What is the Design Festival like for a passing visitor on a short visit? How much can you see in less that 48hrs when the big events have not yet opened? How does London celebrate design?

The density of events in relation to the scale of the city felt slightly off-kilter. I found few daytime events on the 16th and 17th of September, despite the festival having started on the 13th. With 100% Design, Tent, Design Junction and Designers Block opening to the public on the 18th , I really had to scout the city to satisfy my curiosity.

LDF2014 _ Columbia Road

A Design Festival will necessarily ask the what-is-design question. In places, ‘design’ was just some intriguing complex 3d printed arty object bearing little relation to its host restaurant or shop. Established & Sons (Old Street) or Ink-Works showrooms (Columbia Road) were some of the highlights for me. Both had a background story and enough interesting pieces to talk about, touch and look at. There was something there about how product design meets art and graphic design. Both had someone on hand to tell you about the display, helping to make design accessible.

There was a bubble of activity in the Islington Design District, and Craft Central in Clerkenwell put on 3 different shows over a small area; the events were as much about the ‘making of’ as the finished products. There was a spinning theme running throughout, with large lathed pieces by Simone Brewster and turned paper objects by Pia Wüstenberg. It was a successful version of what the Salone Satellite was trying to do back in April.

L_D_F 2014. TotalFabrication @ Craft Central _ Pia Wüstenberg: Turned Paper Vessels L_D_F 2014. Tropical Noire @ Craft Central _ Simone Brewster

Some publishing mistakes made me stumble into exhibitions that weren’t quite ready. Around Old Street/Shoreditch a few places had started to celebrate, while others were offering post-work celebrations only; not much good for a daytime visitor like me. The Geffrye Museum’s show was opening soon. Is it a good idea for the smaller shows to compete with the big attractions rather than overlap?

I very much experienced the ‘trail effect’, trying to find open exhibitions behind the design beacons planted by the organizers. Shoreditch Design Triangle signs outside closed and uninviting doors did not deter my motivation to celebrate design and to experience the festival. Many bus rides and much walking rewarded me with a few surprises. I wonder if I better appreciated them because of the scarcity of events?

The challenge of the festival is to work with the dynamic of the city and its geography. If this major event claims to be a gateway to the London and British design scenes, then the Festival must crank up the celebration on the streets of London. There is more than enough design energy outthere to provide more to see and do from day one, outside of the big venues.

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