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The Independent Design Guide by Laura Houseley

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This guide to young designers takes the hard work out of talent-spotting, says Max Fraser

Thumbing through The Independent Design Guide for the first time, you may think that it is yet another weighty compendium of recent works by hotshot international designers, and in many ways it is. But there is one major difference, which is that you are unlikely to have seen before many of the furniture, lighting, accessory, utility and environment designs featured within it.

That is because they have all been released since 2005, without fanfare, and been hand- picked by the author, design journalist and consultant Laura Houseley, ‘to provide a comprehensive overview of emerging design trends by the newest generation of designers’.

Of the thousands of new designs showcased each year by young talents, few make it beyond the prototype stage. Such an outcome seems incidental to Houseley, who is focused primarily on celebrating ideas, believing that the concepts designers produce are as viable as their products. This book contains concepts aplenty that would have the modernist masters turning in their graves, concepts whose assertion of functionality is, in some instances, superseded by a heightened awareness of emotional connectivity and nostalgic references, which are manifested as thought-provoking, one-off, or edition designs. Industrial production is no longer hankered after as the holy grail of success, as designers have, relatively recently, mastered their own destinies in a low-yield, high-return, self-production market distanced from the uncertainty, compromises, slow progress and low returns often experienced with volume manufacturers. ‘The rise of conceptual design and a resurgence of craft, either in opposition to, or in conjunction with, mass-production, means design can be judged on pure creative merit, just like works of art,’ suggests Houseley.

The author doesn’t belittle functionality but implies a shift in definition. ‘Function can mean stimulating, titillating, or conferring status or credibility… The consumer’s desire for individuality and appetite for concept-driven design has resulted in a validation of the designer, too, as individual,’ she says.

Houseley’s selection of designs react to wider cultural or political issues. Certain themes emerge, dealing with nostalgia, sustainability, material and technological innovation, process and craft, irony and play.

The Independent Design Guide succeeds at taking the hard work out of talent-spotting and supplies contact details for each designer. Opting for relatively unknown creations makes for a refreshing change, as the selection for a book of this sort is often defined by a product’s existing critical and commercial successes or by the prevailing reputations of the designers. Somehow, one doesn’t expect a hardback book to be given over to such young, unproven designers. In view of this, I question whether this title wouldn’t work better as a more transient paperback biennial.

Max Fraser is a journalist, editor and publisher of London Design Guide

Resume: Houseley’s talent trawl would benefit from a ‘little and often’ approach

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