The inside scoop on the London Design Festival

Ben Evans, co-creator and director of the festival, tells us how it all started and what to see this week

The London Design Festival is now in its 14th year and we've built it up to be one of the two biggest design events in the world, alongside Milan.

When we started, there was a fair bit of design activity in the city, but it was not joined up – it was dispersed and the voice of design was struggling to be heard. There was no single platform, no point of momentum.

Our festival began as the result of a conversation between the designer John Sorrell and I. We'd seen what fashion weeks and art fairs and film festivals could achieve – design was dear to both of us and we felt London needed a similar type of event. So we went round and tested out the idea. We asked the design community: if we started a design festival, would you take part? And everyone said yes.

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London had strong design infrastructure at that time – good schools, museums and organisations. We were unknown, but they were very well known, so their participation gave us the initial leverage we required. In year one we hosted 30 events; by year four we were up to 250 and now it's 450.

Today, there is a super-tanker momentum behind the London Design Festival. We clearly untapped a reserve – there was a desire to do something, and all that was needed was people like us to kick-start it.


This week, there will be some 2,500 studios and businesses showing at the festival. Most things are for sale, so you can buy a teaspoon or you could commission a house – it's literally possible to buy everything to do with design there. What we've found over the years is the people who commission a lot of the work are not design professionals, but ordinary consumers – they want a new dining room table and instead of buying something from a store, they go and find a designer who can make one for them. It's an astonishing thing: the confidence we see people show about design.

Our role is to help you navigate what is on show. There's a free guide you can pick up from many participating venues and there's a website and apps, so that wherever you are you can find what's nearby to you. We want to help you discover not only the things you want to see, but also the things you don't yet know you want to see.

Ben Evans's top five picks for this week at the London Design Festival:

1. The London Design Biennale at Somerset House We have a sister event going on called the London Design Biennale. It's an evolution of the main festival, so we're not just getting individual designers and brands to talk about themselves but countries too, through a design perspective. So until 27 September, you can see 37 countries presenting their view of design at Somerset House. Unmissable.

2. Activity at the V&A We've had an eight-year relationship with the V&A where we are able to go in and play in their building to create a programme of activity. This includes a series of major commissions we exhibit in galleries and spaces throughout the museum. The V&A is the hub venue for the festival, the epicentre.

3. The Smile by Alison Brooks at the Rootstein Hopkins Parade Ground at Chelsea College of Arts This is one of our landmark projects – I've actually just been down and opened it with the US ambassador. Working entirely with American hardwood, architect Alison Brooks has constructed a work that looks like a giant smile, 111.5ft long. You can go inside it – it's a wonderful tube.

4. A visit to the Shoreditch Design Triangle There are 40-plus design studios, events and retailers all open together within walking distance of each other. Shoreditch is one of our design districts and it's through these we try to make sense of the geography of the city. We have eight different districts in London where there are clusters of activity for the festival, so they're easy and quick to see.

5. London Design Fair at the Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane The whole of the Old Truman Brewery site is taken over by hundreds of design businesses and you can just wander round. This is one of four major design destinations we have at the festival.

BEN EVANS is the director of the London Design Festival and, together with Sir John Sorrell, founded the event in 2003. The London Design Festival takes place at venues throughout the city from 17 to 25 September;

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