features
#112 / 2017
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20th-year editorial

State of the Creative

Relections from the London Design Fesival (LDF)

As the publisher of furniturelink, I've written articles and technical data to support emerging manufacturers of contemporary sustainable furniture for 20 years. I gathered much of the content from across North America and Europe by attending trade shows, exhibitions, factory visits and events such as the London Design Festival. With this historical and geographical perspective, I ensure furniturelink provides an overview of industry trends that day-to-day priorities often obscure.

Over the past two decades, I've seen a slow but steady decline in the number of emerging furniture designers and groups who exhibit innovative and original designs at trade shows. Museums, art centres and galleries also sponsor fewer designers. The quality of work on display, both aesthetically and technically, also declined, as derivative ideas increased.

I suspect the backsliding parallels a decrease in the quality and quantity of educational programs worldwide. In 1997 furniturelink endorsed author Patricia Pitcher's view of our world dominated by "technocrat" thinkers at the expense of "artist" (read creative) thinkers. Two decades later her insights take the shape of reduced enrollments in K-12 design programs, grade inflation and closure of celebrated furniture programs (including recently at the UK's Bucks New University and London Metropolitan University). The substitution of computer screens for production workshops in many post-secondary institutions has compounded the situation.

Without the hands-on experience of a multi-material, modern production facility, students miss the opportunity of technical knowledge, which helps translate ideas into practice. As American furniture designer and educator Scott Klinker reminded furniturelink readers in 2006, "students still have to be trained in making things; they just can't make images."

The London Design Festival both supports furniturelink's premise and confounds it. The larger "trade" exhibits offer less emerging furniture design talent, while many other festival participants display poorly executed products. Fortunately, a keenly juried Design Frontiers, graduate work from Kingston University and projects by Ineke Hans count among the notable exceptions.

The Kingston student work (below) includes some design and/or material/production decisions needing improvement. Still, exceptional design education practice that encourages experimentation (read making mistakes) was evident. The range of products on display encompassed everything from careful practicality to more playful outlandishness.

We need to support and expand on non-technocrat thinking, coupled with creative ideas and skillful execution. Otherwise the design profession will fail to continue to serve the needs of both individuals and society.

Evie Nelson — Serenity upholstered bench

* Encased by a hardwood frame the modular upholstered "tongues" of this bench "encompass the user, whilst allowing them to interact with a tactile object."

Grace Mitchel — Slot

* Designed to meet the needs of mobile apartment dwellers this flatpack leaning-shelf storage system, routed from a single sheet of laminate-faced plywood, comprises, hooks, shelves and various brackets.

Joe l'Anson — Close for Comfort Table

* The flexibility of this combination table and stools design and its steel and plywood construction makes it ideal for use in restaurants and caf├Ęs.

Dominic Postlethwaite — Crush

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This exploration of the crushed tube bending process resulted in a range of tables and stacking stools made using only steel tubing, plywood, glass (for tops) and bolts.

Ryan Christy — CW01 Chair

* Designed to "bridge the gap between office and communal spaces the armchair's modular reversable cushions (one can be used as a work surface) are held in place with an exoskeleton tubular steel frame.

Ella O'Toole and Georgia Risley — Pop Up

* Flat-pack stool made from transclucent 2mm polypropylene sheet that assembles using four coach bolts and a bungee chord.

Mathis Burmeister — Shelving 01-05

* This white oak and coated steel panels modular shelving system comes in short and tall units that can be adjusted with interconnecting shelves and added to over the long-term as the user desires.

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