In Culture

We all think we know what design means, but do we really? Design is everywhere. Good and bad. It’s in our cities, our homes, our cars, our phones. Steve Jobs said that design is “not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works”.

If we think of design in this way, we understand how important it is. It crosses all fields. But what’s all this got to do with Manchester? Oh, not much. Just our history of industrial and technological innovation that changed the world. These things didn’t design themselves.

Manchester may not have invented the steam engine or the Spinning Jenny. It’s what Manchester did with these new technologies that catapulted it onto the world stage. Innovators from all over the world knew Manchester as an exciting place to be. The Silicon Valley of the industrial age.

Exporting cotton around the globe created a jobs market in Manchester for countless design-related professionals. For example, catalogues for the latest textiles designed and made in Manchester were sent all over the world.

We have a few unsung heroes too. Manchester architect and designer Edgar Wood is less well-known than his contemporary Charles Rennie Mackintosh but his work is just as varied and beautiful. He was a leading figure in the Arts and Crafts movement and his houses, churches, stained-glass and furniture designs can be found, often unheralded, in and around Greater Manchester.

Photo: Sebastian Matthes

In more recent history, you couldn’t have had Factory Records (Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays) without designers like Peter Saville and Ben Kelly. They created records, clubs and bars like no-one had ever seen before.

Factory Factoid: love of design sometimes came at a price. Legend has it that that Peter Saville’s super-cool sleeve design for New Order’s Blue Monday 12-inch made production costs higher than the retail price of the record. Factory lost money with every sale and it went on to be the biggest selling 12-inch of all time!

But what about today? What about the future? Well, Manchester has a plan for that.

Ever since 2013, Design Manchester has organised The Festival - a whole series of events, programmes, workshops, screenings, performances and the Great Debate. All about design. The festival gets bigger each year and there’s always a theme. The 2013 festival was, perhaps prophetically, about longevity. 2018 was about disruption – how design can clang against the status quo and bring about positive change.

Photo: Sebastian Matthes

The point of Design Manchester is to forge links, locally and internationally, between the design world and everyone that uses it. It’s also to recognise good design and the role it will have in the future economy of Manchester. This is more than just an aspiration. It’s part of a strategy embraced by (amongst others) Manchester City Council, Manchester School of Art and University of Salford. The list of partners grows longer each year.

Perhaps typical of this city, Design Manchester has humble beginnings. It has several high-profile funders, supporters and partners but it was founded by just four independent thinkers who love Manchester and live and breathe design.

John Owens is the Joint Festival Director who also runs a busy creative agency in the Northern Quarter. When talking about the difference between art and design, John argues that art asks questions, design answers them. Design Manchester is more than a passion project. It’s part of a well-founded belief that Manchester and design go hand in hand. Design Manchester is a platform to formalise and develop that relationship.

One of Design Manchester’s most ambitious projects is to develop the Manchester Design Manifesto. Manifestos are often written behind closed doors, but not this one. Design Manchester is creating a network of designers, industry stakeholders, civic decision-makers, educators, students and diverse communities throughout Manchester. All will have a say in the final document.

Manchester Design Manifesto already has some established principles. It will embrace design and its power to make things better. The manifesto wants Manchester’s contribution to the world of design to be a foundation for new innovation. It also wants the spirit of Manchester to be at the heart of everything – encouraging not just people from Manchester to love design, but attracting anyone who loves design to Manchester.

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