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Boston Design Week brings design industries into focus

Posted by Chad O'Connor  March 12, 2014 06:00 AM

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[The We are the Creative Industries series: The Creative Industries - video game companies, design, marketing and architecture firms, and talented people who write books, design houses, shoot movies, make art and record music, just to name a few examples - are an important part of Massachusetts' economy, with $1 billion statewide impact and over 100,000 workers. Click here to learn more.]

I was at a party a few weeks ago and was telling someone I'd just met about the First Annual Boston Design Week taking place March 20-30. He took another sip of his drink and told me that he wasn't "into" design, so I thought I would change the subject.

"Nice watch you’re wearing," I commented. "Oh, thanks," he said, "Yeah it is really terrific. I love the way it's shaped, and these function keys are easy to use and it lights up, and…."

Unless you are standing out in the middle of nature, everything around you is consciously designed: from the clothes you wear, to the phone you carry, to your home, workplace and beyond. Good design has the power to touch us, to lift us up, to make our lives better, and impart a profound sense of well-being – bad design can have the opposite effect.

Boston Design Week was launched to increase public awareness and appreciation of all aspects of design, foster recognition of the vital role design plays in our lives, and bring new audiences to a wide array of design industries and organizations.

It's time that Boston had a Design Week to bring our design industries into focus. Cities around the world are way ahead of us: The London Design Festival is legendary, with 300 events. Of course Paris has a Design Week - they’ve been having design festivals for more than a century. New York has about four of them throughout the year. Even the tiny island of Malta has one, not to mention Belgrade, Istanbul, Stockholm, Beijing, and closer to home Phoenix, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Philadelphia, now in its 10th year.

It was Philadelphia that served as the model for Boston Design Week: a democratic platform in which non-profit organizations, design-related businesses and individual designers could all participate, with all events open to the public and the vast majority free of charge. Hilary Jay, director for the Philadelphia Center for Architecture, under whose wing Design Philadelphia is sheltered, took us under her wing to inform us of the promises and pitfalls of such an undertaking.

My partner Robert Four and I had intended on launching Boston Design Week back in 2009, but a sinking economy gave us caution: with so many people in the design and creative industries out of work, would anybody care? Five years later, we could wait no longer. Our hope was that we would gain the support of 10 non-profit partner organizations and have at least 30 events.

With an incredible outpouring of support, Boston Design Week is launching with 25 Non-Profit Partner Organizations, almost 40 design-related businesses and individual designers hosting events, a dozen Sponsors and Media Sponsors (full disclosure: including our Premier Media Sponsor The Boston Globe and its home design publication Design New England), and more than 80 events throughout Boston and its neighborhoods and in a dozen surrounding cities and towns.

In a 2012 study, the Creative Industries Office of the Massachusetts Housing and Economic Development Office reported that the creative industries of the state have a $1 billion economic impact and employ over 100,000 people.

If true, why do the design and creative industries still have such a low profile and low recognition in the overall scheme of things?

Our design industries need to think like an industry and act like an industry.
Design Industry Group of Massachusetts (DIGMA) has struggled for several years with inadequate funding to achieve their goal of creating and supporting initiatives that position Massachusetts as a global center for design excellence. Different design fields network within their own silos, but rarely is there a platform for architects to interact with game designers, or for interior designers to meet urban design specialists. The Boston Society of Architects (BSA) is increasingly playing a role in bringing different design fields together -- they are even hosting fashion show as part of Design Week. The design industries need more forums where they can share information, resources, and ideas, and find common ground for collaboration. We hope that Boston Design Week serves as one of those forums.

Marketing and industry visibility are key to changing people's perceptions.
Boston is home to world-leading businesses in product design, architecture and other design fields, not to mention myriad other creative industries. Boston needs a strong advocate at the city level, mirrored by an equally strong voice at the state level to ensure that our creative industries receive the visibility and support they deserve.

We have so many outstanding schools and colleges specializing in design,
including several participants in Boston Design Week: North Bennet Street School, The School of Fashion Design, Boston Architectural College, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and Wentworth Institute of Technology. Developing talent to keep our design industries in the forefront, and mentoring our youth through innovative programs such as Youth Design, will help ensure that that the knowledge to create the extraordinary will be transferred to the next generation. Several of our programs within Boston Design Week are focused on children, students and young adults, and Design Week sponsors such as F.H. Perry Builder, and Cumar Marble and Granite along with the Over My Shoulder Foundation have focused their events on just such concerns.

Our design industries must be open to inspiration, new ideas and materials, and cutting-edge thinking from outside of Boston.
That's why Boston Design Week includes a whole day forum on French Design at the French Cultural Center, a program on Marimekko at the Scandinavian Cultural Center, and a special Swiss poster design event at International Poster Gallery so-sponsored by swissnex, the Swiss Consulate in Boston.

Finally, what good is it to create excellent design if we are not going to preserve it?
We need to perceive historic preservation organizations as an integral part of our design industries. Taking the lead is Boston Preservation Alliance whose Design Week forum "Preservonomics 101" at Suffolk University’s Modern Theatre will focus on the economic benefits of preservation. This is also why Boston preservationist Susan Park was chosen to receive the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award at AD20/21, the concluding event of Boston Design Week. Her tireless efforts over many decades have given us all a city whose design is recognized and appreciated throughout the world. Hats off to you, Susan.

By the way, if you have any doubt about the talent of our designers and the strength of our design industries, attend the program "How Boston Designers Changed the World" on Monday, March 24th at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. See www.BostonDesignWeek.com for details.

Tony Fusco and Robert Four of Fusco & Four are the producers of Boston Design Week, AD20/21: Art & Design of the 20th & 21st Centuries, The Boston International Fine Art Show. and The Ellis Boston Antiques Show. Their agency has specialized in marketing for the art and design fields for 35 years.

[We are thankful for Global Business Hub’s support of the Creative Industries. Please note: This article does not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development or its Creative Economy Industry Director for the Commonwealth, nor is it an endorsement of any views, products, or opinions contained therein. The author is solely responsible for the content.]

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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