London Design Festival through a South African’s Eyes

Over 350,000 people representing 60 different cultures attended the London Design festival, and everyone who visited experienced it differently. With over 300 events throughout the festival, all exhibiting design that is an assault on the senses, there are limitless opportunities to experience design.

Being a South African, and seeing the creativity through the cultural lens of someone accustomed to different styles, budgets, timeframes and context, provides an entirely unique perspective on the festival.

Juxtaposition of Traditional vs. Modern

London design is all about marrying old with new. London is a city with a huge amount of history, you can see this in its century old buildings and art works. Old brick structures next to new glass buildings. Traditional art next to experimental design. The Victoria & Albert museum, which served as the hub of the festival (pictured above), provided an excellent platform to showcase the English style of contrasting old with new.

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Culture vs. Culture

South African design uses juxtaposition as well, and in an entirely different way. Popular South African design celebrates our different cultures that live and breathe within the nation; Xhosa and Zulu and Afrikaans are put next to each other to create eclectic, colorful design.

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Pure Design vs. Contextual Design

South African and London design differ in fundamental ways as well as in the aesthetic.

English graphic designers are primarily male, while South African’s are mostly women. In London, design is viewed as academic as much as it is creative, where as in South Africa, the theory behind the design is not as valued as such. London design is incredibly considered and planned out whereas in South Africa style is eclectic and diverse and messy in a good way.

The largest fundamental differences between the two lie in the resources available to each country. This is the most shocking difference that a South African will notice at the London Design festival. Everything is done on a blue sky scale. Designers have huge budgets and long stretches of time to explore and experiment. It’s not unusual for a designer to get funded for a year at a time to explore a design concept. The Candela pictured below was a huge exhibit, using traditional and cutting edge materials to show the standard unit of luminous intensity on a large scale.

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In South Africa the luxury of time and budget to create massive projects like this do not exist, designers must often work out of very small budgets with little time. This results in the use of resources in an out-of-the-box creative and innovative way. The majority of South African design focuses on using materials and budgets towards solving societal problems. In a country with a developing economy it is important to use limited resources to advance economically, socially or politically.

In London design exists for designs sake; in South Africa most design cannot exist without a purpose. South African design is always full of meaning and context.

All of these fundamental differences can easily be seen when looking at how the different styles each manifest themselves. England with pure, clean minimal design aesthetic and South Africa with contextual, raw design.


Circular Influence of Design

London design may be very different from South African design but it’s inspiring to see how we can influence each other despite the differences. For years South Africa has looked to the rest of the world as leaders in design. The large-scale, innovative designs in London have and will continue to inspire us. But now it’s time for London and the rest of the world to turn to South Africa for something they may be missing – meaning and context behind every design. We have seen this borrowed by the maker’s movement and in the changing goals of the D&AD to focus on sustainability through design (The white pencil award). We hope to see it throughout many new design projects across the world. Design inspiration has come full circle. South Africa is being looked at as the next, fresh, inspiring design capital. The London design festival showcases striking design but it also shows us that we can all influence and inspire each other.


By Nix Harwood and Shelby Szuba


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