Experiencing one of the major design festivals of the world can often be overwhelming when one’s design sensibilities are so deeply rooted in the demands of the developing world. Simply put, we have fewer resources, and even if resources weren’t a problem, we have limited access to the latest materials and technology. So, we have to think on our feet. But keeping a watchful eye on First-World design trends means we can anticipate the future needs of the people that will actually be interacting with the spaces we design. Because inevitably, we do learn something from every emerging trend.
Our major take out from London Design Festival 2018 was how important it is for a brand to be flexible – and to change with its customer. But over the course of days 4 to 6 – when we had gotten over our initial flurry excitement and were able to see through the razzle-dazzle – we began to pick up certain patterns. So, without further ado…(cue drumroll)
1. Conscious consumerism
On day 4 of the festival, we became very aware of the role that materials play in the customer’s decision-making when choosing a brand. Mindful materials – whether repurposed or biodegradable – were status quo at LDF 2018, but nowhere more so than at the 100% Design exhibition.
Real leather, which, unlike plasticky “vegan leather”, has a far less adverse impact on the environment, for instance. What also became clear – for better or worse – was that natural cork was making a comeback. And wherever we saw plastic, it was repurposed or recycled, and mixed into other materials for strength and durability. But despite the impact of wabi-sabi sensibilities on current and upcoming design, it wasn’t all dry muesli, weatherworn patinas and pastel pantones. Bold colours are coming back in a big way, most notably in the form of colour blocking.
2. Revisiting tradition
Dazzle, that flamboyant design remnant from World War II that prevented enemy submarines from spotting ships painted in zigzag patterns, was the most stand-out feature at the V&A Museum, where we also saw a lot of architectural mazes.
The interplay of bold graphics and palpable textures stood out to me here and reminded me of the important role that both of these elements have to play in creating a tangible experience – something more than you can find on Instagram – rather than a striking space that relies solely on its visual impact.
3. Celebrating the ordinary
Without expecting it, the Bürstenhaus Redecker Museum put a smile on my face in such an effortless way. In its celebration of ordinary, everyday objects – from paint brushes to brooms to basic kitchen utensils – the museum urged us to look at these objects with a fresh pair of eyes, as if seeing them for the first time.
Looking at a wooden spoon, for instance, you realise just how beautifully designed it really is and that, through its functionality, it becomes even more beautiful.
4. Modular living
Think Ikea. As living spaces grow smaller and smaller – particularly in Europe and Asia – the demand for furniture that, with a few small modifications, can double up as something else (like a storage box to a bed base) is growing bigger and bigger.
There’s nothing new about the concept of stackable objects as furniture, however, although the demand in South Africa has not really been that high considering that we still have more space to ourselves than our European cousins.
But where modular living’s greatest appeal used to be its clever space-saving tactics, the appeal of flatpack furniture has increased in recent years with the rise of the millennial generation. Not only is it practical, easy on the eye, and impermanent (requiring less of a commitment), it is also affordable. And that, ladies and gents, means that modular living – at least for the foreseeable future – is here to stay.
5. Experience design
One of the best things about attending design festivals is that there’s always a healthy dose of experimentation to behold. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of it’s crap. But in amongst the plethora of bad ideas, you get some real gems. I found an absolute stand-out example of successful experimentation in Shoreditch. The area has always had a good energy about it – open to new ideas and trying new things. Although a lot of that energy is shifting to areas like King’s Cross and South Hackney, Shoreditch still has a few tricks up its sleeves.
During LDF 2018, a lot of the area’s designers collaborated with installation artists to create truly new and different experiences. The custom-designed, lightweight luggage brand, Stop Drop and Roll, for instance, created an experience where they combined luggage with a Japanese tea ceremony. Odd, admittedly, but somehow it really made sense. But by creating these unexpected moments, the brand is made all the more memorable.
Not all brands benefit from way-out concepts and wacky ideas, but too many South African brands play it far too safe; missing valuable opportunities to really connect with their customers.
As with all things, finding the right balance is crucial. All brands have a sweet spot – that place where the customer feels, “Wow, they really get me.” The trick is catching your customer by pleasant surprise without being so random that they turn around and run for the door.
For more information on how we can help you reimagine your brand, get in touch with Tanya Manterfield at firstname.lastname@example.org.