Design in Recession – the FT talk

 The London Design Festival got down to business at the V&A on Monday morning, with the appropriately titled discussion ‘Responses to the Recession’.  On the podium sat Camper vice-president Miguel Fluxa Orti, Liberty CEO Geoffroy de la Bourdonnaye, and designers Doreen Lorenzo (Frog Design) and Rolf Sachs. Design’s been as pummeled as the next industry this recession, so what are we doing about it?

Bourdonnay offered up a useful view from the shop floor of a premium retailer. ‘Customers are trading down’ he said. ‘The demographic that’s been moist affected is the family with children, property and assets.  People have seen their investments dwindle. On the other hand, younger people in their twenties are doing much better. They still want to shop on their limited incomes, but they’re able to find great value products (faster supply chains and favourable interest rates).

The net result is an educated market that wants quality but is trading down in terms of what it spends. ‘My daughter is getting married next year but why would you buy champagne when you can buy excellent prosecco that tastes just as goof in blind tests.

On top of this, said Sachs, is the way people have changed their buying habits. When we shop we’re not looking for perfection, but for integrity. We’ve stopped binge buying, there is less impulse purchasing and instead people are thinking about what they are buying, he said.

The consensus was, it’s not about ‘cheap’ but about ‘value’. Luxury brands like Hermes are still performing but in a market with consumption reduced overall. It’s sectors like telecoms, energy and healthcare that have spotted the opportunity for product design early, according to Lorenzo.

On the global stage, the Asian markets are about to have a big impact on what we design and how, says Lorenzo. The design students from China and Asia have a new found freedom that is powerful and distinctive, she reckons.

You can see the whole talk here.

This post was written up from the  FT Breakfast talk ‘Responses to the Recession’ held  as part of the London Design Festival 2009 on Monday 21 September.

Mike Exon

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