And Design

D-FOR-DESIGNIn the midst of show after show of art and warehouse after warehouse succumbing to the charms of fine artists in Peckham, design remains noticeable by its absence. It seems design has taken up its usual place, playing second fiddle to art as it does in “Art and Design”. Where is the design? Where was the “Peckham pavilion” at the Milan furniture fair? Where is the Peckham branch of new designers? How many off-shots of London fashion week shows in the Bussey building? A curious state of affairs since arguably the catalyst for the current Peckham creative explosion was not a sculpture on the roof of the multi-story car park nor a painitng in a warehouse, but a piece of iconic design. I am of course referring to Peckham Library the most photographed and written about building in Peckham if not this side of the river. At its best design can captivate and stimulate as well as fulfill that common design student self delusion when asked why they wish to become a designer “to solve problems”; as opposed to becoming rich and famous which is probably closer to the truth of the matter. This was what was on Neville Brody’s mind in a recent interview.

Brody suggests over the past twenty-five years design has been in hibernation under a “great freeze” and that the graduates that have emerged are a “comfort and prestige generation.”

There’s no social contextualising at all going on. It’s about income and exposure.

The ongoing economic crisis has ended this compliancy, for the better according to Brody:

Well, the collapse of the economy does two things: it says that you’re not guaranteed that [income and exposure] anymore; and suddenly there’s a window of opportunity – I think the deep freeze has thawed.

This of course is not totally the fault of design students, the design industries are obsessed with constantly proving their economic value to business and the economy at large, as opposed to challenging the status quo and “solving” any problems. One shouldn’t really blame them I suppose, as the first thing to be cut during economic hardships is usually the design budget, which produces a fearful and eager to please design industry. With the cost of loans for further education and the government’s simplistic equation of university education = high wages, it’s no wonder the “comfort and prestige” mentality has persisted.

Perhaps a few design squats are in order, especially for fresh young things. Lettice Drake and Paloma Gormley are holding the end up for architecture with the campari structure to go along side the Bold tendencies exhibition, but where are the other design disciplines? Instead of trying to persuade H&M to replace the woolies as a recent facebook campaign unsuccessfully did, what about some young fashion designers taking over the whole space and unleashing their collections on the Peckham public? What would a great typographic solution have been like to the “I love Peckham” banners as opposed to artists Madeline Herbert and Leah Germann’s work? How much further would a talented product designer have taken the notion of street furniture, bollards and lampposts?

As Peckham library has proved, a great piece of design can have a huge influence on an area, it’s unfortunate Peckham has fallen out of love with those who can produce design. With an area associated with a number of “problems” they should be quite a lot for keen designers to “solve”.

I shall conculde with a few more choice words from old Nev:

The idea that the work we were doing could help change society, could help society for the better, and what we were doing wasn’t really about developing careers or ways to make money.

For twenty-five years graphic design has been purely commercial, and finally we’ve reached a place of amazing possibilities again. The elite systems that Regan and Thatcher put into place, which were the banking system and the major success of wall street and the city of London, those belief systems have collapsed in many ways, politics is different now the world is different now.


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