While DesignMarch is primarily a celebration of the best of Icelandic Design, the program is anything but insular. It’s quite the opposite really, and this particular iteration of the annual event presents a plethora of international collaborations. From the 1+1+1 collective—which brings together designers from Iceland, Sweden, and Finland for mutual creation—to the joint Iceland-Sierra Leone Sweet Salone initiative, international engagement has become a fundamental tenet on the annual event. The crown jewel of this though is the Design Diplomacy series.
The Design Diplomacy events were introduced to the DesignMarch programming last year, borrowed from Helsinki’s annual design week. The concept is simple: A local Icelandic designer sits down with an international designer in their respective host countries ambassador’s residence for an informal discussion. The conversation is guided by question cards, which are chosen at random. This year sees artists from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and the United States participating.
The improvisational nature of these talks are what makes them so powerful. “They are conversing before an audience but the conversation is guided by this card game, so they cannot prepare in any way,” Sara Jónsdóttir, the festival manager of DesignMarch, tells me. “The questions are very random and cover topics ranging from the personal to the professional.”
When I ask for an example, she laughs. In fact, the cards are sitting right next to her. She picks one at random—an imitation of the event itself. “Tell us one mistake you have made and what you learned from it,” she reads. It’s definitely a personal question, but one that is emblematic of the goal of these conversations: Hearing answers to these type of questions let you really dive into an artist, their history, and their world view.
The designers are paired up due to similarities in their discipline, but it’s not absolutely rigid. “We try to find some similarities between them because then it is like holding up a mirror between them,” Sara says. For example, the Canadian talk joins together Canadian architect Rami Bebawi with Icelandic architect Borghildur Sturludóttir. While both are involved in city planning, they each have very different styles.
The Danish iteration has the starkest contrast, bringing together Danish fashion designer Henrik Vibskov and Icelandic interior designer Halfdan Pedersen. While they of course work in different disciplines, dialogues like these can reveal common ground between the two, both personal and culturally. Other talks include textile designers and landscape architects. “The talks also involve the audience,” Sara says. “After the conversation, everyone mingles over a drink.”
The move to increased international collaboration at DesignMarch has been a natural one. “It’s almost become a networking event now,” Sara says. “A lot of designers meet each other during the festival, and many of them then start working together. In fact, some collaborations here have started at DesignMarch in previous years.”
Here are the dates and times of each Design Diplomacy event:
Design Diplomacy USA: March 14th at 17:00
Design Diplomacy Finland: March 14th at 19:00
Design Diplomacy Norway: March 16th at 17:00
Design Diplomacy Sweden: March 16th at 19:00
Design Diplomacy Canada: March 17th at 13:00
Design Diplomacy Denmark: March 17th at 15:00