Could London retain its crown as one of the world's leading creative hubs? To see the best of what London had to offer I visited three exhibitions from Design Week: the largest trade fair, the hottest spot for new talents, and the cutting-edge Designersblock.

As trade fairs go, 100% Design is probably one of the better ones, but there is no hiding the fact that the show is becoming intensely commercial and is more about 100% sales than 100% design.

Peter Saville’s words were echoed by many: “So many of the products here seem to be the result of auto repeat with a random remix”.

Nevertheless,100% offered a great selection of designers to the trade and public, gave everyone an up-to-date vision of where commercial design is at right now and succeeded in providing a steady stream of contacts for enthusiastic networkers.

Chandeliers were certainly in vogue throughout the festival, and Sharon Marston’s cascading centrepieces were some of the best. “I think our work has a style which is very identifiable,” comments Marston.

“Our use of fibre optics as a decorative medium is almost unique, with very few designers working with the material in the way that we do. Add to this our use of handcrafted decorative pieces in hand-blown glass, folded polycarbonates and pleated nylon and I think the overall appearance is unmistakably ‘Sharon Marston’.”

Tom Dixon’s booth was impressive, featuring Angle, a cantilevered directional task light designed to slip under sofas, and hand-beaten brass Beat Lights reminiscent of Indian temple roofs. Dixon’s designs stood out as being clearly directional – the use of materials, and the balance of form with function, all gel to communicate his unmistakable style.

Winner of the 100% Design/Blueprint Awards Best New Exhibitor was Dutch company FOC (Freedom of Creation). Creative director Janne Kyttanen is considered one of the pioneers of digital manufacturing and believes this technology has the ability to do the same to products as digital information has done to for music, film and photography.

“I think the reason why there are not many designers using digital manufacturing currently is because of its costs and complexity,” said Kyttanen. “It works best for mavericks like me, who are willing to spend years creating new production logistics and supply chains. I have been involved with this for about eight years and I am still learning a lot every day.”

Like Milan Design Week, London’s Design Week is not only about 100% Design, the main trade exhibition. It is equally about the surrounding exhibitions and showcases that take place throughout the city. A sibling of 100% Design is 100% East, the place to be for young up-and-coming designers.

An initial walk around the main space showed an array of design styles, processes and design visions. Interactive multimedia and graphics displays, beautiful recycled cardboard laptop cases and wall screens.

Tazana’s eggshell lighting concepts designed by Suppapong Songsan of Thailand were a highlight. “We are striving to produce products that have a unique identity,” said Suppapong. “We blend modular design with Thai style, inheriting the uniqueness of handicraft skills whilst building a new line of product.”

IntheDetail, the collaboration between Stefan Bench and Carl Holloway, was well received, showing their hugely popular Trace Table and Ribbon Table. Bench, a product designer, and Holloway, one of the Midlands’ most respected architects, combine to create simple designs that show a true understanding of spatial awareness and finish quality.

According to Bench, their skills compliment each other. “The way in which we view design is quite different,” said Bench. “I tend to initially look at something, whether a piece of furniture or architecture, as a form or an object and this is what attracts my eye. I then begin to deconstruct materials and manufacture processes.

Holloway, on the other hand, reads an object in terms of space, structure and materials, assessing the elements that go into producing the form. It is these two different approaches of critically analysing our design work that ensures all angles are covered in the design process.”

Fledgling company Jåfor, started by Welsh designer Julian Sykes, takes sustainability seriously. “Social observation is really the ethos for Jåfor,” said Sykes. “I think that product design in all of its forms should really help people live, and I believe that product design should have some basis in sustainability.

"We should either go down a route where objects can be recycled with very little or no wastage, or alternatively we should try to produce design that is timeless and people will keep for their lifetime.”

Pushing the boat out for London in terms of cutting-edge design was Designersblock. With a distinct lack of funding available for London Design Festival programs outside the 100% umbrella, Designersblock relies on alternative funding, an amazing network of contacts and the endless hard work of founders Rory Dodd and Piers Robinson.

Designersblock strives to create stimulating environments that encourage dialogue, integration, public response and, for exhibitors, the opportunity to build sales and manufacturing and distribution contacts. It also fosters creative working partnerships and provides the opportunity to gather responses from a viewing public outside the usual design circles.

Designersblock held their London exhibition in a dilapidated old building donated by the London City Council. It provided the trademark rustic industrial feel that Designersblock is famed for.

“We get people to work with the space,” said Dodd. “It’s not just a white cube. A lot of visitors to our show want to import things or buy things, but a lot of people want to work with someone. People get weird outcomes from our shows.”

There were plenty of notable products on show at Designersblock. Sang Jin Lee’s Fan Lamps were unique and striking in their simplicity; Link’s Mag Stool, designed by Jun Tase, was a favourite amongst the public; and John Wischhusen was one of the few designers who tackled time pieces.

Wischhusen looked at how clocks can be distorted and dissected into three dimensions, aiming to capture the preciousness of mechanical clocks whilst still using the ubiquitous quartz movement. Wischhusen was also involved in a joint project with Soner Ozenc to create a luminescent butterfly night-light that gives a soft diffused glow from its wings.

Ozenc exhibited his Time Curtain, too, which focuses the mind on how we view time in lives that are so dictated by it. “With Time Curtain you literally pass through time, leaving the past behind,” said Ozenc.

London designer Patrick Laing showed some of his latest personal and collaborative projects, including the Verity couch and bed. “The Verity couch and bed are two flat pieces of fabric stitched together and filled with polystyrene beads – only enough beads for one function,” Laing explained.

“When your friend comes over to stay, the bed is simply pulled from behind the couch and the beads flow from one to the other.” Laing has designed various other toys that work along the same lines, offering interactive enjoyment and mental stimulation to users of all ages.

Laing also presented his Indoor Sundial, Zoe(trope) Light Shade and New Tack, a convex rather than concave steel thumb tack. Possibly Laing’s most commercially successful project to date is his collaboration with Rude designer Abi Williams. Together they have created Love is Blind, a selection of window blinds that will retail at multiple high street chains.  
 

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