The Irish Government chose to celebrate and promote Irish design at home and around the world with Irish Design 2015, a year-long programme of events aiming, among other things, to demonstrate the importance of design to success in business and as a catalyst for change.

Fittingly, this year also saw the release of an iPad app that tells the story of the Kilkenny Design Workshops (KDW), an Irish government policy design initiative opened in 1965. Credited for the rise of contemporary Irish design, the KDW saw international designers lead multi-disciplinary workshops in Kilkenny and share their knowledge with young Irish designers.

We got in touch with Karen Hennessy, Chief Executive of both Irish Design 2015 and the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland (DCCoI), to find out more about Irish Design 2015, the KDW app and the ties between KDW and Icsid.

Q: Tell us more about Irish Design 2015 and its goal of increasing awareness of the value of design and its power as a catalyst for change.

Irish Design 2015 (ID2015) aims to promote Irish design capability nationally and internationally and to encourage small and medium Irish companies to use design as a critical competitive advantage. The idea of designating a year to celebrate and promote Irish design emerged from the 2013 Global Irish Economic Forum. The initiative is included in the Irish Government’s Action Plan for Jobs, and a comprehensive programme of events and activities has been planned and delivered to drive job creation, grow exports and increase competitiveness. The President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, is Patron of Irish Design 2015.

The programme for the year included presenting the work of Irish designers at high profile events in design capitals including London, Paris, Eindhoven, Milan, New York, Chicago and Hong Kong/Shenzhen with activities ranging from design weeks, fashion weeks and architecture biennials to feasibility studies and embassy events. Central to the planning and delivery of the ID2015 programme is collaboration with public and private partners, in Ireland and abroad, to ensure a successful legacy. Beyond the extensive programme of events and activities, foundations are also being put in place to further develop the Irish design sector. With continued support and investment, ID2015 has the potential to strengthen Ireland’s competitiveness in the global marketplace and create employment opportunities over the years to come.

Global Irish Design Challenge project Sugru

Q: The year-long event is coming to a close very soon. What can you tell us about the impact this initiative has had within Ireland and abroad?

This ID2015 initiative has been very well received, with great footfall to the national and international exhibitions. Activities have also achieved coverage by international media, significantly raising the profile of the Irish design sector in Ireland and around the world. Amongst the many highlights:

  • Over 670 projects – including core exhibitions, trade shows, design weeks, architecture biennials, fashion weeks, embassy events, design innovation fund events and international trade fund events – attracted an audience in excess of 1.5 million
  • Over 2,000 companies/designers were showcased
  • Over 6,400 designers and over 1,700 business professionals received training
  • Over 300 new design companies/organisations registered
    Fifteen new Design Networks were established, connecting designers, design organisations and design users
  • A Design Vouchers pilot scheme was created to assist more than 50 micro businesses and SMEs to implement design strategy in their business, in association with Dublin City Council and Dublin Local Enterprise Office
  • Partnerships were formed with more than 80 organisations to deliver the ID2015 programme
  • Close to 30 Irish embassies across the globe engaged with ID2015 during the year, hosting events and exhibitions including Connections, the capsule exhibition of Irish design, which toured numerous embassies throughout the year

Q: The KDW was a member of Icsid until its closure in 1988. What can you tell us about the role KDW played in Icsid and vice versa?

Mary V. Mullin from Kilkenny Design Workshops was the first woman in the world to be elected Vice President of Icsid. She was also the first Irish person on the Icsid Board, which allowed KDW and Irish design to be recognised on a world stage. Ms. Mullin worked as William H. Walsh’s (founder of Kilkenny Design Workshops) assistant for 12 years and she is also one of the founding members of the Crafts Council of Ireland, now trading as the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland, established in 1971.

KDW played a large role in Icsid, hosting seminars and conferences in Kilkenny. Among other events, it hosted the second ever Interdesign workshop – the Interdesign ‘Design for Tourism’ Programme at Butler House in May 1972, setting the pattern for similar programmes still being followed today in various parts of the world. KDW also hosted Icsid board meetings and welcomed delegates to the 10th Icsid General Assembly and World Congress in Dublin in 1977. Approximately 676 delegates from 41 countries attended this congress and the forums and exhibitions that surrounded the event. Hundreds of attendees came by special train from Dublin to visit KDW and view the workshops and meet the designers and craftworkers.

Q: Why has a Kilkenny Design Workshops iPad App been launched this year?

This year marks the 50th anniversary of KDW’s official opening, and the launch of the app is to acknowledge KDW’s impact on design in Ireland and further afield. This anniversary fittingly takes place during Irish Design 2015.

Although operations were closed in 1988, KDW left a strong legacy of design in Ireland. The launch of the app is part of the journey to honour this legacy. Up until now, it was difficult to find information on KDW as some of the previous publications on this subject are out of print. The app, in a digital magazine format, offers an interactive and engaging way of finding out more about the KDW, its creative legacy, and impact on design in Ireland. It is not only an effective educational resource for those who want detailed information about KDW’s approach and operations, but also a perfect tool for those who simply want to immerse themselves in the atmosphere and design of that era.

Of course the app would never have been launched without the support and participation of the KDW@21C Legacy Committee and funding from the Heritage Council and DCCoI who also produced the app. Both funding organisations wish to gratefully acknowledge and express sincere thanks to all those who generously supported the project with photographic and archive material.

Further credits go to Red Lemonade Creative who designed and developed the app in Castle Yard, the exact studios where KDW designers once worked, and to Ruth Mulhern who developed the content.

Q: What sorts of content can people expect to find on the KDW iPad app?

The KDW story is told interactively through recent audio clips from KDW alumni, photographs from the era, beautiful archival film footage and design content, some of which is being made public for the first time. Viewers can explore the KDW studios, tap to absorb the sights and sounds of the workshops in operation, listen to packaging designer Holger Strøm explain the concept for his iconic IQlight® and swipe through 1960’s KDW retail brochures or zoom in to see the former Ormonde Stable buildings and a panorama of adjoining Butler House Gardens.

The free app also features television interviews with William H. Walsh, the visionary KDW founder, and recordings of Åke Huldt, who was part of the Scandinavian group invited to audit design in Ireland. This led to the seminal 1961 ‘Design in Ireland’ report commonly referred to as the ‘Scandinavian Report’. One of the recommendations in this report was to have a year of Irish design, so we are delighted to have finally made that a reality this year! Readers can browse through the complete report within the app.

Other features include Oisín Kelly’s humorous and insightful lecture on artistic creativity, the 1965 master plan drawing for the original proposed studios at KDW, images of iconic products and family archive photos.

Q: Finally, for those who do not have ready access to an iPad, are there any plans to make this content available in other formats?

Unfortunately due to budget constraints, the KDW app is only available via one platform and the iPad was chosen because this was the most popular format at the time, and the magazine format lends itself very well to reading on the iPad.

We hope people will be able to access this important resource, if not through their personal iPad then via libraries, galleries, schools or colleges. We have also added information on KDW to our DCCoI website and have collated an archive on the National Craft Gallery website


About Karen Hennessy
Karen Hennessy, Chief Executive of Irish Design 2015 (ID2015), led the year-long initiative convened by the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland, to celebrate and promote Irish design on behalf of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Enterprise Ireland. DCCoI is an ambassador for Design for Europe, a European programme that aims to promote understanding of design for innovation and growth across Europe. Karen currently sits on the Irish Design 2015 Interdepartmental Steering Group, the Advisory Group for Small Business (AGSB), Chartered Accountants Ireland’s Members in Business Committee, and is a member of the Association of Chief Executives of State Agencies (ACESA). Karen is also a member of the KDW Legacy Committee.

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