Saint-Étienne Biennale 2015

As you may have noticed from our social media channels over the last number of months, I have been very proactively representing Graphic Mint at design events this year. These events have given me the opportunity to meet with talented groups of people from an exciting mix of design disciplines and creative cultures. I return from each conference invigorated by fellow speakers and attendees’ passion for progressing design. These events are often hosted in beautiful, creative spaces but none compare to The Biennale.

Biennale Internationale Design: Saint-Étienne

Nothing could prepare me for the scale of The Biennale in Saint-Étienne, France. This event is produced by the Cité du Design and offers an eclectic mix of challenging symposiums, meetings and exhibitions. It certainly lives up to its producers’ description.

“A veritable laboratory of contemporary trends, providing a perspective on the thinking and questions of our time, in light of design issues.’’

It truly was a city wide initiative. Design was embraced everywhere in its many forms. The streets and buildings of Saint Étienne were adorned with beautiful Biennale branding. I have never felt more immersed in the story of a brand, in fact. This mass event branding could easily have gone wrong, by becoming overly jarring or noisy. This was not the case in Saint Étienne however, as the brand design was light and holistic in tone. Its robust system of interchangeable elements was an extensible, visual story. It featured not one but a family of ideas, which all connected to a smart, overarching concept.

This great Experience Design was cohesively extended to services throughout the event. I was particularly impressed while dining at a restaurant with no wifi. The Cite Du Design provided a wide area network broadband to delegates, featuring an easy login process. It just asked for my email address and voila! I was integrated with the attendee system, complete with personalised messaging.

The Design and Innovation Forum

I was attending the Biennale to present a talk and facilitate a workshop on Experience Design. This was part of the four-day Design and Innovation Forum, hosted by the official Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Étienne 2015. This forum was jam-packed with presentations, workshops and discussions relating to some very relevant Design topics, such as:

  • Thinking Design Strategies For Business
  • Envisaging Design International Developments
  • Living Design Practice in an Industry
  • Connecting Design Networks Serving Competitiveness

Both my presentation and workshop fell within the area of the “Living Design Practice in an Industry” topic. I wanted to teach delegates about Experience Design while shedding light on the practice. Too often at conferences speakers focus on theory and not enough on method. I provided the attendees with practical and actionable knowledge of how to improve customer and user experience through service design.


There were many interesting speakers at the Forum, most notably two plenary sessions. The first was a very interesting talk by John Mathers, Director General of the UK Design Council. Besides introducing us to the wonderfully ambitious and badly needed Design for Europe initiative, his perspective on Design classification was very original.

His rich experience with Design was evident through the concepts of Style, Form and Function, Problem Solving and Framing which he expressed so fluently. I personally gravitate toward framing on a daily basis when working on projects, so it was nice to see it represented.

Another stunning speaker was the mind blowing Katsushi Kunimoto, Professor at Nagoya City University Graduate School of Design in Japan. Not since reading Roy Ascott in the naughties have I played such new concept bingo! Katsushi’s talk entitled, ‘Innovation Design: The Way which Builds the Future’, was fresh fields for me; a breather from the usual topics that tend to do the rounds at Design Conferences.

He tackled the future of Medical Design Research and Development. He tracked the evolution of technology from the hi-performance, high-tech systems of the past, through the present era of intelligent computerisation. From here he moved to the not too distant future epoch of ‘Lifezation,’ a paradigm shift from intelligence to life. Riveting content.

The forum was very professionally run. I would especially like to commend Alok Nandi, associate researcher at the Forum and Creative Director of Architempo who was responsible for curating the wonderful programme, and Marine Schikowski who was an exceptional Biennial project coordinator.

More event photography shot by esteemed photographer Charlotte Pierot can be viewed here. As Director of Experience for Graphic Mint I have been involved in numerous events over the years. For many of these I was an organiser, attendee and key speaker–and sometimes all at once! My event experience at Biennale has been of particular value, however. It comes not only from the calibre of its event design in 2015, but the quality it lends to the  exciting future of our European Design communities.

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