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The ninth annual London Design Festival (LDF) has just concluded. At the popular design festival only seven of the 250 event/exhibits featured graphic designs. That is less than three per cent focusing on the graphics area of art and design world. Why is that?

The LDF festival features high quality talks, exhibitions, product demonstrations and launches from the art world. It is supported by the V&A , Arts Council England and its main sponsor Mayor of London who embrace the appeal and increasingly international audience of design students, producers, buyers and cultural consumers. The festival has also drawn interest and sponsorships from some big sponsors, including luxury and global brands. Wouldn’t graphic artists seek that audience and exposure?

Popular Event

This year’s LDF had more than 300,000 eager people attend the array of events in the hosted London galleries, workshops, studios and online. The commercial opportunities for graphic designers seems so self-evident, especially when factoring in the additional opportunity of sharing and competing with professionals in your area of interest. Why then did graphic designers not capitalize on this excellent chance to be seen as a vital part of the arts world and major contributor in the wider societal economy and culture?

This small outfit, led by its deputy director, Will Knight, is in large part responsible for the Festival becoming a critical and international success in just under a decade, writes Alex Cameron.


Above: Geetika Alok’s design studio from GraphicBirdWatching’s ‘Design Walk’

Designers Need To Step Up

It is essential that graphic artists seize opportunities like the LDF to gain additional attention and relevancy in the artistic community. Only by engaging with other creative industries and the broader public, can graphic design be seen as more than a commercial poster making enterprise. It is in the effort to publicly exhibit, causing the artist to reflect on their art form, does growth in the industry occur. Graphic designers need to continually be rethinking and differentiating what it is that makes you a graphic artist.

The lack of LDF participation may reveal a problem of professional status among graphic designers. Sadly, graphic artists may fear a lack of cultural or commercial recognition and relevance among industry and academia. But it shouldn’t be that way. London is a hub for some of the world’s best and most successful graphic artists. Their contributions are vital if graphic design is to receive its due respect. Graphic designers can share valuable insights into the past as well as the potential to shed light on the present and future.

Few Shining Examples

There were a three examples from the 2011 LDF that can serve as role models and be emulated in the future. The first was Kemistry Gallery’s tenth anniversary exhibition ‘Mind Over Matter: Alan Fletcher’s The Art of Looking Sideways,’ which demanded that we consider the creative process as much as the finished product.

The second exhibit was entitled, ‘Emerge’, which was a graduate showcase that put the ‘client brief’ at the centre of the students’ exhibition, arguing that the needs and requirements of others are central to the role of the graphic designer.

Lastly, ‘GraphicBirdWatching’ gave an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look into the workings of the graphic design studio. Once again emphasizing the details and artistry involved in the design process. Each provided their own way that the design community might engage with their audience in innovative and novel ways, rather than the mystifying ‘graphic design as art’ exhibitions we are used to.

As LDF organizer Will Knight put it, the LDF should be ‘challenging the design community to step up to the mark.’ Let’s hope next year that London’s graphic design community steps up to the opportunity and responsibility to propel graphic design further into the human consciousness.