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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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!

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