By Alice Finney
Now in its 13th year, the London Design Festival (LDF) played host to a huge range of internationally renowned design companies last week. Held in different venues across the capital, the festival showcased the best design brands out there at the moment, coupled with talks and seminars given by some of the biggest names in design. I was lucky enough to attend 100% Design last Thursday, the longest running industry event in the UK, held in the stunning Kensington Olympia in West London.
Before getting a chance to have a proper look around, I went to listen to Helen Parton, editor of OnOffice magazine, chair a talk with Steelcase and Airbnb. Entitled “Office trend report with Steelcase”, the talk aimed to educate us about changes in workplace design and workplace culture, using the international offices of Airbnb as a case study. What struck me before the talk had even begun, was that there were three professional women up on the stage, all from different countries and from varying sectors and industries. How refreshing!
Using their own studies and research results, Steelcase’s Serena Borghero presented us with clear statistics and patterns within the modern workplace. Dividing her talk into 5 key elements: engagement, mobility, wellbeing, learning and socialising, she highlighted the impact a workplace can have on employee productivity and wellbeing. The workplace has undergone major changes in the past 20 years, mostly thanks to advances in technology, and yet workplaces haven’t evolved at the expected pace. Mobile has transformed the way we work, allowing us to work in places (from the pool) and times (in the middle of the night) that weren’t possible before. Yet there is still a gap between what we think is happening and the reality of what is happening. To illustrate this, Serena drew our attention to how many organisations still use fixed technologies such as computer monitors and landline phones whilst trying to promote a “flexible, agile working practice”.
Airbnb were used as a prime example of a company who have used office design and research to improve their employee performance and engagement. Airbnb have created offices, often designed by the employees themselves, which reflect the ethos of the company itself and its core values. By using locally sourced materials and partnering with local firms, Airbnb’s offices remain personal and localised, despite the brand itself being international. They thus succeed in creating workplaces where people actually enjoy working in, workspaces which defy the traditional “corporate office”
Following this rather densely packed discussion, I had to rush upstairs to The Forum sponsored by Riba Appointments, for a seminar on “How to Network More Effectively”. The breadth of available seminars was, in my opinion, a testament to the variety of fresh talent and knowledge that our capital has to offer; there is an abundance of notable figures willing to share their experiences and impart wisdom to the next generation of designers. The seminar essentially stressed how networking should be a genuine, reciprocal activity which requires work and maintenance on both parties
“If you think you’re too small to make an impact, try sharing a bed with a mosquito”
Listening to four entrepreneurs and successful start-up directors discuss which networking techniques worked for them throughout their career gave me a sense of empowerment and confidence. What tied all four speakers together was the idea that networking is a lifelong process which requires input from both sides. Instead of seeing networking in terms of events and dinners, networking should be done at all times, and with existing relationships too. It should be something you build on throughout your career, resulting in meaningful, trusted support networks and collaborative opportunities.
A celebration of diversity
My chance to meet exhibitors and to see what products were on offer came at the end of a fruitful, brain boosting session. I was armed with new information on how to interact with exhibitors and my environment thanks to the seminar and thus was eager to put what I had learned into practice. Products on offer ranged from giant pull out white boards to brightly coloured bean bags and beautiful boxed pods. Being able to try out the products and speak to the people who made them proved to be both exciting and informative. What I found most inspiring about 100% Design was the fact that the top designers from across the globe had come to explore, appreciate and admire others’ work in the artistic cultural hub that is London.