Design Plus: Emotional London

At the London Design Biennale, the Brits drop the stiff upper lip and embrace the touchy feely.

por Mark Tungate , Adforum

Anybody who doesn’t think design can impact emotions has never sat in a hospital waiting room. Similarly, I think we’ve all worked in offices that seemed to suck the very soul out of us. It makes perfect sense, therefore, that the theme of the London Design Biennale 2018 is “Emotional States”.


Interestingly, the top prize at the Biennale – awarded to the “most outstanding overall contribution” – went to Egypt, whose installation centres on the fairly rare emotion of indignation. Its full title is “Modernist Indignation”, and it rather cleverly depicts a fictional “recreation” of an exhibition first staged in 1939 by an Arabic-language design magazine called Al Emara. 


The indignation is that of Cairo-based architect Mohamed Elshaded, who laments that many of Egypt’s jewels of Modernist architecture are now disused and crumbling. He asks (indignantly): “How can a design language that was once embraced by a society be so easily forgotten and denied a place in history?”


Actually one of my favourite designers, Stefan Sagmeister, may have an answer to that in a witty, rather anti-Modernist speech called “Beauty vs. Utility”, which you can see here.  


The “emotional states” medal went, appropriately enough, to the United States, which has an extremely topical installation about the hijacking of feelings by technology. Its AI gadget scans visitors’ facial expressions not just to deduce their emotional state, but also to determine their race, age and gender. I’ll leave you to mull over just how scary that is. 


Latvia won a prize for its contrastingly feel-good installation “Matter To Matter”, essentially a giant sheet of glass running with condensation, which allows visitors to write messages and draw doodles with their fingers. These quickly disappear, symbolising the ephemeral nature of emotions.


With more than 40 countries contributing to the exhibition at the Somerset House gallery in London, there are plenty of other highlights. Unfortunately, though, you only have until September 23 to get yourself there. Better move fast, as disappointment is one of the more common emotions.