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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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 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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If you value your contacts share them!

If you value your contacts share them!

Graphic designers and illustrators credit their printing suppliers, but I often hear that product designers and designer-makers can be protective of their manufacturing contacts.

Why hide your contacts?
Is it a fear of competition? Is it the belief that if your suppliers are less accessible to fellow designers, you’ll have less competition? And then we’ve all heard about how difficult it is to find good manufacturers in the UK or anywhere vaguely local. So despite government initiatives championing manufacturing businesses via innovation and design, we still have struggling manufacturing businesses. There is a simple thing small design businesses can do to support British and European manufacturers: share your suppliers’ details.

The same way that designers like to be mentioned and credited when they are commissioned to do a piece of work, manufacturing businesses need orders to survive. They, too, can’t afford to have all their eggs in one basket – they need large, small and medium-sized orders from a variety of clients. Since most design businesses are on the small side, it is very likely that your suppliers can’t survive on your orders alone.

Here are some simple tips to help you share:

  • Be clear. I dare you to put your suppliers’ details on your products, website and communication materials.
  • Be loud. If you know of a fantastic small workshop that makes wares of exceptional quality and that people can travel to over a day or two, tell everyone and use social media to share the good work(shops). Don’t you like it when your clients do this for you?
  • Be chatty. Have a conversation with your suppliers about how to pass them business. Tell them about other design companies you know that might use them. When is their quietest time of year? Have they got expertise, a piece of technology or know-how they don’t value?
  • Be creative in the way you do business. For example, if you struggle to meet the minimum quantity requirements, could bringing another small account to this supplier help them to meet your demand?

Story CubesIt’s good business practice to introduce someone to your suppliers. Keep doing this; become a valuable client and it wouldn’t surprise me if you were to find them going the extra mile to keep you happy.  People are screaming for referrals; any designer can gain so much from sharing their contacts rather than hiding them!

I provide guidance and advice on how to interact with your manufacturing contacts whether they are suppliers or potential clients – get in touch!

Alternatively, have you tried

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The Design Council hosted a whole forum about measuring the impact of design, there are a few views on the subject in Design Week.  Beside the debate and exertion I am wondering how to make this actually work? How can this become design businesses and professionals’ second nature, especially if you are a small consultancy or a sole-trader?

How to start measuring?
It starts at the briefing stage. Somewhere under the project goals and objectives, it might be about impact on sales figures, production costs or recruitment. Whilst quantitative impact evaluation is obvious although as harsh and short sighted, how about working at establishing qualitative impact criteria such as: likelihood of clients returning, bringing smiles and hapiness (I’m absolutely serious)..?

An analysis shortly after publication or product launch often comes with straightforward sales figures and other online traffic metrics. But the real benefit for designers in measuring the impact of their creative input is to keep doing it regurlarly after the project is over. It is an easy way to upsale design services, expertise or inform the development of your next product and keep in touch with your clients.

What do you think? Join the conversation!

I am interested to hear from designers who are doing it or want to do it. Please drop me a line ( or leave a comment.

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Cheltenham Design Festival 2012

Design event details and prices

The Cheltenham Design Festival brought design celebration and a little bit of partying to the West Country. A self contained event; one venue, one weekend, one programme that fitted on one poster and a lot of yellow – very good (I write as one who proudly sports a yellow mac!). Not sure it was as good in Milan.

So with more than 30 events to choose from, I went for the Secret Place Hidden Design talk. For £8 you could sit through 4 presentations, get to ask very simple, short questions… and almost get answers. The event brief was centered around the built environment but the speakers ranged from landscape to communication and textile design. Without a single architect on the podium they gave a clear evidence that architecture, when combined with other areas of design, creates a truly human-focused environment.

So why didn’t I go to hear Stefan Sagmeister? It was more expensive. But there is a more important reason  to my decision. I am quite reluctant to sit through Design Celebrities’ talks and presentations. I know: ‘he’s actually quite nice’ and ‘he’s so inspiring’. No doubt he is. Most Celebrity Designers, like any celebrity, are nice, normal people who inspire. But whenever a Design Celebrity is asked how he or she goes about getting clients – the typical answer is something along the lines of:

‘I don’t need to, they find me.’

How is this answer helpful to the self employed, the design graduate, the design intern or the part-employed part-self employed designer who really wants to quit a horrible job but still needs to pay the bills?

Every professional, creative or otherwise, dreams to be sought after, to turn down clients, to choose who they work for. But quite frankly it’s a little irresponsible to suggest that business development is to ‘just wait for the phone to ring’ or ‘wait for the ideal client to turn up’.

I know it’s not seen as terribly ‘cool’ to be going after clients. So two things; either Design Celebrities lie – they ARE doing some business development (something as simple as posting a video of themselves on YouTube counts, you know!), or maybe they are not aware that their activites are, in fact, sales and marketing… Why do most of them have a website, blogs, facebook pages, twitter accounts, press relation officers and agents?

I personally believe that if you pitch, sell and network outside your comfort zone when you are young, or starting, or both, you are just ahead of the rest of the pack when things get tough and the phone stops ringing or rings less.

So to stop hearing the I-don’t-need-to-sell-myself answer, let’s just ask better questions. How do they keep their client happy? Do they make them a nice cup of tea, get them drunk in the pub, invite them to event, send them a really-cool-christmas-card? How did they get their first job? And their second? Why have a website? What do they hate about their website? Have they become a brand?

Note for Stefan Sagmeister and other Design Celebrities: I have nothing against you I know it’s not always easy to be a role model… So if you come across this post feel free to leave a comment. Cheers!

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No – not going to Milan (again!) this year. 3 years ago I promised myself to return to the celebration of Design every 2 years… 2010 I attended the Bangalore furniture fair, 2011 I was busy changing nappies. So what’s the excuse for this year? That’s a boring story. Let’s move on.

Halo Lamps in shop window (Bangalore, India)

A product that addresses many issues: power cuts, energy cost and health.

As I am getting emails and invites from various contacts over new exhibitions, tweets over airport born excitment of flying to the sexiest venue for design, my heart is sinking in my black coffee as I replay the film of my Milanese memories… there are always people to meet there, cocktails to drink over grissini, contacts to make in the sleek and spacious show rooms of the famous furniture brands, unlikely encounters in Zona Tortona, or at the Salone Satellite stands. You can almost smell all the effort that went into all the products being launched.

In 2009  IKEA celebrated it’s 20th birthday in an alternative venue. I was a bit perplex, as I have a love/hate relationship with the brand.  Yet if IKEA is certainly the most legitimate exhibitor in Milan it struck me how discreet the brand during this celebration of furniture design. Every 3 years they roll out their limited edition collection PS. Do they need such a marketing coup maybe to earn more design credentials? No one makes a fuss about their yearly catalogue, the headline stories are about store openings, how big and where. I remember hearing rumours about the IKEA opening stores in India.

I wonder how much is different in Milan this year. What has happened to Diesel furniture range? How about recent economic casualty Habitat? For most Brit this flagship brand of British enterpreneurship and design has been reduced to become an online retailer in the UK, while its Eurpean operations seemed to have flourished. What will Habitat show this year in Milan? Will they give any clues of this new departure now that they are in the same family as Argos and Homebase?

I wonder if the Tawainese design students are still sharply business minded. Will they be the next to teach the world about the business of design?

I remember that Max Frazer wondered about the relevance of such design and product decadence in Design Week. One hopes that there will always be more exhibitors than visitors in Milan. Such product opulence surely demonstrate how design is an integral part of the furniture economy. As design hopefulls and stars make an expected appearance, only a small percentage of pieces shown there will become design hits let alone milestone or classic.

During the Salone pricey Milan puts a financial strain visitors and smaller exhibitors who syndicate to share costs before they can share some glory. I wonder how the small buyers afford their time in Milan. How much do they see ? How do they prepare their visit? How much are they influenced by the design press or cocktail invitations? Do they only go to the Fiera for business and Tortona for a bit of fun and distraction?

Despite all this I am not sure that the design industry makes itself more buyable in Milan. Maybe it’s good.

How about another model for Milan. Could it be run like the olympics? A more curated stage with more country represented? Since developing a new product takes a year minimum, how about getting companies to show every 2, 3 or 4 year?

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