London Design Festival: Meet Detroit Design Festival
On the eve of the 2012 Detroit Design Festival, a very well-read design blog criticized the London Design Festival (LDF) in one post and celebrated the Detroit Design Festival (DDF) in another. Seeing that we have often looked to LDF for inspiration for planning DDF, it was surprising to read, and it got us thinking about our own festival’s strengths and weaknesses.
The Core 77 post suggests that the 2012 LDF is too commercial and focuses too squarely on furniture. While a quick glimpse of the LDF guide indicated to me that the events are actually much more diverse, I can see that there is certainly a greater emphasis on commerce than creativity.
But of course commerce and creativity need not be separate. In many senses, one cannot exist without the other, as Kevin McCullagh does point out in his post:
“Commerce is integral to design, but we should demand more imagination and innovation from it and the festival organisers. Design weeks need rethinking for new times.”
Design can be pretentious, accessible only to the elite. In our benchmarking here at DC3, we have found that many high market/strong economy/alpha cities around the world have embraced this rather exclusionary view of design to position themselves as the next London or Milan. More power to them for identifying their strengths and going for the gold. In Detroit, however, we believe that good design does not have to be pretentious and it can be accessible to everyone. And what better place to celebrate accessible design than the birthplace of the middle class, the arsenal of democracy, the world’s great incubator of revolutionary ideas and movements in the design and creative sectors?
We established the Detroit Design Festival as an opportunity for Detroit-based designers and creative practitioners to share their work with national and international audiences. The design festival platform was appealing, as it presented a loose international network from which we could learn, benchmark and engage. Nonetheless, a highly-commercial design festival featuring unattainable designs in a city and region facing deep social and economic challenges would be quite sarcastic, to say the least. As such, our team needed to go deeper in developing a Detroit-version of the design festival platform. We needed to craft something that would be an equal part of deep community engagement and an equal part of celebrating the unique Detroit aesthetic.
With this framework in place, the Detroit Design Festival became part of a solution to a problem facing many older, industrial cities: how do we meaningfully connect the broader community to good design in a way that can challenge, inspire, transform neighborhoods and transform economies? Democratic engagement reaching broad and unexpected communities must be valued and encouraged. Expectations must be high, but barriers to entry must be low and affordable. Corporate partners are encouraged to engage, but must be connected to the community so they can work together to showcase strong design. In this way, emerging designers are supported in cultivating business relationships. We are creating platforms for them to share work with an international audience before they have reached the peak of their success, showcasing their talent before the media has- while their resume may only feature their own talent and not a list of accolades, yet.
This is how DDF works: we invite Detroit’s design and creative communities as well as citizens at large to propose festival happenings via a portal on our website. They tell us what kinds of support they might need, whether that is a venue, a little funding, or some volunteers. If others want to get involved with DDF but don’t want to plan an event, they can pledge support to help others with their events. We work behind the scenes to match happening initiators with the support they need, encouraging peer-to-peer communication so that everyone feels like they own a piece of the festival. Emerging designers and non-designers are encouraged to participate and many are accessing the design world for the very first time.
It could be as simple as a neighbor looking to improve his or her block, so they host a collaborative design project to get their fellow community members thinking about how they can improve streets, safety, and quality of life overall. At the same time, we encourage the region’s design and business leaders to showcase the best commercial design Detroit has to offer. The College for Creative Studies, AIGA, AIA, and many other design organizations and institutions are all taking part.
So in the way that we have learned much from experiencing and observing the London Design Festival, we humbly wonder if London and other world design festivals might have a little to learn from us. In an age where not just Detroit but many international cities are grappling with economic change, industrial decline, and social issues, we believe a community-curated and supported design festival cultivates the highest level of design innovation that meets the needs of citizens, not just consumers. And through this, we are seeing some very dynamic acts of creativity emerge.
To learn more and attend this week’s festival events, please visit www.detroitdesignfestival.com.
(Authored by DC3 Director- Matt Clayson, Associate Director- Bethany Betzler, and Program Coordinator- Jakki Kirouac.)