An article by Simon Anderton & Bethan Harris Brown, George P. Johnson
The second year of the London Design Biennale focused on the theme ‘Emotional States’ and was brilliantly brought to life by Pentagram, through the medium of handcrafted masks characterising different emotions that set the tone for the event. The expansive brief sparked a diverse range of answers, from a rainbow halo of lights to a dynamic cocoon walkway. Each one examined or evoked a different emotion in a unique way. With over 40 countries, states and cities participating, we decided to highlight four installations that resonated with us.
Guatemala: Voted the people’s choice (it wasn’t hard to see why). Tiny slices of textiles sewn together on a single thread, fell like a rainbow waterfall suspended from the ceiling encircling patterned boxes. The story behind it was especially captivating, a revolutionary village that decided to repaint all of its houses in vibrant colours to boost tourism and a sense of community. Not only is it visually impressive, it’s that pioneering sense of human spirit that comes through and makes you realise that people are amazing.
Hong Kong: Picture a room where you walk in and everyone is sniffing the walls. Welcome to Hong Kong’s installation. Scratch and sniff wallpaper surrounds you, with traditional scents from Hong Kong including roasted duck, temples, custard tarts and opium. After sampling a few for yourself it’s interesting to see which other scents have been ‘scratched’ the most. It’s a playful reminder of the importance of smell in connection to memory and how certain smells will always be tied to experiences and identity. Smell is often overlooked because it’s not as immediate as sound or sight, however it can bring back forgotten memories and it’s interesting how other exhibits also picked up on this.
Latvia: If you see a steamed up window, what’s the first thing you’re going to do? Draw on it of course! It’s one of the universal quirks of human nature and Latvia took this one step further. Creating a giant installation inviting people to leave their own temporary message in the condensation, with the intent of evoking emotion. It was an irresistible installation. There wasn’t one person who came into the room and didn’t engage; it was a serene space where people gained as much enjoyment from watching as participating. Installations like that teach you that there are some experiences people can’t say no to, and those should be the ones we are creating.
Berghaus: Although Berghaus is not a country, it’s satirical commentary on our addiction to technology and our #firstworldproblems led to something profound. Four carefully worded questions resulted in an emotionally charged wall. A huge display of notes submitted by the audience documenting escape plans, items of importance, hopes and fears. Although reading through individual answers alone could have engaged you for hours, it was the general patterns found in responses that revealed our deepest thoughts and proved we all have more in common than we might think.
Our main takeaway from the Biennale was the importance of designing experiences with human truths in mind. The installations that triggered pure emotions, such as child-like surprise from drawing on Latvia’s condensation wall, and a sense of rebellion from scratching off the wallpaper in Hong Kong’s room, were the most powerful. Looking forward we’d love to see more experiential brand activations that draw on these truths in order to create more meaningful experiences. The challenge of course will be aligning commercial experiences with the pursuit of this artistic goal but in a world where everyone is trying to connect; the acknowledgement that we understand each other should be the first step in creating a conversation.