Tuesday, 10 November 2009


If, like me, you’re a bit of a design nut, then maybe, like me, you’ve been gorging yourself on Dublin-based design events for the months of October and November. From Open House, Ireland’s biggest architecture festival, to Sweettalk, the Candy Collective’s 37th instalment of creative worship in the Sugar Club, from Refresh Dublin’s reflections on the “State of Play” in Irish interaction design to Bombay Sapphire’s Design Week 09, it’s been an ergonomically-sound extravaganza of all things designed in Ireland (apart from clothes, the next Dublin Fashion Week comes to us in Spring 2010). And if, like me, the state of design in Ireland is never far from your mind, then the last few weeks will have given you a lot to think about.

Gordon Byrne of Dublin-based studio Design Principles is spearheading an initiative he calls Heritage, which was kickstarted with a seminar during Design Week (pictures above courtesy of Trevor from Vaugh Shannon). What will start with an exhibition of Irish design in 2011 will, he hopes, become an umbrella term for good quality Irish design. His choice of the word “heritage” is an interesting one, for a number of reasons. The word heritage is immediately recognisable and relatable-to. It’s comfortable and familiar. Yet if asked to define it, you could find yourself struggling to do so accurately. It’s a somewhat enigmatic term, one I would very hesitantly define as “that which a person, family or nation can claim cultural ownership of”. Even then, things are hazy and unclear.

Even if you’ve successfully defined it, the next stumbling block is to identify what could fit in the category of a nation’s heritage. Heritage could be simultaneously all-encompassing and remarkably specific, huge and tiny; it’s as large as the country we live in, our landscape and our language, and as small as the freckles on our skin. And of the attributes and characteristics one might identify in Irish culture or heritage, which of those can be identified or striven towards in Irish design? There are elements of both our existing cultural signifiers and of our leanings towards the make-shift in Gordon's "Hurley Table", pictured above. Perhaps our laid-back nature can be seen in Colm Keller’s “Made by Eimear”, a mirror which stands with one foot on the floor and one leaning against the wall. Maybe you could say our sense of humour and friendly nature comes across in products such as “Happy Lamp” and “Madra” magazine stand by VaughShannon, pictured below (pictures via vaughshannon.com):

Most important to the Heritage project, and to all of the events of the past weeks and months is that it’s time to recognise the importance of design in Ireland, and the positive steps being made by Irish designers, in all fields. No longer should you need to be Scandinavian in order to claim cultural ownership of good design. We have it right here in Ireland, and now’s the time for Irish design to stand up and be counted.