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.

Share this page/post:
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.

Share this page/post:

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.

Share this page/post:

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.



Share this page/post:

As the furniture fair in Milan is opening I thought I’d share some of the stories I noted down from my last visit. I’ve thrown in a few of suggestions for designers who are about go for the big showcase!

Time is the essence
I spoke to a couple of designers established in Finland. It was one of the few stands where I was approached for conversation. Being in Milan for the 3rd year, they said that their commitment was starting to pay off as buyers and manufacturers were now coming to see them on their stand. Interestingly they also admitted that they started to design and show products that would be easier to sell, for example smaller objects.

Honesty in movement
There was a designer from Australia who was showing to a small group of visitors the way his products worked, folded, collapsed and adjusted. He also openly admitted that he was looking for more opportunities for his products. As this conversation was happening, other people stopped and picked up cards (shame there was no brochure).  I would not be surprised if his honesty paid off.

A nice gang
A gang of cap-wearing designers giving a continuous demo of their products. Since I remember them so well, it proves that their display and performance worked. One of them was handing out information leaflets to visitors who, like me, looked vaguely interested. However, the demo, which consisted of throwing clothes on rubber bits, was taking over most of the stand and exposing adventurous passers-by to the risk of being struck by some young men’s trunks or T shirts (clean, I hope!). They all seemed to have fun though, which is certainly a way to retain attention.

Best behaviours, a few tips

  • Offer the right amount of information. Prepare as much as possible for questions and give information to all your stand visitors.
  • Keep busy. A busy stand is more engaging than a quiet stand where people look bored. Don’t hesitate to give a full product demo to design students, it might inspire a journalist or buyer to stop.
  • Turn passers-by become actual visitors. Devise a way to engage with anyone who shows the slightest interest. You could offer a piece of information to read or have someone available to speak to people, giving and taking information. Be creative and keep it interesting.
  • Don’t do it on your own. Share your stand and have people helping. Whoever helps should be well briefed and trained to answer most questions.
  • Be honest. If you are looking for stockists, manufacturers, staff, etcetera, mention this in your conversation as you never know who you might be speaking to and who they know.
  • Use your market collaterals. Have to hand cards, brochures, price lists, press releases and perhaps a CD with good quality images and know what you give to who.
  • Be memorable. The challenge is to give the right thing to the right person; find out who they are and what they need the information for. The bottom line is that your products have to be remembered and trade visitors get saturated quickly, so it is important to create a long-lasting impression.
  • Network! More than speaking to your stands’ direct neighbours allow time to network with the other exhibitors especially the larger companies outside of your hall, aisle or space.

Coming soon: the Bangalore furniture fair story on my India Connections blog!

Share this page/post: