Design Connections: the best of the London Design Festival

Established in 2003, the London Design Festival is one of the world's most important annual design events and includes over 400 events and exhibitions staged by partner organisations across the design spectrum and from around the world. 

The British Council's annual design industry networking programme, Design Connections, offers directors and curators from design museums, centres and festivals around the world an inspiring and immersive introduction to the best of the London Design Festival.

Curated by our UK-based architecture, design and fashion department, the programme connects international leaders in design to key UK designers and organisations, paving the way for new global connections and collaborations between some of the world’s leading institutions.

The 2016 Design Connections programme took place between 19-23 September and reflected the breadth and diversity of the UK design sector. It included meetings with senior staff members of prominent galleries and museums, private studio visits with both emerging and established design practitioners as well key networking opportunities with international industry counterparts. 

We supported Janson Hews, Head of Programs at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, to attend Design Connections 2016. We cought up with Janson after the event. See below what he had to say.

Q1: Tell us a little bit about your background – from your role at London’s V&A Museum through to your current position at MAAS?

My interests lie in the areas of design, science and digital, particularly where these fields intersect. This curiosity regarding trans-disciplinary practice and the creative opportunities that it provides has greatly informed my background and subsequent career direct ion.

My background is in Industrial Design, where I worked for a number of years designing interiors and wayfinding solutions for a number of large Universities and Hospitals. I had a particular interest in research-led design, human-centred-design, Computer Aided Design (CAD) and manufacturing. 

Following this I then moved into design education, teaching Technologies and Applied Studies at secondary level across NSW, working across a diverse range of design disciplines and practices. What always excited me about design education was the diversity of disciplinary practice and fostering a sense of agency amongst students around how they can apply design to make real-world improvements to our lives. One teaching highlight was having a yr 12 student selected to display their Major Design Project at the Powerhouse Museum’s DesignTECH exhibition.

Drawing on my passion for both design and education, I entered into the field of Museum education, where I worked as Schools Manager at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. In this role I was was responsible for developing programs for the Museum’s newly opened Sackler Centre for Arts Education. One example included workshops which brought together the creativity and industry insight of the Centre’s artists in residence, the diversity of the collection and the creativity of audiences from students and families to design professionals. 

I then returned to Australia, taking on the role of Manager of Education Programs at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS). I am currently Manager of Partnerships and Festivals, where I am responsible for public programming across the Museum’s three sites. In this role I manage one of the world’s longest design running festivals, Sydney Design Festival alongside the Sydney Science Festival and the Sydney Mini Maker Faire. 

Q2: What do you enjoy most about designing public programs and festivals?

I think storytelling is one of the most compelling and personally meaningful means of engaging people in topics and issues. I really enjoy how design programs and festivals bring diverse communities together in the one place – whether design practitioners, the general public, design educators – to tell their stories, share insights, provocate and make connections. Encouraging this city-wide discussion is something that I really enjoy as Festival Director, where the role we have are as facilitators of conversation about and through design, helping foster dialogue between academic research, industry and our audiences. 

Design programs and festivals and occupy an important part of a city’s cultural and economic calendar. What excites me about producing these, are the opportunities they provide to critically shine a very public light on design through presenting interesting programs of contemporary commissions, exhibitions and public events.

The annual Sydney Design Festival is one such example of large-scale design programming that brings together Sydney and international design talent, new design ideas and approaches and 70,000 festival-goers for a 10-day, city-wide program of over 100 design events and exhibitions. In doing so it serves as a unique platform for design engagement, where some of the opportunities that most excite me around producing these include: 

  • Making design more accessible by engaging the public in new processes and narratives within current and emerging design practice.  
  • Showcasing the diversity and interdisciplinary approaches of Sydney’s designers and highlighting the cultural and economic value their practice brings to the city.
  • Highlighting the impact that design has on our everyday lives. 
  • Fostering a sense of public agency through and by design; and demonstrating first-hand the various ways design can be harnessed to affect real change  
  • Supporting and inspiring our future designers, makers, thinkers and innovators 

Q3: You’ve worked within the creative industries in both the UK and Australia. What are the similarities and differences?

Similarities

The UK and Australia enjoy strong creative industries sectors. Both are countries which value design – economically, socially, politically and culturally. Each share a positive attitude toward design-led innovation and the important role it places in society to improve our lives. The UK and Australia, both have a sense of cultural and creative identity that is design-driven, alongside shared notions of being innovative nations. 

The Arts in Australia employ more people than agriculture, construction or mining, where we have seen a significant shift away from a nation focused on the extraction of primary resources to a knowledge economy. The creative industries currently generate $50 billion for the economy. 

At the city level, London and Sydney each represent creative industries hubs. With a population of 4.6 million, Sydney is home to 40% of Australia’s creative industries sector. Design reflects its most significant area of growth, comprising just over a quarter of the sector’s state employment.

Both countries are using deign to effectively drive cultural and civic engagement. For example, introductions to the UK Architectural practice of Allies and Morrison, highlighted creative projects across the city, such as the proposed Olympicopolis, on the former site of London’s Olympic Park, forming an a new cultural district at London's Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. It will co-locate key cultural institutions such as new outposts for the V&A and Smithsonian museums, a 600-seat theatre for Sadler's Wells and a campus for the London College of Fashion. Design is being critically and creative used for sensitive and sustainable urban regeneration, which captures the essence of a particular institution, site and its history, its contextual setting, alongside responding to the new needs and aspirations of its ultimate stakeholders - the public. 

The experience confirmed that both the UK and Australia face universal design challenges such as resourcing, increasing complexity attracting sponsorship, rapid growth of urbanism, increased complexity of issues facing us, rapid technological and societal change and the increased importance of digital and sustainability in design. 

Furthermore, there is an increasing urgency within our environmental and architectural design practices, in response to the rapid urbanism and growth of our cities, particularly in our neighbouring regions in the Asia Pacific. Research into city planning and critical analysis of our future cities, towns and neighbourhoods has become an important development for the discipline. 

Differences

Where the creative industries differ as sectors between the two countries, are largely centered around scale, its value nationally, global presence and export, their diversity and range of design disciplines, history, manufacturing base and rates of growth.