Design Feature #11

Passport to Design

Design Tourism

Written by RMM
Photo credit by ©Tokyo Design Week, ©MAISON&OBJET, ©Salone del Mobile Milano, ©CREATIVE©ITIES

You’re abroad, a much-needed getaway to refresh your creative spirit. Walking down a well-maintained street (no potholes to trip over), you duck into a beautifully curated store full of well-made and reasonably priced items. Locally sourced or made. They’d make great souvenirs so you buy some. Your final stop for the day is a stroll through one of many independent galleries that dot this city.

You can learn a lot about a country through its culture, cuisine and from its landscapes and cityscapes.

But can you understand a country through design? What does a creative culture reveal about a country’s personality?

Promising a window into a destination’s pride and heritage, “design tourism” a way for a country to reinforce its ‘brand’. Traditionally targeted at businesses or investors as a way to showcase the innovation and quality of a country’s industry and skill, “design tourism” is now another avenue for the everyday person can get to know a country, beyond food and Lonely Planet entries.

Design has become a destination. Since it has become a sign of cultural maturity, it is only natural that cities around the world have embraced this and have increasingly put in more effort into cultivating ‘creative’ zones.

Take the various Design Weeks for example. Many capitals cities are proud to have one of their own, and even smaller satellite cities (Kobe in Japan, Shenzhen in China, Dundee in the UK) have organized similar Design Weeks as a way to revitalize the local creative scene and invite international interest.

Tokyo Design Week 2015

Tokyo Design Week 2015

Tokyo Design Week (TDW) is well into its 30th year and has become an international event that gathers excellent architecture, interior, product design, graphic design and art from all over the world. As a way of inspiring the community during the rest of the year, TDW even produces semi-regular content that explores different aspects of creativity. The event draws more than 100,000 visitors every year, and with concurrent design events popping up across Tokyo at the same time, the city becomes electrifying!


Maison&Objet (France, Miami, Singapore) and Salone del Mobile Milano (Italy) represent another side of design tourism. While industry professionals are still undeniably the primary audience, a surge in interest from the general public has motivated the trade shows to open up. Like TDW, these furniture and product design events draw visitors from all over the globe, who have recognised the events and their host cities as important centres of design.


Salone del Mobile Milano 2015

Another good example of design becoming travel destinations was the travelling exhibition CREATIVE©ITIES. Commissioned by the Kaohsiung City Bureau of Cultural Affairs, two Singaporean creatives (Jackson Tan from BLACK and Justin Zhuang from In Plain Words) curated an exhibition that mapped out how a “creative city” is seen through the eyes of people, projects, products and places recommended by the creators. Starting from Taiwan, the exhibition travelled to 10 cities across Asia. It was a destination that represented each city, at the same time a destination where people – local and foreign alike – could visit.

Design tourism is a way to understand the creative connections in Asia and beyond. By exploring how cities with similar cultural or design backgrounds transform over time, maybe we can figure out howlocal and foreign people see themselves and the city.


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