Local Design

July 31, 2010 — 2 Comments


I don’t generally travel to rural Oxfordshire, the place in England where I grew up, for design inspiration. History, beauty, friends and family – yes, but design – no. That is at least until I discovered Giffords Circus on my trip this summer. Giffords is a family circus that spends the summer months traveling around Oxfordsire, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire performing to small crowds in fields behind pubs and other such local landmarks. This is a tradition that has gone on in England for a century or more and to be honest most of these circuses are tired and a little sleazy – not so this one. From the beautiful and vibrant graphics of the program and map that shows the locations of performances; to the rigorous application of the ‘corporate identity’ on every vehicle the visual design of the circus is stunning. Beyond this the performance is delightful; a cross between Cirque de Soleil and vaudeville with inspirational music, amusing plot and loads of humor. The final touches include homemade cakes and drinks at the interval and even the option of a three course meal made from the best local ingredients with the performers at the end of the evening. A UK food magazine describes it as “one of the most enjoyable and memorable restaurants imaginable”.

This delightful experience is owned and delivered by Nell Gifford and her husband Toti (a landscape designer). It shows what can be achieved with the combination of imaginative design, enthusiastic entrepreneurship and talent.What would happen if our local school districts, city councils and health authorities exhibited the same imagination?

Tim Brown


2 responses to Local Design

  1. I wholeheartedly agree – I came across Giffords a couple of years ago and think it is wonderful. If anyone wants to experience a true Circus then this has it all.

  2. Thanks Tim. Localism has rich lessons for designers. Farmers and architects have long and closely considered site and stakeholder alike while designers have been busy taking on the world (Transportation, Other 90%…) Imagine the uniqueness, level of participation and richness of solution when designers, users, materials and manufacturers are within easy reach of each other. This is an often overlooked element to the pre-globalized success of say, the Italian furnishings industry. Rather than globally scaling the Italian tradition (Ikea) we might rather focus on replicating systems where unique regional and cultural elements can be leveraged to the designers advantage. The social, environmental, cultural and economic implications of such an approach are fascinating. Perhaps its time for a new ‘localism’ tag.

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