tough times economically make it even harder to raise your head above the parapet to really make a difference through design. Or does it? The well-worn cliché is you need to ’stick to the knitting’ in a downturn, focus on what you’re best at – and no more – and expend your energies purely on winning and retaining clients. But another view, popularised by the likes of London Design Festival chairman Sir John Sorrell, is that straitened times bring out the best in creative people challenged by the need to do things differently just to survive and that some of the best ideas – and designs – are born out of the experience. And it is these that meet the criteria for inclusion in Design Week’s 2011 Hot 50.
Certainly, the post-recession period that arguably started last year for design has thrown up interesting shifts and developments, particularly as it has coincided with a major change in Government in the UK, a focus on the all-inclusive Big Society by Prime Minister David Cameron which has had ramifications across the piece and a surge in
the influence of social media like Twitter and Facebook over most things in life – that the likes of US retail giant Gap can be swayed so swiftly by public outcry on the networks against a logo change bears testament to this.
The era is also proving to be one of rebellion against the pressures imposed from the top and social changes generally. We have seen students and workers hit the streets to vent their feelings about Government cuts and in design colleges tutors are detecting a greater energy. This was manifest to a lesser degree by the Anti Design Festival, staged in London’s edgy Shoreditch district last September by graphics star Neville Brody and his cohorts. The ADF was conceived as a backlash to what they perceive as the slick, ’safe’ designs of the post-Margaret Thatcher era when success was deemed to be the only goal and failure, risk and experimentation were to be avoided.
Meanwhile, with local markets for design under the cosh – notably the public sector – UK consultancies have turned increasingly abroad for their projects, particularly for branding and branded interiors work. A growing number of groups have opened offices as far afield as China or have forged professional deals with agents overseas – such is the reputation of UK design in these fields.
And then there is interaction design. Constantly developing new arenas for creativity from apps for mobile devices such as Apple’s iPad
and iPhone or experiential features for retail, public or cultural environments, at its best it provides the glue between design, advertising and art and is the discipline most are looking to to lead the way for the future.
It was against this backdrop that the selectors for Design Week’s annual hotlist assembled late last year to establish who – or what – had gone beyond the distance for design over the previous 12 months. Taking the cue from the word ’hot’ in the title, they have sought to capture the mood, but also to look forward rather than back to identify those who look set to continue as motivators for the design community, clients or society at large.
Of the more interesting entrants this year are movements such as drawing and making, on the one hand, and the return to handcrafts in the face of technological dominance. This is balanced by the gaming industry, which continues to lead digital innovation, and online retailers with Wii Fit and its ilk somewhere in between, blending technology with physical activity.
Exercise is also the theme of another entry – the turquoise-branded Barclay’s Bikes that have taken London’s streets by storm. The inclusion of the pay-as-you-pedal cycling scheme by London Mayor Boris Johnson brings service design into the Hot 50 as it is the system itself rather than the robust, clunky bike design or missed-opportunity branding linking to Barclays’ sponsorship of the scheme that impressed the selectors. It is good though to see the design of services making an impact in our hitherto object-obsessed culture.
Congratulations to these and all the other entrants in this year’s Hot 50 – be they individuals, organisations, movements or projects. Each has been hand-picked for a reason and each has an interesting story to tell. Each also provides inspiration or a new way of thinking upon which we as a creativity community can build.
Editor, Design Week