It has been a bad week for British design. In the past few days it has been announced that 30 Habitat stores are due to close, while Homeform, owner of Dolphin Bathrooms and Moben Kitchens, has gone into administration. Many will have looked forward to yesterday’s issue of Design Week – the trade publication for the design industry – to take the discussion further of the future of the nation’s home retail market. But the weekly publication flopped onto desks with even glummer tidings bearing just one coverline: “The Last Issue – Design Week closes after 25 years”. It’s depressing news. For 25 years Design Week has connected a growing community with the latest industry developments, reporting on everything from rebrands to trade fairs, combined with pithy profiles and opinion pieces that by night became talking points at industry gatherings.
“What seemed like a strong entrepreneurial idea in September 1986 is no longer viable,” says founder Jeremy Myerson, now a professor at the Royal College of Art and a member of the Design Council. “In 1986 the UK design industry was booming and Design Week accelerated the business of design. We could report on news almost as it happened.”
It helped recruitment too. “Companies could phone up and place an advert for someone on a Tuesday, have it printed in the Thursday edition and hire someone on the Friday,” says Myerson. “Previously people had to put up with the three-month lead time of the monthly glossies.”
Of course the big bad internet is the culprit. Design Week‘s circulation fell sharply from 7,777 a week in 2008 to 5,725 last year and now it will exist solely online. “People don’t want to wait until Thursday anymore,” says Myerson. “The web is instant and editorial opinion has been democratised by the presence of blogs. The only print titles that can survive are those that are beautiful, precious, collectible design objects in themselves and that’s not the point of a weekly trade title. The fact that Design Week can go under is indicative of far more troubling times ahead for this sector of the industry.”
Centaur, the business magazine publisher behind Design Week, has also closed the print version of New Media Age and placed a number of titles under consultation at the same time. Is this the beginning of the end for weekly trade titles as we know them? Global media guru Mario Garcia insists it’s not all bad news: “One of the advantages tablets offer is that publications that can no longer afford to publish in print can have a second life as tablet-only titles. I foresee that many of these trade periodicals will go tablet in the near future. It allows for great story-telling and, for an audience such as Design Week, it’s an ideal platform to view stories with longer legs in audio, video and pop-up.”
Centaur is currently developing an iPad application for both Design Week and New Media Age. The group’s first iPad application for another of its flagship titles, Creative Review, is set to launch this month. Whether that signals another imminent print closure on the horizon remains to be seen.