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July 23, 2005

How can this many design events succeed?

I frequently warn of the dangers that lie ahead for the organisers of design conferences, trade fairs, festivals and biennials. A growing number of me-too events is competing for our attention, and there's a real danger we'll all switch off. Since I last wrote about the subject a month ago, plans have been announced for a large event in Denmark called Index which pronounces itself to be 'the world arena for future design and innovation'. Unfortunately for Index, another ambitious biennial starting at about the same time in Gwangju, Korea, has similar global ambitions. And the theme for a full-blown world expo in Shanghai in 2010 promises 'better design, better life'. In Europe alone, biennial type design projects are happening or being planned for Lille, Brussels, Glasgow, Liege, Newcastle, London, Lucerne, Berlin, and St Etienne. It feels to me as if we need the equivalent for design events of the Bureau of International Expositions that in 1933 brought order to the unsustainable proliferation of World's Fairs. Pending that, one strategy is to go for rarity: the Critical Computing Conference in Aarhus, Denmark, only happens every ten years - a stately tempo that should ensure a more thoughful, long-term discussion than is usual in this febrile industry. Another success factor is to 'keep it live'. When choosing where to go, I far prefer events, encounters and conversations that are rooted in a particular place and time. These are always fresher and more dynamic than pre-cooked exhibitions and ponderous award ceremonies.

Posted by John Thackara at July 23, 2005 08:33 AM


Go for rarity or go for smaller.

I've tried to make Design Engaged the complete opposite of large conferences: about 30 people, spending most of three days together, some of it in groups of about six; only one day of presentations, at just fifteen minutes each. DIY conferences are cheaper, more constructive, and more fun than those big cattle-calls.

Posted by: Andrew at August 1, 2005 06:22 PM

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