A Focus on Sustainable Design at London Design Festival

The annual London Design Festival is soon to start. In 2018, design and many types of products (particularly of the plastic variety) have been making the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

A growing number of citizens, supported by various media, are increasingly questioning the need for many types of products, the design of them and their own consumption habits (more from an environmental lens, less ethical I would say at the moment). So with this in mind, I thought it would be interesting to have a quick rummage through the guide to see what it has in store.

I’ve visited London Design Festival for a number of years. Before I lived in London, I would try to combine visiting friends with a quick visit and survey of some of the latest sustainable design and eco trends. Now, living just outside London in Reading, it’s still good to plan ahead.

“See if you can combine as many good things and things for good, in one day (impossible I know).”

A few years ago I actually found the time to put together an overview of sustainability related exhibits at London Design Festival. Handpicked talks, workshops and designers that looked to be ones that might spark an interesting sustainability debate, environmental angle or dig deeper into the responsibilities of design. Ones not just churning out more pretty shiny stuff….

Anyway some people found it quite useful (including myself) so I’ve finally got round to again make a starting selection focusing on Sustainable Design at London Design Festival.

A Material Based Design World

When we look at materials, their flows, uses, relationships we have with them and the values behind them. Ultimately the products they become and we use.  A particular favourite area of mine is sustainability.

Where better than to kick off out the box design explorations than in a box, shipping containers to be precise, at the new Open Cell  studio and biolab space for early stage startups and designers.

At their Biodesign Here Now open days from the 19th to 23rd, you can browse a range of 70 experimental studios to learn about Biodesign, the future of materials, manufacturing, architecture & fashion.

It’s the home to Biohm a really interesting design and reasearch consultancy that I’ve been lucky enough to work with in the past. Their growing team is experimenting with sustainable and future materials, particular in architectural use and of the mushroom variety.

” Their Philosophy…allows nature to lead innovation in the construction industry to create a healthier and more sustainable built environment.”

They and Chip[s] Board will be just two of the design, material  focused businesses utilising industrial byproducts also joining Material Driven at Makerversity for a Material Explorations: Waste Streams talk on the 20th of September.

I ran into Chip[S] Board at last years Design Festival where they caught my eye when they were part of the great Manufactory working exhibit at Spitalfields from Kingston School of Art. Since then they’ve really progressed with their business, joined the Central Research Laboratory (Hardware Accelerator and Coworking space who will also be exhibiting there) and are beginning to win a number of sustainability awards.

Off-Cuts: Design, Art & Making for a Sustainable Future – 15th & 17th to 22nd. Smallbone of Devizes are hosting workshops to celebrate its 40th year under the theme (love the title) ‘Material Consequences‘ –  looking to nature to create a sustainable future and exploring our relationship with materials.

Although I’m not particularly a fan of marketing along the lines of “Worlds First” & “Eco Luxury” as people jet in to experience it, this could be an interesting one to see just what the ‘World’s first 3D Printed Store made by Robots using Recycled Plastic ‘ entails. It’s with Bottletops who specialise in handbags from ring pulls supporting artisans in Africa. Visit their flagship store in Regents Street.

Have you seen the increase in those Nitrogen Oxides Capsules on our streets? Well the URBAN FORAGER is using these for an installation that focuses on questioning waste, materiality and consumption. No laughing matter! (15th to 23rd September).

Headacross to Brixton where the Remakery is hosting the ReuseLab and Upcircle the Ecocube. Just some of the places showcasing their sustainable designs, repair and rethinking approaches.

Revisiting Our Relationship With Plastic

This year Plastic is taking centre stage at the London Design Festival as the Material of the Year: Plastic Beyond the Chipper showcasing the properties of this modern material and taking a more refined approach in its recycling and reuse.

“From industrial waste to plastic bags, the designers are melting, turning, printing and forming the material to imbue new worth and meaning.”

At the London Design Fair that combines Tent London and Super Brands London at the Old Truman Brewery from the 20th to 23rd of September, you can find the likes of Belgium recycled plastic children’s furniture designer Ecobirdy .

Generally this is one of the more varied and interesting larger design collection shows with a whole host of international and smaller local independent designers and studios. There are loads of exhibitors that caught my eye, such as this studio from Barcelona that caught my eye Nutcreatives , a showcase of the Design Research for Change showcase from the UK Arts and Humanities Council and Blue Patch promoting a marketplace for British made sustainable Design.

Selfridges will be featuring products and talks around the “Conscious Creators”  ( from the 7th of September to 17th of October). This includes products from the likes of recycled material experts into products Pentatonic (featured at Somerset House last year)  and ExoPixels Recycled Designs

Similarly, PlasticScene will be pulling together exciting design examples from recycled plastic or otherwise waste. Often when you have a problem (such as waste plastic) this can drive inventive ways to tackle it. Also producing desirable and leading examples of product design. Their hope is to inspire others to use this material.

What happens when one of the world’s largest software companies engages UK citizens and challenges its team and global clients to find solutions to plastic pollution and waste? Well at the Global Design Forum they’ll be Designing out Single Use Plastics  on Friday the 21st of September between 4 to 5pm. In the morning they have a special debate and knowledge share around “The Plastics Cloud

On a side note, National Recycling Week also falls at the same time……..

Discussions & Curation on Designs Role in Sustainability

Digital & Tech: Stop Designing for yesterday  – Tuesday 18th 6:30pm to 9:30pm. Futurice are  holding a talk outlining some of the key factors, and then running a short workshop to road test some new open source tools they’ve been developing.

Into Scandinavian design, ecoliving ideas and filling your house with greenery? Well Skandium will be transforming their four-storey Townhouse in South Kensington into  The Eco Townhouse. You’ll be able to visit from the 15th to 23rd. On the 20th their CEO will be giving a special talk on sustainability and responsibility in furniture design.

Looking at Sustainability through a wider lens, that of ethical and inclusive design, then there is behind the scenes stories from BBC2’s The Big Life Fix series “Designing Inclusively today”(on the 17th of September).

Others Events Spotted on the Edges

Of course you can get a healthy dose of design anytime, anywhere really in London, but in particular the Design Museum is always a great place to go. Latest and upcoming exhibitions in the sustainability realm include: Beazley Design of The Year, Design ChangeMakers: Conscience Consumption , AirWalk with Citizen Sense  and later on in November, Formafantasma discussing their work around E-waste.

The V&A have an ongoing exhibition Fashioned From Nature, exploring the complex relationship between fashion and nature from 1600 to the present day (quite a challenge I’d say).

“This exhibition presents fashionable dress alongside natural history specimens, innovative new fabrics and dyeing processes, inviting visitors to think about the materials of fashion and the sources of their clothes.”

While you’re there, well you most likely need to book in advance, there’s also the iconic artists Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up exhibition that aims to give a fresh perspective on her life story through her most intimate personal belongings in the first showing of the collection outside of Mexico.

At Somerset House the London Design Biennale  has started, with the theme Emotional States, showcasing work and talks from over 40 countries. Particular talks that caught my eye include:

Explore, Wander, Question and Enjoy

With such a lot to see and do, you’ll probably need a coffee (or two) and to keep hydrated. So, don’t forget to take a reuseable cup with you and flask. No doubt there may be even more designs of these on show. If you’re lucky you may even find one of London’s new water fountains to top up from.

Take a breather, try and walk, cycle in-between and take in the outside in the great parks around London! As yes we designers, we might try, but nature really is the best designer of all.


Please share other recommendations or I’d love to see, hear about any interesting sustainable designs you find. Follow and connect on Instagram for updates as well.

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