About This Festival
Created in 2003 by two of the Britain’s greatest design advocates, graphic designer Sir John Sorrell and former political campaign consultant Ben Evans, this enormous, innovative festival celebrates London as the global capital of design. Held over nine days in a wide variety of cultural venues, public spaces and business establishments, the LDF presents over 200,000 attendees a rich opportunity to experience London from a prism’s worth of perspectives.
Partnering with local advertising and design firms, galleries, schools, retailers, hospitality-based businesses, government councils, corporations and charitable organizations, the festival stages more than 300 lectures, panels, pop-ups, workshops, installations and art exhibits. The mood throughout the festival tends to be relaxed, friendly and open, with participants united in a desire to promote the history, present and future of design.
Global Design on Display
Though the festival is resolutely centered in London, many of its events focus on design around the world. In the past, exhibits have been dedicated to subjects as disparate as the history of Turkish ceramics; fabric designs inspired by Bollywood movies; and contemporary furniture made in several African countries. Other exhibits have been content to dwell in the UK, like a thought-provoking exploration of furniture design that considers the sustainability of British hardwoods.
Large-scale installations called Landmark Projects are set up in large public areas, generally outside of museums or in public squares. These splashy set-ups tend to be assigned to designers who make London their home, but originally hail from elsewhere. For instance, in 2007, the year the Landmark Projects were introduced, the geometric curl of “Urban Nebula” was created by Dame Zaha Hadid, an architect almost as famous for her designs as for her Iraqi heritage. Famous designers are also called upon to create a variety of smaller-scale projects each year, from dolls’ houses to jewelry, that are displayed at retail establishments and eventually auctioned off in support of various charities.
The festival also offers a particular allure for design students and recent graduates from schools around the world. There are tutorials for assembling and presenting portfolios, presentations made by prospective employers, and stars from almost every design discipline tend to give talks about their careers and/or seminars on their areas of specialty.
Five Senses’ Worth of Events
Some of the festival’s exhibits and installations invite you to be a mere spectator, but there are others that demand your participation. There might be a seemingly endless network of inclines that beg to be scaled, or a huge floor game with artist-made marbles that you simply can’t resist. Workshops will encourage you to try your own hand at product design, using materials like pen, paper, plastic, rubber and more, or learn how to operate a traditional hand-cranked letterpress.
Affiliated pop-up shops and refreshment areas, well, pop up around the city. Shops generally highlight the work of London-based craftspeople, selling everything from housewares to fashion accessories to children’s toys. Touching is often encouraged, especially where soft furnishings are involved. Giving your sense of taste a workout, refreshment areas tend to be wholly interactive advertisements for existing restaurants, hotels, clubs and beverage brands, and offer opportunities to take a load off and linger in London’s legendary parks as well as other scenic spaces.
Open your ears to audio displays, like a jumble of state-of-the-art stereo speakers, or settle into auditoriums and theaters to hear a wide assortment of industry vanguards, from urban planners to photographers to heads of branding agencies, hold forth on the challenges and opportunities in designing products, campaigns, neighborhoods and more.
For kids (and their adult companions), there are events that might just find you using all five senses at once. You’ll find ingenious art workshops, pantomimes (which is really just a British word for “stage plays”), bakery pop-ups, toy design exhibitions and more.
Up, Down and All Around
One of the most exciting aspects of the London Design Festival is its breadth of venues. Major tourist hotspots like The Victoria & Albert Museum, Trafalgar Square and the Tate Modern get in on the action, as do lesser-known attractions like Guildhall Yard. You'll see installations of light and three-dimensional artwork in various Tube stations, and have the opportunity to visit design meccas like the Building Centre, as well as influential retailers like design emporium Conran’s.
The festival also invites visitors to explore London’s “design districts,” which contain heavy concentrations of design-themed businesses. These districts can be found in West London (Brompton, Chelsea, and Fitzrovia), Central London (Clerkenwell) and East London (Shoreditch). While each district is full of design-theme attractions, Shoreditch is the most richly-condensed area to participate in the festival, with block-by-block clusters of galleries, showrooms and shops. Also here is the unique, historical Geffrye Museum of the Home, which, like the festival itself, explores the designs we’ve lived with and improved upon throughout the last few hundred years.