written by:
September 30, 2009

It is perhaps a bit ironic that the official guide to the London Design Festival was fairly poorly designed—the maps in the back of the book were spectacularly unhelpful in trying to navigate my way through the streets of the British capital, especially when making a mad dash to another event across town. That's why I was pleased to pick up a copy of Max Fraser's newly launched London Design Guide.

london design guide book

While ultimately geared at design-savvy travelers (and locals, for that matter), London Design Guide also proved useful during the Design Festival as many of the included venues were hosting various gatherings and exhibitions.

Fraser has broken up the city into ten different areas (plus the catch-all category “Elsewhere” for places that didn't fit anywhere else), then reviewed the relevant design-related shops, galleries, bookstores, institutions and museums in each district. Each section begins with “Take a Walk,” which is a suggested route through the area. There's a wrap-up at the end with a list of recommended eating, drinking and sleeping establishments. The criteria for inclusion is broad enough to capture what makes us design geeks tick – “the definition of 'design' in this guide refers to three-dimensional objects in the broadest sense, and furniture, lighting, ceramics, glass, textiles and tableware more specifically” – but narrow enough to leave out showrooms that are only interesting to trade visitors. (Fraser also rather cheekily excludes “businesses that are utterly unbearable to deal with.”)

london design guide inside book
London Design Guide also includes guest commentary from a number of British designers and writers, who share their thoughts on topics such as the city's creative culture, the current state of London architecture, and the future of the British furniture industry. The book rounds off with an editorial on “Design Tribes,” which attempts to catalogue the “rather eclectic” British design scene. Fraser and his co-authors have come up with a short list of five “ists”: the new modernists, the escapists, the reactivists, the digitalists and the revivalists. It provides an interesting download of contemporary British design – all the while acknowledging that these “tribes” tend to be shapeshifting. Even more intriguing perhaps is that Fraser teamed up with several galleries during the London Design Festival to curate exhibitions featuring the work of some of these tribes, such as the Escapists at Mint and the New Modernists at Viaduct.

If you're already in London, the guide is “cheap as chips,” as the Brits say. You can pick it up at design bookstores (I recommend Magma, also noted in the guide) for the equivalent of $16 (£10). To brush up on the London design scene before your trip across the pond, you can also order a copy from londondesignguide.com for $24 (£15), including international shipping, with easy payment via PayPal.

In his essay on London as a creative habitat for designers, designer Tim Parsons writes: “For most anybody, cities offer a myriad of currents that guide our emotions and behavior. But for designers, this urban texture – the 'psychogeography' of the city – also serves as both inspiration and working context. London serves up an exhausting array of material, both physical and conceptual, to respond to.”  Exactly my experience during the last week at the London Design Festival. Thankfully, Fraser's London Design Guide made it a little bit less exhausting.

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