A former print works has proved to be a great showcase for creative collaboration in Dundee

The Dundee Design Festival could become a biennial event, according to its producer Siôn Parkinson. More than 7,000 people passed through the doors of the city’s West Ward Works during the four-day event at the end of May, exceeding expectations.

The former print works, owned by DC Thomson, proved to be a natural event space and there is hope that the building has a medium to long-term future as a creative focal point. Dundee became a UNESCO City of Design towards the end of 2014, and one of the expectations of designation was to stage a major celebration of design, particularly exploring solutions to social challenges.

Located in the once industrial heart of the city, the venue played host to an ambitious programme including an exhibition featuring some of the most innovative design in the country. Focusing on design for health and wellbeing and including the best of digital, games, textiles, healthcare, social design and architecture, the ground-breaking-work examined how “design involves everyone, connects everything and makes anything possible”.

The theme for the first festival was “Place. Work. Folk. Design”, exploring the potential of design to connect the city’s communities. “Design is everything,” said Parkinson, “it can enrich lives.” The exhibition featured projects by architecture and design agency Lateral North, models by Frank Gehry and Kengo Kuma and objects selected by Maggie’s Centre architects.

There was fashion design by Hayley Scanlan and Kerrie Aldo, games by Space Budgie, Guerilla Tea and Fox Wot I Drew, digital design by Slurrp and eeGeo, medical animation by Vivomotion plus Hands of X – a participatory project that brings amputees together with designers and makers to create prototypes of simple hand designs.

“The opportunity this festival gives us is that we can be reactive to the design activity around us. As well as showcasing the brilliant designers and makers in the city, we can examine how Dundee is framing problems and finding solutions. This includes using brand new research from the University of Dundee, Abertay Universtiy and DJCAD, as well as techniques from the medical schools, looking at science that is just happening.”

Surgeons and pathologists collaborated with medical designers to create bespoke, 3D-printed radiology masks. Game designers and animators worked with cancer research charities to design games to process genetic data. Forensic scientists partnered with product designers to create smoke alarms designed to wake up children in deep sleep. Landscape designers supported mental health patients in the design of community gardens.

“The festival captured a moment, where in a city the size of Dundee, people are coming together from across studios, campuses, cities and nations to help frame problems and find solutions,” said Parkinson.

It also prompted among organisers a vision of May as ‘Dundee’s month’; much like August in Edinburgh is known for its festivals, the run up to the design event coincided with Dundee University’s Art, Design and Architecture Degree Show, The Abertay Digital Graduate Show and the creativity festival, Ignite Dundee. They believe these and other activities could help attract national and international visitors for extended stays in the city.

Dundee UNESCO City of Design 2016 events

June

The Ideal Hut Show | Dundee Botanic Garden

July

Oor Wullie Bucket Trail

August

Dare ProtoPlay, the UK’s biggest independent games festival, organised by Abertay University

DiGRA 2016, the international conference of the Digital Games Research Association

October

Dundee Literary Festival 

Discovery Film Festival 

November

NEoN Digital Arts Festival | Scotland’s only digital arts festival