Five Design Trends Set to Dominate 2020

From the experiential over the tangible to harnessing global problems as solutions, take a look at the current trends that will define tomorrow’s zeitgeist.

By Mark Hooper 09/01/2020

Plastic as a solution

With the debate over single-use plastic still dominating the agenda, the narrative has shifted towards how the design community can affect meaningful change – and even promote plastic as
a solution, rather than a problem.

Milanese gallerist Rossana Orlandi’s ‘Guiltless Plastic’ competition at Istituto Marangoni during London Design Festival offered a fascinating insight into how plastic waste can be processed in a more cost-, time- and energy-efficient manner; how to incorporate fully recyclable materials without negatively impacting on aesthetics; the repurposing of household waste for building cladding; and ways to incorporate contaminated complex plastics back into the cycle.

This follows the ongoing work by University College London’s Plastic Waste Innovation Hub, part of a wider EPSRC-funded project (Designing-Out Plastic Waste), which takes a system design approach to plastic waste, calling on a UCL team of experts alongside staff, students, industry professionals, policy-makers, government, waste management, charities and the public to tackle
the plastic waste problem. 

As always, the most elegant proposals are the simplest: such as James Shaw’s work in re-purposed plastic that embraces the approach that the waste itself can be a valuable raw material.

This echoes initiatives in the world of fashion, such as Christopher Raeburn’s pioneering ‘Remade, Reduced, Recycled’ mantra – reworking surplus materials and products into completely new designs, minimising waste, and harnessing green technologies and sustainable materials.

“I think as a designer you have an obligation to consider what you are doing and why,” he says. “Ultimately, we want to make strong, sustainable choices that provide our customers with a completely unique and desirable product.” On a more scientific front, biodesign expert Natsai Audrey Chieza applies the academic rigour of ‘critical design thinking’ to the sustainability issue, having already developed a ‘homegrown’ range with Stella McCartney – reminiscent of furniture designer Sebastian Cox’s experiments in using mycelium fungi structures as bonding agents in his products.

Even the big brands are experimenting in fully recyclable products: witness the Futurecraft Loop sneaker from Adidas, fashioned from a single ‘virgin’ plastic (TPU, or thermosplastic polyurethane) that can be ground up and reused…

Design as experience

The line between art installation and design is becoming more and more blurred: witness some of the more eye-catching showcases at London Design Festival, such as Take The Plunge by Volume Creative in collaboration with Virgin Voyages, a playful interactive installation at the Bargehouse in the city’s Oxo Tower Wharf intended to highlight the power of design to evoke curiosity. Visitors are invited to step into an endless horizon, eventually entering a space that depicts a sunset under the sea.

The effect is reminiscent of the work of Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, whose career retrospective at London’s Tate Modern (until 5 January, 2020) highlights the interlinking crossover between design, engineering and art in producing immersive experiences.

Similarly, VOID by Dan Tobin Smith + The Experience Machine in partnership with Gemfields uses large-scale projections of the mineral formations within rubies and emeralds, enlarged until they give the visitor the impression of travelling through abstract, galaxy-like structures in the multi-sensory spatial installation, including the harmonised layers of female electronic drone choir NYX.

Disco Carbonara

Meanwhile, Disco Carbonara by Martino Gamper offered up the false facade of a disco using traditional cladding from the Italian Alps at Coal Drops Yard in King’s Cross, inspired by the story of Potemkin village – a fake portable village built to impress Empress Catherine II by her lover Grigory Potemkin in 1787.

Surface fakery

Don’t call it fake news: experiments in surface texture and printing processes are resulting in a trend for products that aren’t quite what they seem.

The leather design specialist Bill Amberg has developed a new, refined process for digitally printing on leather hides, allowing creatives from other disciplines to transfer their designs onto a material that they may never previously have considered.

Among the new Bill Amberg Print collection are intriguing collaborations with Marcel Wanders, Calico Wallpaper, Champalimaud, Solange Azagury-Partridge, Lisa Miller and Matthew Day Jackson.

Jackson’s 1969 series, in particular, highlights the versatility of this technique – with a faithful recreation of the surface of the far side of the moon, produced using the original imagery from NASA. The work is an extension of his Kolho collection in association with Finnish design company Made by Choice and the Formica Group, in which he produced a topographically accurate 3D veneer for a furniture collection, which he also designed himself.

Bringing a sense of mischievous playfulness to contemporary fabrics and wallpapers, Scottish designers Timorous Beasties are no strangers to controversy. Wickedly funny twists on classic traditions, disorientating trompe l’oeil effects, designs inspired to look like different materials or covered in blotches and spills – even a range inspired by the classic Rorschach psychological test – everything is fair game.

Applying a similar approach to product design, architecture and experiential installations, New York-based collaborative practice Snarkitecture have become the darlings of the Instagram generation, thanks to experimental projects like The Beach, a touring installation in which 750,000 recyclable plastic balls were used to create a ball pit for adults. Their recent Hall of Broken Mirrors at the Design Museum Holon, Israel, creates the illusion of reflection within parallel spaces.


No design collection is worth it’s salt this season without a shock of cartoonish primary colour. Renowned for her bright, bold designs, French-born Camille Walala has transformed public spaces from Mauritius to New York through her Memphis-inspired sculptural 3D street furniture and architecture. Her Walala Lounge in London’s Mayfair district brought a typical splash of colour
to the UK’s capital.

Similarly, British-based Yinka Ilori is making a name for himself thanks to the way he employs a colourful, graphic style inspired by the traditional Nigerian parables and African prints that surrounded him as a child. His Colour Palace with architects Pricegore for the second Dulwich Pavilion is a 10-metre-high structure inspired by the buzz of fabric in markets in Lagos. His furniture, available to buy from Bluebird, London, often offers rug-from-under-the-feet moments, such as his range of chairs with backs, spindles and supports placed illogically (putting the ‘disco’ into discombobulating?).

Domus, meanwhile, has teamed up with Dutch designer Hella Jongerius, known for her studies of colour across varying materials, to produce Diarama, a tile collection from Mutina that offers a confident chromatic palette, creating an array of shades by applying glaze across various coloured bases.

Mutina Tile Display

British illustrator and designer Luke Edward Hall, meanwhile, continues to capture the spirit of Jean Cocteau through his deceptively simple line drawing style, with a range of bright and pastel shades applied to objects from tiles to slippers to furniture. You only need to glance at his list of high-profile collaborations to see how in demand he is – witness his recent Il Viaggio di Nettuno range at Richard Ginori for his classicism-meets-pop art approach.

Equally adept at juxtaposing styles from wildly different eras (19th century brown wood furniture meets Memphis, anyone?), Milan-based design duo Dimore Studio have embraced vibrant colour for their Progetto Palmador Series, including the Big One table, in glossy poli lacquered wood, featuring coloured geometric patterns and 20 micron silver-plated brass inlays; while stark red-and-white stripes add a sense of Italian holiday chic to their outdoor furniture.

Value In Storytelling

The ongoing demand for heritage, authenticity and craftsmanship in contemporary design has seen some slightly jarring bandwagon-hopping. But for those who aren’t prepared to cut corners, narrative and storytelling can add value to a piece. Take, for instance, London’s Sarah Myerscough Gallery – one of the prime movers in elevating craft to the level of art.

There is a buzz around many of the artists she represents – including the elemental wooden sculptures of Nic Webb, the tradition-meets-technology creations of Gareth Neal, the weathered, geological ceramic designs of Aneta Regel and the totemic works of Ernst Gamperl.

Gamperl is also a past winner of the Loewe Foundation Craft Prize – another sign of how the world of luxury brands and worthier-than-thou craftsmanship are converging. This year’s winner of the prize, Genta Ishizuka, combines ancient lacquer techniques dating back to 7th-century Japan with contemporary form-making, breaking long-held conventions along the way.

Also notable are the lunar-like ceramic surfaces of potter Akiko Hirai, artist Harry Morgan’s combination of glass and concrete and Annie Turner’s incredible, delicate ceramic sculptures which resemble latticed netting. Italian maker Giovanni Corvaja, who uses 18-karat gold as his raw material, transformed into hair-like strands that are then spun to produce impossibly ethereal bowls, is also defying the norms of material expectation.


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