cropped-image_022“I am Marion Gillet, a Design Management Consultant.” Usually when I say this at parties or to anyone I meet I get:

  • a slightly confused smile
  • no answer
  • “design, what sort of design?”

and therefore I have to explain myself the best I can:

“I work with small design companies and assist them as they take products to market or grow their business.” or

“I provide marketing and sales services to design businesses”

And that gets me:

  • a slightly confused smile
  • no answer
  • “and what sort of products or designs”

This blog is NOT about explaining what I do, but is a place to share my knowledge and thoughts on the business of design. I believe that design is a great force if well used in any industry, it’s just not used at its full potential. I also believe designers, creative professionals and inventors must get better at understanding business in general if they want to be understood by other businesses and become more successful.

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Buying from independent designers and makers at this time of year is a great remedy against Christmas shopping overdose. When I turned up at the Made In Bristol Gift Fair 30 min before it closed, I had to curb my excitement. It’s hard to focus when surrounded with so many objects of desire. When I don’t have time for a leisurely browse, I pick up cards from sellers I like the most. Besides a couple of purchases, I’m now left with a bunch of cards of varying sizes and quality.

How well will I remember the products I did not buy then but might purchase later?  Here is a video showing three good examples of printed promotion and explaining how to create a lasting impression.

Below, more practical tips to designers and makers who are selling this month:

Nesting sales. Remember the difference between a product and a gift. The gift holds the potential of future sales. There are several characters in this scenario: the ‘giftee’ receives gift, the ‘gifter’ buys and gives gift. Whilst the gift must contain information about your company, don’t forget the gifter and give them an extra postcard or flyer. This is the best way to be remembered for another gifting occasion or for a treat.

Grow your market. Do your bit of co-promotion and use the organisers’ cards or flyers to promote other events you are taking part.

Easy picking. It’s great to speak to your customers but, typically, it is nearly impossible to serve more than one person at once. Besides eye contact and saying hello, make sure your prices are big, clear and visible. Keep postcards and flyers in view and within reach of browsing shoppers.

Busy packing. If someone still looks at your products while you pack and you are pushed for time, make the effort to talk to them briefly. Give a (post)card and tell them how to buy from you after the event: ‘you can come and see us here’ and ‘here is our online shop’.

End of the (cash) King? Mobile technology makes it a lot easier to take card payments. But don’t forget to have some change and keep your notes and coins in a safe place. As a shopper I now expect to be able to make card payments at pop-up events, which means I am likely to buy and spend more.

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How to enhance your design portfolio with text.

Call to action

If an image speaks a thousand words – that’s probably too much talking and not enough telling.  If you are a designer or an illustrator there are endless online platforms to showcase your work and to earn new clients. This post is not about choosing what to show, it is about writing about what you show.

Why you need some text beside your work

  • Never assume that viewers will not look for a caption. If they are interested they will.
  • I am no expert in search engine optimisation but jpegs are more easily found when well associated with (key)words.
  • Not everyone is visually proficient and literate – you are the expert not your potential clients.
  • Images sell better with a good story.
  • When you are in a presentation or meeting talking about your work, the process of writing the caption will inspire the way you speak. One of my clients whose first language is not English uses the text of her portfolio as a prompt when presenting to English clients.

What’s a good story?

A mix of what you put in the work and what the client or user got out of it and how you came to work together.

How many words?

Rarely a thousand… Your portfolio should hold no more than three long stories, many short ones and a healthy number of medium stories. Your long story should never be the full story, save this one for your face to face meetings with inquisitive clients or journalist.

How to inspire the writer in you?
Writing about yourself or your own work is the most difficult thing. Good news is that every designer has a story for every single piece they do. So find your written voice and turn it into a copy that helps you selling your service or products.

Answer some of the questions below to make the story interesting:

  • Who was it for?
  • What was the client need or problem?
  • Why did they come to you?
  • What were the restrictions or limitations?
  • How did you overcome them?
  • What did you enjoy whilst doing the work?
  • What did the client got out of it?
  • Did it win some awards?

Other more specific questions:

  • Why does client X keeps buying from you? – In case you have repeat clients.
  • What do you enjoy doing most? – There must be somewhere you say about what your dream job is, no-one will know otherwise.

And finally…

Get help! Ask people around you to proof read, accept tweaks and hunt for the copywriter amongst your friends, colleagues and relatives. And keep doing it, it will get easier.

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What is the Design Festival like for a passing visitor on a short visit? How much can you see in less that 48hrs when the big events have not yet opened? How does London celebrate design?

The density of events in relation to the scale of the city felt slightly off-kilter. I found few daytime events on the 16th and 17th of September, despite the festival having started on the 13th. With 100% Design, Tent, Design Junction and Designers Block opening to the public on the 18th , I really had to scout the city to satisfy my curiosity.

LDF2014 _ Columbia Road

A Design Festival will necessarily ask the what-is-design question. In places, ‘design’ was just some intriguing complex 3d printed arty object bearing little relation to its host restaurant or shop. Established & Sons (Old Street) or Ink-Works showrooms (Columbia Road) were some of the highlights for me. Both had a background story and enough interesting pieces to talk about, touch and look at. There was something there about how product design meets art and graphic design. Both had someone on hand to tell you about the display, helping to make design accessible.

There was a bubble of activity in the Islington Design District, and Craft Central in Clerkenwell put on 3 different shows over a small area; the events were as much about the ‘making of’ as the finished products. There was a spinning theme running throughout, with large lathed pieces by Simone Brewster and turned paper objects by Pia Wüstenberg. It was a successful version of what the Salone Satellite was trying to do back in April.

L_D_F 2014. TotalFabrication @ Craft Central _ Pia Wüstenberg: Turned Paper Vessels L_D_F 2014. Tropical Noire @ Craft Central _ Simone Brewster

Some publishing mistakes made me stumble into exhibitions that weren’t quite ready. Around Old Street/Shoreditch a few places had started to celebrate, while others were offering post-work celebrations only; not much good for a daytime visitor like me. The Geffrye Museum’s show was opening soon. Is it a good idea for the smaller shows to compete with the big attractions rather than overlap?

I very much experienced the ‘trail effect’, trying to find open exhibitions behind the design beacons planted by the organizers. Shoreditch Design Triangle signs outside closed and uninviting doors did not deter my motivation to celebrate design and to experience the festival. Many bus rides and much walking rewarded me with a few surprises. I wonder if I better appreciated them because of the scarcity of events?

The challenge of the festival is to work with the dynamic of the city and its geography. If this major event claims to be a gateway to the London and British design scenes, then the Festival must crank up the celebration on the streets of London. There is more than enough design energy outthere to provide more to see and do from day one, outside of the big venues.

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Eiffel Tower in Snow Dome _ Maison&Objet 2014 review

Kitsch gift

Paris’ M&O has a reputation to be a magnet for international buyers and businesses. I have often heard rumours of disappointment coming from exhibitors: “there aren’t many people… where are the buyers?…where are the big orders?”. In fact I’ve heard this at most trade shows. I would probably become disenchanted too, after days standing on the same carpet with little natural light and not enough fresh air. I spent only a day visiting the famous French show to find out about the reality behind reputation and rumours.

I started with Hall 8, home to design-led brands. There I found Design House Stockholm, Normann Copenhagen and Petite Friture, as well as a strong delegation of British names, such as Tom Dixon, SCP, Dona Wilson and Eleanor Pritchard, to name a few. It felt like a mini-Milan. In fact, a lot of the products shown in Italy were making a second appearance in Paris. Hall 8 was mildly busy with most of the footfall around the stands nearer the entrance and a dwindling flow of visitors past that point.

I visited Hall 7 around 1.30pm, so there was an atmosphere of post-lunch lull. It is the perfect shopping destination if you are after something big, spectacular or expensive – and certainly unique – for your latest luxury pad. It’s also good if you need to furnish a luxury resort, a boutique hotel or if you are a collector.

Hall 6 seemed to get the most visitors. Here, you are likely to meet independent boutique buyers as well as their colleagues from larger stores. It might put off design aficionados but it pretty much felt that this is where business is happening. Some buyers I’ve known for years have only ever bought from Bijorhca and M&O in Paris. Their shop is located in more than 500km from the French capital and they stock a wide variety of jewellery and fashion accessories. They buy mainly in Hall 6, with rare excursions to Hall 7. They would usually spend a week in both January and September in Paris to browse, select and order from European designers and makers exhibiting at these events. There are a number of shops similar to this one across Europe.

If  you are designer-maker exhibiting at this event, you are in the right place. You do, however, need to do some preliminary work to get noticed on the day. This could be a push on PR to get a prime spot in the show directory or magazine. Consider some targeted advertising leading up to the date. Even better talk to potential buyers to find out where and when they go and what informs their decisions.

So why exhibit in Paris? It puts you in front of a lot of potential buyers and customers from Europe, France and possibly Asia. If you are a small brand showcasing your products, it is a very good way to grow your niche in the busy homeware market. Be prepared to build up to the event to give yourself the best possible chance of success.

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I am launching a new series of posts: Product Briefs. Designers and makers might use these visual briefs to create new products or to promote existing ones. This one is the best example of a great gift-finding challenge: the boyfriend. It’s my boyfriend birthday tomorrow and it’s always difficult to find a present for him that is original and won’t break the bank. If you have a product that fits the brief, email-me and the best ones will make it my Pinterest. By the way, I have a present for tomorrow but Xmas is nearly round the corner!

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Ferries don’t rank high on the list of alternative desk-spot for the (creative) entrepreneur. I like to catch up with work when traveling on my own by train. Whatever the circumstances flying is never a great travel experience for me. I find it’s the epitome of the modern world: being strapped to a small seat whilst being distracted either by other travelers or the airline crew, that make sure you know what you pay for. I like when traveling is fairly slow, affordable and with an air of luxury. This post is about working while traveling on a ferry: low-tech, slow and quiet.

What would I do with more than five hours – uninterrupted – to myself spent somewhere not great for phone calls, meetings? Plenty of time catch up with some in-depth work, planning, reading and writing. I decided to travel light: a notepad, a pen and smart phone on the quiet sea. The free WiFi on board is good enough for a spot of emails and social media. Ironically I spent most of my time on airplane mode.

I first worked in the quiet lounge, a space for naps, silence and reading, some writing there seemed appropriate. The outside decks is windswept and sunny in places so great to sit, think and read.

One is free to circulate between outdoor and indoor areas over two or three decks. With no seat or berth booked I could find somewhere quiet to sit for two hours or more, as well walk and wonder. I saw many bags and coats left in seats in lieu of official reservation, their owners unafraid to leave their luggage unattended.

Working on sea

To beat the queues I opted for a cold but tasty lunch and found the high tables offering great views and plenty of space. Past 12.30pm with the noise levels going up, I headed for the then deserted bar area. This is where I found my afternoon desk amongst the small round tables and padded swivel armchairs, with a view on the waves.

Ferry desk

So not brilliant if you’re prone to seasickness, and luckily I have not experienced a rough sea yet. I actually enjoyed having sea legs a week after coming to port.

Ferries are never crowded. They feel like they are designed to offer a great comfort and the possibility to take time, get bored and be creative.


Things to pack beside your work attire: a water/wind-proof jacket, sun cream, the right power adaptor, earphones or earplugs for optimum isolation.



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I ran out of time in Lambrate. It was the end of a full-on few days, I was tired although not as much as the designers who showed there, still I felt it was the best balance of new products and creativity, displayed very professionally.  But why on design-earth it is so difficult to buy those great products there and then? No exhibitor demonstrated any willingness to sell when I showed wanting-to-buy signs: ” How much? Where can I buy this?” Isn’t product design about selling something to someone?

Lighting design installation - Milan 2014

Yet it is there that I found refreshing exhibits and the most human exhibitors. A patient and passionate lighting designer took the time to explain how lighting design fits in the architecture and building process, how her or her colleagues are called when it’s too late and how light should be designed in a building depending on its purpose, use and location. Truly interactive, they had successfully designed the notion of time out of their installation.

Like any other cultural capital, artists and designers are increasing the future value of out-of-reach areas. Lambrate is going through this transition. In a few years, like Brick Lane in London, design aboriginals will be priced out of the area their creativity made desirable.

Designers Block and consorts moved to a quiet street not far from Centrale in the San Gregorio district. Some found the new location a bit quiet – apparently it was almost too busy last year in Tortona. No doubt that they are carving a new niche of cool-ness on the Milan design map.

Lambrate - Milan 2014

Design influencers Wallpaper* and Droog were too in San Gregorio. At first, I was a bit disappointed by Droog’s showdown: a large and nearly empty space with a few pieces, a contrasting presence to Kartell’s golden opulence – which I choose to miss. So if Droog showed less they intended to actually sell their new products.

Leclettico benches and mirrors - Milan 2014

I really slowed down at San Gregorio 39 as I  could not get enough of the crafted design organised by the incourtournable design magazine.  There were quiet pieces of furniture, stationary and furniture carefully explained.  I wonder what the products on show have become apart from the exquisite collection by Czech brands Gaia&Gino and Verreum. They were the rare ones to have somebody there to undertake PR and sales duties. The quiet presence of Leccletico who provided the space, infused vintage value to the area, an advantage when launching a new design district.

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Five whole years (and two children) since my last visit – I came back to haunt my favourite design destination. A year before, in March 2013, I was having a phone conversation with the director of Secondome:

“Are you coming to Milan?”

“Well, I am actually very pregnant so I won’t be there this year.”

Then conversation moved slightly from the purely business agenda and I watched on the design news unfold hoping to go back one day.

The Alps - en route to Milano

Fast forward to last winter – still on maternity leave – I enlisted a friend to join me on my Italian adventures. We found a cheap flight from Bristol and booked an affordable yet well located room on airbnb.

By the time we had to travel, I was in conversations with a new client about a new contract, so I could not say much about it. Talking about the kids was not allowed, both a scary and exciting prospect. These were my game rules to enjoy Milan:

  • meet with existing contacts
  • have a must-see list of 10 events
  • accept to miss more but to see better
  • come back with a more cards than brochures
  • go to the smaller events and partially ignore the bigger ones
  • use social media daily
  • capture thoughts and write a blog draft before leaving Italy.

Since coming back my focus is on fulfilling my new contract and blogging has taken a back seat. But I have had plenty of time to think about how to best recount my fifth trip to Milan. I will publish at least four more posts that offer a reflection on what I find so special about the Salone and how it impacts Milan and the rest of the furniture, product and interior design industry.

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Why go to Milan?

The Salone is a city in itself and the event an ecosystem. It is the biggest design, business and marketing festival. Zona Tortona and Porta Genova, once off the beaten track, are cashing hard on their past credentials. If you want to find interesting design material there, you have to brave the human sea and dodge flyers and non-events.

The Fiera has a different dynamic. It is a completely artificial design city on the edge of Milan. The big guys are here to build big empire-looking stands and to take big orders. While the plebe looks, take pictures and might be allowed to touch, there are big negotiations being held in half hidden VIP areas, awash with fine food, fizzy wine or strong coffee.

It took many attempts to find a comfortable chair or sofa at the fair. With the prevalence of social media, quick pictures take over experiencing design first hand. Although it is a way to absorb as much design as possible when you know you’re missing much more than you are seeing.

Shall we be worried that design interactions should limit themselves to a visual and quick capture?

The more established brands hire a big design name for a one-off piece in order to sell the back catalogue and gain exposure. At the other end of the design spectrum: design schools, fresh graduates, design collectives and design studios hope to benefit from the heavyweights’ proximity. The distraction to-hand there is the Satellite; rows of orderly laid out stands quietly hoping for customers to place miracle orders.

Salone Satellite

Marteen Baas’ circus show was both a caricature and commentary of what Milan is about. The Dutch Designer with a very arts-and-crafts approach to design was showing in the heart of the financial district, disturbing or distracting the peace of the nearby carabinieri station.

Marteen Baas in Milan

The distractions work like a computer game: be distracted – as it’s the only way to discover, be focused, keep going, follow the crowd or go off on a side street, find something or be disappointed.

The pressure is on for everyone to show the latest new thing in Milan, if furniture orders were taken after April, some home-ware companies will actually sell in Paris in September.

I found a few quiet pockets of design tucked away in Zona Tortona: Dutch designers, eco design, bamboo forest and students projects, studio piu’s Thailand stand.

Rice plastic

And IKEA was nowhere to be seen though. Maybe their staff was trawling the capital, like the rest of us, to ‘find inspiration’ and spot the next-small-big-product to enter their gigantic stores. Product designers looking for a design brief and collaborations are already working on shaping Milan 2015.



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