Cheltenham Design Festival 2013

Now in its second year, the Cheltenham Design Festival 2013 boasts a heavy weight line-up of speakers, open discussions and workshops which according to the website aim to “celebrate how original thought can change the world”. From 11th -14th April, the leafy Gloucester town of Cheltenham Spa better known for its Gold Cup, brings together creative thinkers from across all design disciplines and “shows the importance of creative thinking not only in our daily lives but also in assuring our future”.

On Saturday evening we made the trip up the M5 from Bristol to Cheltenham and the rather magnificent Parabola Arts Centre for an open discussion chaired by BBC journalist and radio presenter Fi Glover. The question up for discussion was ‘Does Good Design Make Us Happy?’ and sat next to Glover on the yellow sofa were some formidable figures from the world of design. Deyan Sudjic OBE Director of the Design Museum London; Neville Brody arguably one of the most influential British graphic designers of the last 40 years, professor at the RCA and president of the D&AD; David Constantine MBE co-founder of Motivation – a charity which sets up self sustaining projects projects in developing countries and Sir John Hegarty, co-founder of British ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) London (you can read more about him in our previous article ‘Pitch Perfect’) and president of the Cheltenham Design Festival.

The event was a sell out with only a few empty seats in the Parabola Arts Centre auditorium. After a brief introduction, Sir John Hegarty opened the discussion with Pocket, a fantastic example of how architectural design can influence people and the local community in a positive way. The conversation moved quickly onto the use of the word ‘Good’ in the context of the question with Constantine suggesting that it was not about good or bad, but rather “appropriate” design. Hegarty picked up the baton by suggesting that there has to be “integrity or truth as the basis to any good idea” and that every creative must have a “creative philosophy” and a belief to their work for it to succeed.

What makes something ‘Good’ or not is hard to define and what may make for a good or well designed product may have very negative effects on people/environment. Sudjic raised the point and as an example, suggested that although the Klashnikov was and ingenious piece of design it had also caused untold harm and damage since it’s conception. The argument could also be applied to major brands such as McDonalds. McDonalds, as Brody pointed out, have done very well in designing their packaging, interiors and advertising to help sell their products and the ‘Golden Arch’ experience but the results of which have been pollution of natural habitats and child obesity; “It comes down to morals as to what brands we choose to work with and which we don’t” said Brody.

“As humans, we think through our heart” said Hegarty, who rightly pointed out that as emotional beings, we will always require a connection with objects. In a digital era, there is still a need for analogue objects/devices. These are the sorts of designs that we build emotional attachments with. As Brody pointed out, “obsolesce is something which is now built into design” and there is no longer a sense of renewal and repair as everything is increasingly shut off to us. There is therefore, a risk of “genrifying” everything to the point where everything ends up looking the same. The talk was concluded with a twenty minute Q&A which I’m sure could have gone on for hours with arms still left hanging at the call of ‘time’.

However engaging I found the discussion to be, an hour simply wasn’t long enough to explore the theme. On a topic as wide as this, the panel and audience needed days, not 60 minutes to come to any sort of real conclusion. With so many great minds on a single sofa, it was a shame we couldn’t go a little deeper but time permitted us from doing so.

If this is what Cheltenham Design Festival has to offer, I’ll certainly be returning next year and with glowing reviews from other events across the 4 days, look to take on a handful of talks. If you’d like any more information on the Cheltenham Design Festival you can visit the website here or follow along on Twitter.