London Design Festival celebrates its 12th birthday this year, and the goal of its founders Sir John Sorrell and Ben Evans to show off the capital’s creative talents across product, furniture and graphic design is being realised more superbly than ever. While I can’t admit to having been there in its youth, I’m taking this opportunity to revisit those festivals I have had the pleasure of losing myself in over the last five years. The sprawling, multifarious and always-impressive range of projects and practitioners isn’t easy to distil, so I’ve chosen ten projects ranging from the huge commissions to the unexpected treats that have been the most memorable over the last half decade.
1. 2014: Candela by Felix De Pass in collaboration with Montgomery & McIntyre
One of the wonderful and strange things about LDF is how there’s so much to see, you can pass some incredible work while rushing about trying to get to something else. As was the case at the V&A last year: dashing between various Graphics Weekend goings on, Candela was there going “hang on lady, not so fast!” as we whirred past it. The piece in the Tapestry Gallery explored time, using the space’s dark environs to showcase the light-retaining properties of Super-LumiNova, a material usually used on the face and dials of wrist watches. Utterly mesmerising.
2. 2014: Dan Tobin Smith, The First Law of Kipple
They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and photographer Dan Tobin Smith pushed this idea to its extreme in his installation The First Law of Kipple . Taking over a huge space at his studio in east London, the work took useless objects collected by the artist or donated by the public, and painstakingly arranged them by colour to form a gorgeous rainbow of rubbish, navigable only by little pathways along the floor. The piece was inspired by Philip K Dick’s 1968 dystopian novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, where the word “kipples” – meaning debris – was invented.
3. 2014: Tokyo Designers Week, Superbrands
An incredible array of projects from Tokyo here which eschewed traditional product design stands for experimental, digital-focused work. It felt like a playground: Kagura’s installation saw visitors wave their arms to form smoke-like projections; you could scan 2D images and see them in 3D and there was an immersive forest where “ghosts” came to life. Amazing work, and a welcome inventive island in a sea of chairs. Oh, and someone had made penis shaped darts. What’s not to love?
4. 2013: Alex de Rijke of dRMM, Endless Stair
Ever feel like you’re going nowhere? That’s exactly what Alex de Rijke’s 2013 installation aimed for. Sitting on the Tate Modern’s front lawn, the piece was inspired by the surreal and meandering lines of MC Escher’s work. It was no less complicated than its 2D inspiration, either; constructed from a total of 187 steps to create a series of giant interlocking staircases in American tulipwood that led to precisely nothing.
5. 2012: Keiichi Matsuda, Prism
Beautiful but cerebral design at its best: Keiichi Matsuda’s Prism lit up the V&A’s uppermost cupola and managed to present very complex ideas in a way that looked stunning. The piece took data streams relating to the capital such as information about transport and economics and visualised them in patterns of ever-shifting light and colour to create a sculptural lantern.
6. 2012: Designersblock
The destination has transformed rapidly over the past few years, but for me 2012 was a real high point. Taking over a large space at London’s Southbank, it was like an Aladdin’s cave of emerging design. The focus on work from recent grads made things bolder and braver than the more established shows like Tent and Designjunction, showing off some S&M-heavy furniture and Grace Jones-esque millinery. There was also some baffling performance art going on, which always makes proceedings a little livelier.
7. 2011: Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Textile Field
There are few things more hilarious than seeing well-to-do half-cut people kick off their stilettos and roll about on a huge carpet. But that’s exactly what the Bouroullec brothers managed to facilitate in their 2011 Textile Field installation at the V&A. The undulating piece encouraged visitors to let go of their shoes and inhibitions and roll about like kids again.
8. 2011: John Pawson, Perspectives
Collaborations don’t come much bigger than architect John Pawson, St Paul’s Cathedral and Swarovski crystal. In 2011 John’s Perspectives installation saw the largest ever lens from Swarovski suspended at the top of the 23-metre southwest tower of the cathedral to create a mirror image of the whole tower from the ground floor. A bewitching piece and a brave merging of new design with an iconic London landmark.
9. 2010: Stuart Haygarth: Framed
We love a colourful staircase here at It’s Nice That (see this incredible piece by Jim Lambie for the Royal Academy’s Summer Show this year), and so we look back with fondness to 2010’s Framed by Stuart Haygarth. The piece used materials by art framers John Jones to line one of the V&A’s entrance starlings. Colourful, fun and an innovative way of using materials.
10. 2010: Neville Brody’s Anti-Design Festival
Not quite the “fuck you” to the system that its name implied, this was very much a formal part of the LDF programme in 2010. While celebrating less established designers, it also showed work by the likes of Stefan Sagmeister and Simon Sankarayya. A personal highlight for us was Radlab at Redchurch Street’s Londonewcastle Project Space, showing a bonkers cornucopia of pieces and works in progress including those curated from an open-call that welcomed work from non-designers. More please!