DESIGN: Robotics paired with contemporary dance were among the highlights at the 2017 London Design Festival (LDF), which encapsulated the city’s status as the global capital of all-things design.

The UK’s £71bn (US$95.6bn) design business, including graphics, fashion, architecture, products and technology, was honoured by various events and activities during the LDF’s 15th anniversary on 16-24 September.

And one standout event was the dance performance called Slave/Master at London’s V&A museum. It depicted how robots, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automated products (such as self-driving cars) are set to become part of our everyday lives.

“As scientists and designers, we’ve worked with robotics because we’re interested in humans’ perception of how robots are to be used,” London-based Brooke Roberts-Islam, co-director of the show’s creator BR Innovation Agency, told MediaTainment Finance (MTF).

“Now that robots and Artificial Intelligence are becoming common place, humans and robots’ interaction will be increasing and we’ve produced this to show the public there is more to robots than what we’ve seen in sci-fi or horror movies.”

Slave/Master starred dancers from the London Contemporary Ballet Theatre and robots supplied by Kuka Robotics UK with projection graphics provided by London innovation agency Holition in the background.

“Economists will tell you that accelerated growth of consumers’ demands means we need to manufacture in cheaper and quicker ways. So automation is here to stay. It is now a matter of how we interact with it,” Roberts-Islam added to explain why the audience was encouraged to mingle with the show.

The increasing part played by new alternative tech such as AI, Virtual and Augmented Reality in creativity, including music composition, fine art, TV and literature, is explored in more depth in the latest edition of the MTF journal (Issue No.29).

The use of new tech in creative marketing was also provided by luxury-car manufacturing colossus BMW (Issue No. 24) during the London-wide festival. BMW, which is continuously investing in tech to keep its brand value fresh, is behind Mini Living, another LDF activity that examined design’s role in easing the pressure on consumers’ daily lives.

Mini Living is an initiative sponsored by the giant auto maker to create architectural solutions in an increasingly urbanised world where space availability is becoming a challenge.

Inspired by its ownership of the MINI car, the iconic and still popular compact vehicle, BMW has backed Mini Living’s creation of a micro house called the Urban Cabin (pictured, below).

Located near London’s Southbank cultural hotspot during the festival, the Urban Cabin is about “the creative use of space through design”. Modular in structure and mobile via its wheels, the Urban Cabin aims to prove it is possible to eat, sleep and live comfortably in miniature homes as urban residential space becomes a rare commodity in the future.

According to the United Nations, an estimated 70% of the global population will be living in cities by 2050. Figures provided by the Mayor of London’s office indicate Greater London’s population will zoom to nearly 11 million by 2041, a 2.35 million hike from 2014.

That kind of accelerated population growth threatens to impact living conditions negatively if design and planning are not thought through in advance.

The Urban Cabin’s creators (Mini Living’s Creative Lead Oke Hauser and Head of Brand Strategy & Innovation Esther Bahne – pictured below – plus UK architect Sam Jacob) said they hope its presence at the festival will trigger debates about the future of city life.

Slave/Master and the Urban Cabin pinpointed design’s importance to any country’s economy.

The UK’s Design Council concluded that in 2013, design in all its aspects contributed more than £71bn (US$95.6bn) to the British economy.

Just like the London Film Festival, London Fashion Week and the Frieze Art Fair, the London Design Festival itself has been a boon to the UK’s economic growth, according to data supplied by its organisers.

In the past 10 years alone, the festival has generated £313m (US$422.6m) for the country, thanks to the 3,600 projects and events produced during that period. Consumer spend has been buoyed by the 3.3 million visitors coming from 75 countries during that time.

Meanwhile, in 2015, the festival created the equivalent of almost 2,000 jobs, yielded £19.9m (US$26.9m) in tax revenues and earned more than £48m (US$64.8m) in exports.