Dundee is a remarkable city – small, compact, but reaching far beyond its boundaries with a thriving and exciting design heart. The city has re-invented itself time and again, focusing on design and creativity to build and sustain economic growth. From rapid growth in the 19th century as a result of the of the jute industry, through post-war electrical and mechanical engineering, the city is now home to a cutting edge life sciences sector, a dynamic digital media industry, respected higher education institutions and a vibrant design and creative industries sector.
Just a century ago, Dundee was an economic power house – a whaling port, a centre for textile trade and shipbuilding. But economic decline followed in the late 20th century and the city faced choices about its future. Culture and design was already part of what was going on well, so investment was made in that sector, including Dundee Contemporary Arts and into the Rep Theatre. In the decade that followed, Dundee became home of the Scottish Dance Theatre, the Scottish School of Contemporary Dance, and The Space (Dance Centre). The Council invested £8m in the restoration of The McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery and Museum.
That investment has paid off. Today Dundee is a city on the rise, a city that is looking at £1billion investment in its Waterfront development, a 30 year project which will create more than 9,000 jobs. A key part of the development is the V&A Design Museum which will be housed in a custom made building designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.
Dundee University’s Duncan of Jordanstone School of Art and Design and School of Architecture (DJCAD) is consistently rated in the top 10% of the UK’s art and design schools; jeweller Jane Gowans designs have been worn by many well known personalities; and fashion designer, Hayley Scanlan graduated from DJCAD before setting up her successful business; Hayley is the only designer to ever win the Scottish Young Designer of the Year award, twice.
The original Grand Theft Auto and Lemmings series were created in Dundee in the 1990s. Ever since, digital start-ups and Abertay University have been at the heart of the thriving games community. Dundee has many digital pioneers, from digital toy makers Denki, to porting Minecraft on to Xbox and Playstation thanks to 4J Studios; to digital theatre games by Quartic Llama, to 3D mapping innovators eeGeo.
All the cultural activity in the city is amplified by Creative Dundee who support creative talent to base, grow and sustain their practice in and around the city, by connecting opportunities and amplifying the city’s creative pulse through events which encourage cross sector collaboration and networking to develop the local creative and cultural sectors. They have an open platform which showcases what’s happening to increase awareness of the creative scene, within and outwith the city and facilitate partnership projects – acting both as a partner and broker to impact positively on communities, the city and the local economy.
Many of Dundee’s digital companies experiment to find new ways to engage people in big topics: Guerrilla Tea recently launched Play to Cure, a game where you help process breast cancer data through navigating your way around an asteroid field; and Space Budgie are designing Glitchspace, an innovative game that enables you to learn programming skills whilst you play.
The city’s former jute mills and industrial spaces have now been re-energised from the ground up, by hundreds of creatives and collectives such as Tin Roof, Fleet Collective, Generator Projects and Wasps Studios. Along with individual designers, creative businesses and the universities/college they have really driven the practice and understanding of design in the city. These spaces coincidentally form a nice semi circle around the centre of the city and host a number of regular shows, pop-ups and selling events. New spaces such as District 10, made from shipping containers, house more digital creative businesses.
Dundee’s Creative Calendar is full of networks and events, such as Creative Dundee and Pecha Kucha Nights which create opportunities for creatives across Scotland to speak about their practice; Yuck n’ Yum zine fairs help people show and sell their zines; Treehouse is a Dundee based comic collective; Sustainability Jams encourage designers, technologists and others to come together and create solutions to big social challenges; PARKing Day invites people to temporarily re-imagine urban spaces; Code Club helps 9-11 year olds to learn coding; and Dundee Print Collective promote contemporary Scottish printmaking through regular exhibitions and events.
Dundee has a number of festivals celebrating design and innovation, such as Dare Protoplay the biggest indie games festival in the UK; Dundee Literary Festival, which brings together the worlds of literature, journalism, philosophy and politics; NEoN Digital Arts, Scotland’s only digital arts festival; Dee Con, an anime, comics, games and animation convention; and Scottish Jewellery Week, celebrating the jewellery design community in Scotland.
Dundee instinctively understands the need for design, planning and creativity as essential components of a growing city. But Dundee’s future is most exciting; with potential to engage design not only with industry but also the general public. Dundee’s vision is to create a city with design, culture and creativity at its heart.