Barcelona Design Week 16.06.16

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Amid the growing number of design weeks, festivals and biennials, Barcelona Design Week boldly embraces the emerging fields of digital and virtual design

Launched 11 years ago, and attracting about 11,000 visitors last year, Barcelona Design Week is neither the world’s oldest nor biggest design festival. But when I speak to Isabel Roig, managing director of Barcelona Design Centre, which organises the festival, she is unperturbed and even enthusiastic at the fact there are more than 100 design weeks around the world (two a week on average). She is even more excited about the prospect of design journalists being able to jet from one festival to another in perpetuity. I am worried.

Like at other such events, Barcelona’s showrooms, design studios and co-working spaces open up to the public during this festival. However, the most distinctive part of BDW is the three-day ‘congresstival’ entitled Design is Future, which brings together speakers and eager audiences who want to learn more about how design practices are evolving.

What might come as a surprise is that this year’s edition was distinctly tech-flavoured. The sessions were introduced by Chris Grant, user experience director at King Barcelona (the company behind the best-selling smartphone game Candy Crush) and included, among others, architect and data visualiser Andrés Ortiz, from Spanish studio Bestiario; Laszlito Kovacs, the freshly appointed design director at WeTransfer; Andreas Enslin, head of design at Miele; and Chris Moody, creative director at branding agency Wolff Olins (responsible for London’s 2012 Olympics logo).

The conference drew an enthusiastic crowd, large enough to fill Barcelona Design Museum’s large auditorium (much of it made up of students). The topics discussed ranged from effective collaboration between companies striving to create an internet of things, applying design to corporate environments, data visualisation, branding and the importance of creating a consistent user experience. The attendees were asked to tweet their questions to the panel and managed to made #designisfuture the top trending topic on one of the days.

The quality of the talks wasn’t consistent: some verged on being motivational speeches, others were delivered with bravado, but didn’t really have a point beyond, ‘this is what designers currently do at our large company’. What was admirable, however, is that the organisers drew attention away from the usual stuff of design weeks.

The reality is that designers nowadays are being brought in by companies small and large and told to specialise in UI, UX, branding, consultancy, gaming and entertainment. Barcelona Design Week not only recognised this trend, but proudly showcased home-grown and global players in these fields. For better or for worse, the meaning of design has expanded beyond chairs, tables and styling of gadgets, and corporations are increasingly using the profession for commercial gain. Better to embrace this and talk about it, rather than pretend most designers – and not just the lucky few – can operate outside this system. BDW definitely fills this increasingly important niche and does so with ease and confidence. The question is if and when the other 99 design weeks will follow.



Peter Smisek

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For better or for worse, the meaning of design has expanded beyond chairs, tables and styling of gadgets


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