As Director of the London Design Festival, a governor of the University of the Arts and Executive Director of this September's inaugural London Design Biennale, Ben Evans is one of the most powerful voices on London’s design scene. Having studied history of design at the Royal College of Art, Evans took an eight-year detour into political speech writing, helping to write the UK's first design policy, before teaming up with Sir John Sorrell to create London's first annual design festival. What started out as a small group of unofficial events across the city, has developed 13 years later into one of the world's most influential design events, with an estimated direct audience of over 350,000. “London is a leader in this field,” explains Evans. “Since we've started, over 100 cities have created their own design-related events, but us and Milan are still by far the biggest and best design events in the world.”
"London and Milan are by far the biggest and best design events in the world"
For Evans, London's rich history of design makes it the perfect host city: “Ever since Prince Albert hosted the Great Exhibition of 1851, we’ve had a presence in design,” says Evans. “However I think in the last couple of generations the creative industries have become a more important part of the London economy and design has been at the center of that. Now we have a vast design infrastructure fuelled by talent, not just from our design schools, but those migrating to London as well.”
As design has continued to flourish in the city, Evans has also noticed the public becoming more design-literate. “When we started the festival, we assumed our core audience would be design professionals, but I quickly realised that the biggest audience by far was the design-interested public. We've seen a sea change in the confidence, sophistication and understanding of the design consumer.” He continues: “The days where you went to a department store and were sold someone else's preconceived style are over. We have a lot of micro-businesses showing at the festival who tell us that the people commissioning them are enlightened members of the public – not just companies.”
With increased public interest, Evans has begun to spot some interesting developments on the design scene. “I think a broader interest in materials is remaining very popular in design,” he identifies. “Another trend is the integration of new technologies. Material companies are changing how technology is available to us.” Several London-based designers are spearheading this innovation in the city: “Barber & Osgerby are one of the most important designers in the UK at the moment because they have an increasing influence on our daily life,” explains Evans. “Max Lamb is also continuing to produce some really great work – he’s very interested in nature and materials and he did the best thing in Milan this year.” For Evans, this strong wave of design innovation links closely to the luxury market. “Luxury for me is a refined view – a mixture of craftsmanship and quality materials. My personal preference is for a much simpler aesthetic, which is quite hard to do. If you can get that right, with the highest craftsmanship and materials, then that is the supreme of luxury. I don't think something can be luxurious if design isn't integrated within it.'