Pentagram partner Domenic Lippa and his team have been designing the identity for the London Design Festival since 2007, making that bold red and white identity feel as much a part of the city during late September each year as rain, and the launch of a new chair. Below, he tells us about the challenges of creating something special and new every year within the constraints of a limited colour palette and a very higgledy-piggledy city.
“We created the first LDF identity in 2007. I’ve known Ben Evans since about 1998, when I worked on the millennium dome project, where he was one of the commissioning editors. After he left he set up an events company Live who I did print materials for, and I’d worked with John Sorrell too. Originally Ben got me to do a couple of typographic installations in 2005 and 2006, the first in the Truman Brewery and the other was a light projection on the Brompton Quarter.
“The original identity was designed by Vince Frost. Me and Ben were talking and he said “what do you think about our graphics?” I asked if I could have a think and get back to him, and went back with a presentation. What they’d done before was full of colour, and there wasn’t really a sense of what the festival is all about. Vince’s logo was very strong though so we anchor that in the top right hand corner. We went for the red and white, even though I support Chelsea and they’re the Arsenal colours…
“But red is the colour of London; the buses, the phone boxes and the pillar boxes. I said [to LDF] “you should own the colour red.” The brief was just to make it impactful, and in a way that’s never changed each year. It’s made very much collaboratively with Ben and John and the team, and it has to represent every aspect of design – furniture, fashion, graphics, game design…Anything reflective of one type of discipline is unrepresentative of what the festival’s about.
“LDF is an opportunity for London to have a voice and a presence. For the first one we did we used a very fractured typeface and built the theme around that. There are so many applications for the identity but they don’t have billions of pounds to spend on advertising, so you have to be quite clever with how the design has impact. That’s the essential commonality with the brief throughout the years – you have to produce something that punches through the visual clutter. You have to make a mark so the red becomes really restrictive in a way, as you’ve only got that to play with, but it enables me to develop themes and typographic approaches that are very bold and confident.
“We present our initial themes in January and develop it right until launch time. I present what I’m interested in or as a team what we’re interested in. It’s going to be seen by our peers and colleagues so we’ve got to be proud of it: never show anything you’re not willing to go through, as it’ll have your name on it. We start on the design for September the previous December, developing ideas and initial themes for the team to brainstorm. We might present one route or five, it depends on how we feel we’ve done.
“We move the project to different people in the team each year, as you can get snow-blind to using red again. Because of the change in designers every year the work never feels forced: we try and shift things around with how it looks. That’s my challenge, and it sometimes keeps me awake at night. One year we literally came up with a new idea the night before we presented it, and that’s the one they chose. That was “Be Bold, Make a Statement” in 2009. It was just as the recession was kicking in so we really pared it down and simplified it.
“The year before last we chose the theme “design is here there and everywhere”; if you look around at a door handle or light switch or phone it’s all been designed. The complexity of hosting a festival in this city is that it’s hundred of years old and not in particular zones or regions. That idea came of one of my designers Lucy Groom, who led the “lose yourself in design theme.”
“I think the least successful one for me was the second one we designed in 2008, I liked the visual on the website but that was about it. I love the 2011 one: when Lucy joined she was a CSM graduate and she came up with a design with a lot of folds, and when she put it into Photoshop it looked fake and all the angles became accidental. It was the accidents of the folds on that one, “Design is Everywhere” that I liked.
“By the time of the festival we’ve worked so closely on it we don’t want to see it! Sometimes we end up doing satellite projects though, like for last year’s Barber Osgerby V&A installation we ended up designing the promo brochure, or working on the Global Design Festival.
“The touchpoints for the identity like the bins and the brochure are hardworking things, but what I’ve always said is that the strength of the festival is the content and the surprises you might find. Some of the work is quite experimental or thoughtful or art based, and some is quite straightforward. You can go to a small event or an installation by Heatherwick that’s almost bespoke to the festival, and that’s interesting as it’s a representation of London design. It’s a striking platform they’ve created. The only problem is there’s never enough graphics.
“The challenges of working for a design festival like LDF is that it’s not a graphic design festival or an architecture festival, so that’s why it always comes down to typography. It’s hard to choose an image that defines the festival, that’s why we use graphic or typographic solutions as a neutral thread. The first challenge is the use of red, which I think is a healthy challenge to have, and the second is that it’s aimed at our peers and the public. That questions what design is, and what a design festival is meant to be. We can’t be too up our own arses.”