It was bad luck that the worst storm to hit Sydney in decades happened to coincide with the most exciting new design event to make its debut in the city this year. Factory Design District is the brainchild of Kobe Johns who brought her previous experience on DesignEX and London Design Festival to the event, which ran over three days as part of Vivid Ideas.
Johns now runs joinery workshop JP Finsbury with her partner (in work and in life) Adam Price and envisaged Factory Design District as a way for manufacturers and makers to connect with the design industry and the design-loving public.
The mission of the event, which included stands by some 30 exhibitors, was to start a dialogue between those people who work in timber, metal, fabric etc. and those who are curious about the process of making, or who may want bespoke or off-the-shelf Australian-made and designed goods.
Some of the stand-out exhibitors included Simcox whose wallpapers are a riot of digitally-manipulated artwork, Boardgrove who exhibited a refined, stunning furniture prototype (their first), Local Design who brought weavers and leather-makers demonstrating their work live, Fresh Prince whose planters are simple and effective, and The Fortynine Studio whose work crosses a number of materials and concepts – and there were many more.
To achieve her goal, Kobe implemented a few simple but important tenets for running a successful design event – number one, food and drink are super important. Working with Young Henrys brewery, who curated the food and drink options, the menu was a major drawcard, especially the locally-brewed beer and cider, delicious coffee, Australian wine and the warm soups perfect for the cold weather.
Number two, collaborations are key. Kobe brought in writer and curator David Harrison who presented “Established”, an exhibition of leading retailers Dinosaur Designs, Tait, Mud Australia and ISM Objects, all of whom have brought their designs to market in Australia and around the world. As well as leading a talk with the leaders of these well-known brands, Harrison also spoke to Sydney designer Trent Jansen about his recent research project creating experimental designs only with objects and materials found in India’s Chor Bazaar.
Kobe also asked me to work on the project, and I edited and wrote a tabloid-sized publication for the event, bringing in my long-time collaborator and friend, graphic designer Danny Wehbe to create a visual language which he based on the crop marks used across many design disciplines. I also ran an event called Maker Meditations on the importance of creativity and making in our lives, in which industrial designer Andrew Simpson spoke about his experimental approach to design and each participant shared their own approach to creativity.
And Anne-Maree Sargeant, who has been working tirelessly to educate and legislate authenticity in design with the Australian Design Alliance, interviewed David Trubridge, the talented New Zealand lighting designer who proceeded to enjoy destroying some extremely shoddy copies of his work at the close of the event.
These elements combined to create an event founded in the grassroots of design production, celebrating local manufacturing, and offering a unique sense of connection to the act of creation. And, despite the weather, it had the kind of character that many trade fairs lack, providing a forum for collaboration and a renewed sense of inspiration for all.
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