Design Junction was held in Kings Cross this year, a change of scenery from previous years. As we walked around the show, no obvious themes or trends jumped out. It was as in similar shows, that sustainability took pride of place. There was not a hint of plastic in sight, instead, designers embraced the natural world, using wood, hand-made ceramics and recycled bamboo. A few stand out pieces involved a company from Devon – Solid Wool – who use wool to create a rigid material that can be used to make dining room chairs, side tables and coasters. Sourcing the wool from their small market town had been easy since the manufacturing left and they found that the coarse wool from hill-farmed, upland sheep had dramatically lost its value in recent years. The result is Solid Wool. Think fibreglass, but with wool.
Another eye-catching stand was that of Jennifer Newman whose colourful and contemporary indoor and outdoor furniture brought a much-needed pop of colour to an otherwise quite muted show. Following on from sustainability, the studio is dedicating to sourcing and manufacturing within the UK, which each piece expertly crafted. “People say that my designs are like pieces of sculpture. I think that’s true – but they go beyond that, I hope, to be incredibly useful and practical too.” Jennifer Newman. It is a family business with her children and husband working together to create these simple yet fun and of course practical pieces. Working with hotels, businesses and homeowners, she brings quality materials and design to each of her projects.
It seemed that various companies took consumers advice on board and reacted by creating products with more feeling, products that have a positive impact on the planet and on humankind. However, the show felt smaller this year, it had less of a buzz. Could this be due to the impending Brexit?
In conjunction with the Design Junction, all the talks were held in the Everyman cinema around the corner, which felt comfortable and more intimate. The ones we attended were more of a discussion than a talk. Covering topics such as British Design, Brexit and exclusivity in the design world.
One such talk – New Voices in Design. Which was organised with Living Etc, the panel looked at how new voices from diverse backgrounds can be encouraged into the design industry. Speakers included: Eva Sonaike: Designer; Kevin Green: Co-Founder, STORE STORE; Ella Ritchie: Director, Intoart, an art and design studio that works inclusively with people with learning difficulties; Peter Ting: Ceramic Designer & Creative Director of Thomas Goode.
Each speaker looked into their personal journey into the design world and how the industry is rigged against people of colour, people with disabilities and people from poorer backgrounds. For all our advances the design world is still predominately white and male. Kevin Green, who co-founded STORE STORE brings children into the studio and introduces them to all types of art and artists, pushing them into a world they would usually not be permitted to be a part of. He states “we learn from the students, they end up teaching us”. Peter Ting touched on how the wealthier are usually more confident, they are invited into a world by parents, parents’ friends and teachers that have more access than the ‘average Joe’.
This stems back to universities, the rocketing price of admission alienates those from poorer backgrounds, with the criteria for scholarships that are available are near impossible to meet. As we get older it gets harder still, with white males usually running design fairs and talks they tend to pick from people they know or ‘favours for certain people’. African European designer Eva Sonaike, said there needs to be more representation higher up, similar to the Obama syndrome – what you see is who you’ll be. Sonaike has seen a shift over the past few years, where her prints and designs used to be called ‘tribal’ or ‘exotic’ they are now just beautiful, bright or printed cushions.
Most interesting of all was Ella Ritchie, director of Intoart that offers a studio space and tools to adults with learning disabilities. Ella said their needs to be more studios catering for different needs, there are huge waiting lists and not enough resources. She believes that their need to be more advocacy at top levels, but she was happy that people are having these conversations about diversity in art.
What we took from the talk was that we need to help designers who are least likely to get into design.