Philip Long: Scotland has designs on a place in the top rank

The nation's studios are leading a confident upsurge, from computer games to carpentry, writes Philip Long

Kevin Fox of LAT_56 outside his office built from converted shipping containers, at District 10in Dundee with some of his premium performance travel luggage. Picture: Robert Perry

Where do you think are the world’s design hot-spots? Perhaps Milan or Paris for fashion, possibly London or Silicon Valley for digital design?

Creativity of course flourishes in the world’s largest cities. Their energy, their mass of people, their diversity of industry is enormously helpful in driving design creativity. But there are drawbacks too, around quality of life and cost of living that can negatively impact on the creativity of individuals and the long-term sustainability of businesses.

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For the London Design Festival 2016, V&A Dundee will be shining a light on designers working here in Scotland who are achieving success in ways, and sometimes in locations, which help us broaden our thinking as to where design can thrive.

Here in Scotland, our creativity grows in confidence, both in our metropolitan centres, where our colleges of art and design play such an important role, and also in less obvious places, where creativity can be nurtured in different ways.

Across the country there are many, many areas of creative business excellence, from the lace of MYB Textiles in Ayr, to the Chanel-owned Barrie Knitwear in Hawick, to traditional Scottish fabrics like Harris Tweed, which have inspired designers as diverse as Margaret Howell, Vivienne Westwood and Zegna. London, Milan and Paris may have the fashion shows, but it is surprising how often the fabrics, design and manufacturing genius is from factories in the Scottish Borders, or crofts on Harris and Lewis.

Back in our cities, Edinburgh is home to CodeBase, the UK’s largest incubator for start-up technology companies and one of the fastest growing in Europe, as well as one of the world’s leading game development studios in Rockstar North. The talent that developed its flagship game, Grand Theft Auto, was nurtured in Dundee, home of Europe’s leading university for teaching and research in digital game design, Abertay University. Such skills drew Scottish entrepreneurs Douglas and Richard Hare back from California to found Outplay Entertainment, which has created over 150 jobs and games which have been downloaded over 60 million times.

We will see this creativity in different ways at the London Design Festival, in the nine exemplary designers we selected for our exhibition Northern Lights in partnership with Creative Dundee and Scottish Enterprise. The choice was difficult: over 60 designers and companies applied to be involved and every single one represented something different and inspiring about our nation’s creative state.

Angus Ross is a strong example, a designer, maker and woodsman who bends, sculpts and folds local, sustainably sourced wood to create bespoke furniture and artwork for the public realm. Ross works from his Aberfeldy studio, in an historic workshop that has been used continuously for woodwork since the late 19th century. From here he also manages beautiful oak woodland, providing not only the materials for his furniture but his creative inspiration. His materials, design process and internationally sought-after products are inseparable.

Also seeking inspiration from Scotland’s unique natural environment is Tom Pigeon, a creative studio founded by Pete and Kirsty Thomas. The husband-and-wife team are based in Cellardyke on the east coast, from where they employ several designers and makers to meet demand for their prints, jewellery and stationery. Beautifully crafted, their work is inspired by the colour, pattern and natural forms of their coastal surroundings, designing, in their words, simple things for people to enjoy.

Combining entrepreneurial talent with a creativity which is attracting interest from around the world is Kevin Fox. Under the brand LAT_56, Fox designs travel luggage full of clever innovation from his Dundee headquarters, connecting to offices in California, London and Hong Kong and his manufacturing base in China. Customers include the Emirates airline, an impressive endorsement for a young designer driven by a desire to create beautiful, functional products.

Angus Ross, Pete and Kirsty Thomas, and Kevin Fox are not only creatively able designers, but also employers, business practitioners and role models for the next generation of designers and creative entrepreneurs. In Scotland’s Year of Architecture, Innovation and Design we should be doing as much as we can to draw attention to their talent, because of the inspiration this can offer to the creative talent of the future.

At this year’s London Design Festival our message is clear: in Scotland our diverse natural environment, our leading colleges and universities and the strength of our design heritage provide a fertile environment for our creativity and future enterprise.

At V&A Dundee we are proud to be representing a small selection of Scotland’s design talent at international showcases such as the London Design Festival – and to be preparing to tell many more stories of creativity and inspiration when our museum opens in 2018.

• Philip Long is director of V&A Museum of Design Dundee. Find out more at

Northern Lights is free and open to the public from Saturday 17 to Sunday 25 September in Gallery 55 at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.