Why I'm not overly excited for Clerkenwell Design Week.
They set themselves up for this one. Why call it design week if it's just three days, which I should add, slot in the middle of the week, during the day, when most designers are busy working.
It really irks me that design festivals like CDW are so narrow in scope. They target people looking for "designer" things. Nice things to go in your nice new house. Nice things by nice designers, presented on a white plinth, like a sculpture. How does CDW differ from the Ideal Homes show?
People often write about the blurred lines between art and design. It was one of the areas that first attracted me to my degree. With art, there comes context, and with context comes a level of understanding between the viewer and the work. Art is intimate, created by the mind of an artist. Looking at their work, you reflect on what led them to produce such a piece. You are aware of how the work makes you feel.
Design, if it's to be put on a plinth, must also evoke emotions in real people, not just designers. Of course designers are going to appreciate a beautifully placed radius, but that alone is not enough. Design at it's best, is about story-telling.
I'm not asking, "Why design another chair?" because the answer to that is because you can sell one. I'm asking why let designers be known solely as people that make nice things, because actually, we do a lot more than that.
The RCA Summer Show is a fantastic example of an event which showcases innovation in all different areas of design. The students illuminate their designs with stories packed with tales of process, experimentation, and feedback. It is in these stories that design can be appreciated in all it's glory.
I've also been lucky enough to go to the Venice Biennalle, where they curate rooms with a mix of different disciplines of the art and design world. There are pieces for sale, but it's more subtle; less expo, more exhibition. Then for buyers, there are pop-up design boutiques too. I wonder if there's room for an event like that in London? Could CDW become London's Biennalle?
As I'm yet to foray into the world of "designer" goods, it may be very easy for me to sit here, criticising them. However, most of those designers have studied some form of design at college or university, where they learn that design isn't just about the end product. What happens between leaving university and entering the workplace that results in a paradigm shift in emphasis from means to ends?
I'd argue it must have something to do with commercial partners. If a client comes to a studio asking for a new chair, design may just become another marketing technique, a USP, if you must. Design is reduced to a mere label, like, "new, improved flavour" or "50% extra free".
Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" shows how ultimately, the creatives who stick to their guns succeed, and those who aim to please, fail. Whether this is as applicable to industrial design as it is to architecture, I don't know. "Selling out" is something people come across in all industries. Designing for the elite few who can afford to spend £1000 on a chair will always be a lucrative business, if you can break into it. However, I don't see why design festivals have to solely show this "designer" stuff. Maybe it's because it sells. Maybe it's because the real designers can't afford to exhibit their work.
I'm not saying that everything at CDW is going to be made by Starck-like designers, where they draw a nice looking form, work out how to make it, and churn them out. No. I'm concerned that designers/manufacturers that find themselves exhibiting at CDW are presenting their work like it has come from some divine moment of inspiration, rather than iterations stemming from observations. If they've been through a process of iteration and design for manufacture, why not show it?
I really hope I'm proved wrong. I hope there are objects destined for a life beyond Elle Decoration. I hope we see a picture of design used as a force for social change. I hope we see things that inspire, amaze and wow. We'll find out on Tuesday.
Edit: See my review of CDW here.