Northern Design Festival 2016

Hooked on design festivals? Us too. Head to the North East of England for a series of exhibitions that brings together top northern talent to explore the creative ideas behind the things that surround us everyday...


Hot on the heels of London Design Festival (Recovered? Yes? Good!), October sees the opening of the Northern Design Festival, a showcase of the best in contemporary design by leading northern, national and international designers across the creative spectrum. Hosted in Newcastle, the event runs until 16 October, so you have six days left to get your Geordie Shore on. 

Curated by Design Event and supported by the Northern Design Centre, this year’s festival line-up has eight exhibitions featuring work by more than 65 designers and architects, along with a programme of special events, tours and talks from some of the world’s leading creatives. On the festival’s focus – ‘Where Do Ideas Come From?’ – show director Karen Nairstone explains: ‘It’s a theme that relates to us all, whether you work or study in the industry or just love good design, there’s something for everyone. Once again we have some stunning hidden-gem venues in Newcastle city centre, including our Festival hub – The Assembly House and Cooper’s Studios – perfect backdrops against which to showcase the best in contemporary design.’ One of the highlights of this year's show is 2015 Turner Prize-winning collective Assemble's take over of the historic Assembly House (a wonderfully crumbly neo-classical Georgian stunner) with a site-specific installation that shows off products by Granby Workshop – a social enterprise set up by Assemble that makes experimental products for homes.

ABOVE: Art director Vaughan Oliver's abstract cover for the new Pixies' album 'Head Carrier'
ABOVE RIGHT: Assemble's iconic 'Granby Rock Mantlepiece' made of recycled construction waste
BELOW: Arjan Van Dal's chalky ceramics are on show at Hothouse

ABOVE: Mark McCormick's cool copper 'Port Round' mirror for Novocastrian is our designer crush in the Design Event MART; We love this colourful prototype snowball machine by Chrissie Macdonald for Block magazine, part of the 'Where Do Ideas Come From?' show

Experience 'Hothouse', a selection of craft-focused work by the hottest designer-makers across the UK, snoop at Newcastle-based industrial designer David Irwin’s seating retrospective, including his iconic 'Tyneside Lounger' for Deadgood and his 'Hardy Chair' for Another Country. Fans of graphic art can fill their boots at 'Where Do Ideas Come From?' featuring work by renowned illustrators, image makers, graphic designers and typographers including Vaughan Oliver, Noma Bar and Alan Kitching, or 'Hollywood Hates Me', an exhibition of rejected poster artwork from some of the world’s favourite movies by Newcastle-based creative agency Keltie Cochrane.

‘The festival is now in its 11th year and is a real focus for the design industry across the North,’ says Nairstone. ‘It provides an important platform to showcase some of the best design studios based here in the North and it certainly enhances the economy through the conversations, collaborations and new projects that are developed during the festival week. By showcasing some of the best national and international talent we want to inspire graduates and emerging studios, to encourage them to stay in the region. We need to work harder to keep our brilliant graduates here in the North, and it has been great to see Build relocate their studio from London back to Leeds. Now, more than ever, we need to use our creativity and innovation to improve the economy and showcase our strengths. Being shortlisted to host the Great Exhibition of the North shows that our creativity isn’t going unnoticed, and we have our fingers crossed for the results.’

These are all enticing reasons to make the trip up the M1. ‘Feedback has been that by being on a smaller scale than shows like the London Design Festival we have a special, almost boutique feel, so it’s easier to have inspiring conversations – and to get round all the events,’ Nairstone continues. ‘I think the theme also makes it distinct and draws connections between the individual events across the festival. There’s a really high quality across all the events and an equal amount of graphics, architecture and product design in some truly stunning hidden-gem venues.’

ABOVE FROM TOP: Rejected Hollywood poster artwork by Keltie Cochrane; David Irwin's 'Tyneside Lounger' for Deadgood; Mesmeric 'Marble Candy' pendant lighting by Janey Speers at Design Event MART

The festival has also shifted from being an insiders' design industry scene to a consumer-friendly event with items on sale as well as on show. Definitely worth a visit is the popular Design Event MART and pop-up Design Event Store at The Assembly House. Here, furniture, ceramics, textiles and lighting are all yours for the taking, so you can bring home a souvenir from your trip. Sounds like a win win situation to us...

The 2016 Northern Design Festival is on now until 16 October at venues in Newcastle and Gateshead. Tickets are £2.50 for exhibition entry, or free for under 18s and staff places for school and college group visits.