Design City Conference

The Design City Conference featured internationally celebrated and influential speakers discussing ‘Design City’ and showing an insight into their work as part of this year’s DM16.Jason Bruges, Trapped in Suburbia, OH OK Ltd, Alexandra Wood, FIELD, and Peter Girardi from Warner Bro’s and shared their creative ideas, introduced by The Creative Review’s Patrick Burgoyne. Planit-IE Graphic Designer, Abi Allen, was inspired by all the speakers, and here are her event highlights.

To start the day, Jason Bruges shared his studio’s latest creations in place-making and lighting design – lighting design being quite an understatement – these fantastic inventions combine ground-breaking technology with huge creativity and resulted in playful, interactive installations. Looking at the theme of cities and place-making, one particular project stood out. Bruges’ 6.3m tall granite monoliths in Toronto have inset LEDs that react to light and shadows in real-time, casting shapes on the columns as people walk through the park. Not only did they provide the practicality of lighting, but they engaged with both people and their environment.

With a considerably smaller budget and fewer technicians to hand, the next speakers are closer to home and pioneers of community engagement. OH OK Ltd are a trio of makers and marketeers from Manchester who you may know as the brains behind the Pilcrow Pub at  Sadler’s Yard. A discussion between friends led to an incredibly successful project to build a pub from scratch – every bar stool, table, pump handle and tile has been handmade. The pub built by the people for the people has created a lasting sense of community; directly involving so many people who have come to cherish the place.

I’ll end with the duo from Trapped in Suburbia, Richard Fussey and Karin Langeveld, who spoke about their field of ‘Experience Design’. The graphic design studio create exhibitions with a focus on getting users involved. Karin began the talk by asking us to close our eyes whilst taking us back to one of her childhood memories: picture her walking through a large, uncomfortably quiet gallery – the only sound was her squeaky shoes – at the end was a huge grey speaker system, with a big red button next to it saying ‘compliment machine’; she presses the button only to hear [shouting] ‘YOUR AMAZING’. She explained how she never forgot that moment, and that the desire to create lasting experiences through design has stayed with her. Richard and Karin shared so many great projects, but one that stood out for me – as someone who loves the tactile quality of books – was a piece made for  the European Ceramics Centre. Part of the excitement of making the ceramics is seeing how they turn out after being fired – they might look amazing or they might fail. They tried to capture that experience, creating a book, like clay, that wouldn’t be ready until it’s been in the oven. The thermostatic inks of the writing would only appear when heated, and the cover was made from a thin layer of clay so, if you weren’t careful, it would break!

Karin quoted a Chinese proverb “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand”.

All the speakers, whatever discipline, showcased the real power of design – exciting, confusing, and pioneering as it can be – and how getting people engaged with design can provide unforgettable experiences.

DM16 is Manchester’s festival of design, with talks, exhibitions, workshops, films, a design fair and parties in venues across the city.  Their headline activity is DM, the annual design festival for the city, which takes place every October and is now in its fourth year.

Written by Abi Allen, Graphic Designer