London Design Biennale

Things to do, Exhibitions
3 out of 5 stars
(24user reviews)
© Yasuhiro Suzuki

Time Out says

This month-long festival of contemporary design will fill Somerset House with works from over 30 countries. Discover scratch and sniff wallpaper with whiffs of Hong Kong, run your fingers over a computer-generated condensation coating a pane of glass in Latvia’s installation and walk through 150 strands of fibre optic light inspired by Australia's recent legalisation of same-sex marriage. 

Watch our video below of what to expect...



Users say (24)

3 out of 5 stars

Average User Rating

3.4 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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  • 4 star:5
  • 3 star:15
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This was my first time at Design Biennale and I was blown away. First of all, I only had an hour and half to get round this exhibition and it is so grand and expansive, you really need three to four hours to explore properly as it takes up most of Somerset House. My highlights were as follows - 

The Mask, see this above anything else - Es Devlin’s egg shaped creation is a 3D model of London and The Thames with an incredible montage beamed onto it. 
Italy: L'Architettura Degli Alberi - this fabulous and understated room has stunning and intricate drawings of trees.
Logo room - pick your favourite pictures and they assemble your personal logo.
Egg Timers - perfectly timed identical egg timers are fascinating
Time to get out - this tunnel is completely dark except for apocalyptic flashing lights with modern nightmares such as ‘0% battery ruining your day?’ (THIS THO)
Australia: Full Spectrum - neon lights hanging from the ceiling that you can play with
Latvia: Matter to Matter - a green coloured condensation wall that visitors are invited to write on with their hands
Well worth a visit.

My only complaint is that I didn’t have long enough to go around this exhibition and absorb every detail but you never would! Brilliantly produced and a fabulous global contribution on serious and conceptual topics, superb!


I was really disappointed with the first half of this exhibition, but luckily I ventured downstairs and was much more impressed! So, overall it was a pretty good evening. I loved the scratch and sniff wall paper and designing my own tshirt based on my personal identity. It was a fun date night in a beautiful location. Would recommend!


I really enjoyed this, although through most of it I felt like an idiot for not really “getting” it! I should have read up on it first. The layout of Somerset House made it difficult to find a few things and it wasn’t signposted well. Plenty of staff but you had to ask for help. I almost left, underwhelmed, without seeing the basement, which was the best part of the exhibit!

Definitely worth going!


I could not think higher of this event.

Not only is this exhibition at Somerset House (one of the most, if not THE most beautiful building in the City) but it's huge and interactive. Each room features a different country and their reaction to 'emotional states'. Thus is born an exhibition that's raw, personal and completely innovative. 

I would highly recommend to anyone who still has time to check it out! Note: this isn't your usual exhibition, expect tactile displays and multi-sensory experiences. 


Biennial is all about ‘emotional states’ and how design affects people around the world. Each room of the exhibition is dedicated to a different culture and outlook- so it’s quite a mixture of installations.

You need an open mind for it. The textiles and senses rooms didn’t resonate with me.

However my favourite was one scene about illegal rain. You see a room inside a house with paraphernalia laid out on a table used to create rain; the radio news crackling in the background. This section really stuck out for me- it was very thought provoking, imagining a world that is so badly damaged by climate change that everything, even something as natural as rain, is controlled.

On the one hand this exhibition is quite conceptual and off-the-wall. On the other, there are some terrifying warnings and visions of a post climate change world, which sticks with you.


I first went to London Design Biennale in 2016 and absolutely loved it; the theme then was 'Utopia' and exhibit after exhibit, we were amazed and captivated. So you can imagine I walked into the 2018 with high expectations; sadly these were not met. 

Now I am still giving the biennale as a whole a 4/5 stars because it is worth going to and I will be going back but I just feel that the exhibits this year didn't enthrall me in the same way they had done previously. But of course art is subjective and I have no doubt that what went so clearly over my head will draw others in.

That said, a special mention must go to Australia's submission by Flynn Talbot; inspired by the Ppride flag, the interactive installation of 150 free hanging fibre optic lights bathes people in rainbow in celebration of the 2017 decision to legalise same sex marriage! The artist says, ‘in Australia there is now a new notion of what love is. It is tangible in the air!’ Couldn't get enough of it!


London Design bien or nah(le)?

Although I had a nice evening visiting the exhibition I couldn't help to feel that it lacked something. Besides the topic "Emotional States" the event didn't have coherence: there wasn't connection between the exhibits, I felt like they are following each other randomly. It was tricky to find our way around as there was no map or route suggestion to follow: we missed a few exhibits and some were closed by the time we got there.

I enjoyed exploring the interactive displays (especially the USA's emotional/facial recognition monitors and Latvia's vapor wall), but I expected more.Maybe in 2019.


The London design Biennale at Somerset House is a pretty typical picture of the currently indistinguishable borders between art, design and life.

Many exhibits are what you would expect – upcycling of plastics (Germany), the low tech theme park stuff (Argentina) and the high tech theme park type stuff (U.S)

Italy’s exhibit was one of the most memorable for being the most austere. A kind of catalogue of trees, laboriously drawn from photographs as a guide landscape designers.

The exhibit from Dundee purported to be about mental illness, but without knowing that it seemed only about the playfulness and aesthetics of combinatronics.

Is it worth £19.50? No. Especially not when I found out later that the installation I spent most time with (Mask by Es Devlin) is a separate and free exhibit.


The Design Biennial is a diverse mix of design responses by teams from many different countries to the same brief. It's the variation which makes this special with some exhibits captivating, some cliche some surprising, but all different, interesting and well worth a look. It is the latter which makes for a bit of a conundrum as there is a lot to see, the whole of the exhibition space in Somerset House in fact. So on that count, if you can't stay all day you either have to miss stuff out or keep up a pretty speedy pace. Either way however you can't fail to be inspired and impressed by at least some of the exhibits.


I would definitely agree that this wasn't easy to find your way around, a map would have been helpful. We did run into a very helpful member of staff who let us take a photo of the map he was holding and apologised for not having maps to give us, therefore we did get a little lost. It was also a shame about the outside pieces which were closed due to the rain. There was definitely a lot to see here but most of which I just didn't really understand, there were some eye catching pieces but overall too contemporary for me.


I’m a regular visitor to the Venice Art Biennale and coming to a design one, I was expecting to see more or actual designs of things rather than art installations, but it wasn’t the case. I don’t think many rules applied here and the line between the two disciplines was really vague. A lot of stuff was playful and interactive, but I wasn’t quite sure what they were doing at the Design Biennale.

My favourite room of all was the German one. It was exactly what I was looking for at this event: a showcase of innovative stuff that can somehow make our life a bit better. Representing the most eco country on the planet, the German team focused on upcycling rubbish into everyday objects: chairs made form from crisps bags or recycled paper. I feel we all should take example from here.

The Polish room was for me quite nostalgic and funny. It was very informative, but at the same time deeply historically charged. It definitely fit the brief of ‘Emotional States,’ but it should be shown at a historic exhibition not at a design show.

We didn’t have enough time to see everything and had to run really quickly in the last few rooms, which seemed to be the most excellent ones. I love the patterns on the scratch and smell wallpapers in the Hong Kong room, but as we were being kicked out, I had no chance to experience it properly.

Due to bad weather we also couldn’t visit the Turkish installation in the courtyard. While the Hungarian didn’t really work. I quite enjoyed many of the exhibits, but I think the ticket price was a bit too steep for what it was. 

It's a quite expensive exhibition, but only a couple of rooms were really interesting. Everything else was quite disappointing, and i've struggled to see the connection to design in most of them.

I can't make up my mind about the LDB. On the one hand, some exhibitions were beautiful and thought-provoking and I've found myself telling everyone about how great they were. On the other, some of it was just dull. For example, Hong Kong's scratch and sniff wallpaper was amazing, and I would happily pay to immerse myself in Mongolia's boxes of soft wool again, but other exhibits really had me questioning the value for money of this exhibition. 


The exhibition at Somerset house is MUCH bigger than I thought so make sure you give youself plenty of time. Its full of instagrammable designs some completely lost on me but others thought provoking or at least pretty to look at. Its a bit of a maze so they could definitely do with handing out a map so you don't miss anything. Make sure not to miss the Peruvian exhibition where they are printing personalised tees of your 'soft' identity (I'll let them explain) as well as the scratch and sniff walls and the hour glasses.


Not the easiest exhibition to navigate and might've benefited from more wayfinding/ being smaller, but was still great to wander around (although I wish I had allowed myself more time). There was a wide variety of work on show - some tickled my pickle more than others, but that's art for you. I particularly enjoyed some of the more experiential/ interactive pieces, such as the USA and Latvia's entries. Poland's entry was also a fascinating look at the emotional significance of everyday items in the Polish national psyche. All in all, an interesting exhibition but I don't feel it's worth the full ticket price.


We have an interesting time when we visited Somerset House for this exhibition. Firstly we entered at the wrong entrance and manager to see a number of the offering before we even picked up our ticket. We then began our interesting, if not sometimes confusing, journey through the museum, getting lost a few times along the way. 

Our highlights were the entries from Puerto Rica, who challenged you to define yourself in 5 pictures from a selection laid out over the walls. From this they then created an unique design and printed it on a t-shirt for you. The Australian hanging circle of bar lights which cycled a variety of rainbow colour to celebrate their adoption of gay marriage, and the Liverpool space themed exhibit.

We know that we certainly missed out some of the exhibits, which wasn't deliberate, and felt a guide map or numbering system would have helped. 

All in all worth a visit if you are at a loose end. Especially with TimeOut offering discounted tickets.


This was a very quirky exhibition. Some design were simple but beautiful and some were too contemporary for me to understand. Only a handful of design were actually usable in daily life. The exhibition at the basement was far more interesting than the one on the ground floor. I would say that if you are not into contemporary art, you would struggle to understand a lot of it. My favorite exhibits were scratch and sniff wallpapers (by Hong Kong), lampshades like object diffusing scents (Qatar), and the soft comfortable fabric by Mongolia. 


Design, the weird combination of art and usefulness... I'll be honest and say I was very disappointed with the concepts from the different countries that were presented. The only exhibitions I enjoyed were the USA's facial recognition program and Australia's rainbow tree. For me this was not worth the cost of the ticket though, rather look out for the London Design Festival at the end of September. 


The London Design Biennale in my eyes was a design exhibition showcasing talent from many different countries. Each country was in a different room and tackled the subject in a very different way. I thoroughly loved the interactivity of Hong Kong with their scratch and sniff wallpaper and also United Arab Emirates did tell with thought provoking egg timers. I think you need more than 2 hours to do this exhibition justice. its very varied and a lot of ground if covered. My annoyance was down to the flow of the rooms. Somerset house isnt set up for a flowing journey so this made me question whether I had seen everything etc. Anyway i hope this returns and next time I will give myself more time :) 

The 2018 Design Biennale is worth a visit. The installations in the Somerset House open space are beautiful. If you have the chance of visiting when the day light is fading even better as you will see their light design in its full making the experience even more interesting as you have SH building surrounding it all. The exhibition is massive. Consider spending at least a couple of hours there. Some installations/artworks are beautifully presented, some use technology and full interaction underlining their statement, some makes you think if you understand art at all. Definitely after a whole hour there your senses are in full good 'alert' mode and your phone camera loaded with great images to be shared in the social media. 


I really enjoyed the Biennale, and thought the variety of work on show was excellent. On the whole it does a great job of fulfilling its description of exploring 'big questions and ideas about sustainability, migration, pollution, energy, cities, and social equality.'

The theme of 'Emotional Sates' is so broad that the ways in which different countries have interpreted it is pretty mind blowing - there is everything from static sculpture to digital interactives to sensory experiments to walk-through installations.

Some of the work was not to my taste, but the process and the message behind the work was still interesting. The Biennale is definitely worth seeing (and highly Instagrammable)!


This exhibition is massive and fills the entirety of Somerset House including some outside installations also. It’s a really varied exhibition which is great as I’m sure there’s something to appeal to everyone. Each country has gone in its own direction with what it wants to represent in its section and for me some displays were fascinating, others were lovely to see from an asthetic perspective but others were just not my thing and as such a tad yawn. But the variety is ace.

Annoyingly for me the best looking outdoor installations were closed due to earlier rain. Gutted!


A bit of a mixed bag, including some stunning artworks and some duds. Not all the artists have used technology thoughtfully; instead they seem to have just chucked in some sensors and other bits and bobs for the hell of it.