UAE’s Industry Insiders on Design Events Around the World

Where in the world do you need to be to understand the latest in design? Design festivals, trade shows, and events fuel the design industry and pull professionals to cities across the globe, but where do you need to be, and what do you need to experience to make the most of these opportunities?
Location Courtesy: Humanscale Showroom, Clerkenwell, London

Amongst the hustle and bustle of Clerkenwell Design Week (CDW), which ran 21-23 May in London’s city fringe, Humanscale hosted a roundtable discussion at its London showroom to shed some light on global design destinations and events, share views on the value of design fairs and festivals, and swap tips on making the most out of these events.

The Experts

Above (left to right): Pallavi Dean, Founder and Creative Director – ROAR Studio; Lee Roberts, Creative Director, Zebra
Below (left to right): Siddharth Peters, C0-Founder of Love That Design; Moderator William Knight, Director, Renew & Co-Founder – Material Matters (Chair); Timi Mustapha, Senior Design Manager at Compass Project Consulting

The discussion began with the here and now: CDW24. Timi Mustafa, experiencing London for the first time, praised the event’s street-level experience; the walkable accessibility of the event that weaves through some of London’s most historic streets. She highlighted the curated installations, open showrooms, and a ‘cool vibe’ that enticed visitors to engage with design. “The installations take advantage of the architecture”, said Timi, ”it’s just so stunning to see it curated in such a way that you want to linger.”

Pallavi Dean, a former resident of Clerkenwell and a dedicated attendee of global design events enjoyed the city & showroom-hopping of CDW in contrast to the corridors of traditional exhibition halls. Lee Roberts said he tackled CDW by embracing it as an annual learning opportunity, with his team attending in force and planning every hour of their visits. As a global organisation with seven offices, anticipating the knowledge created by fairs and shows at Zebra is invaluable. That said, Lee’s most interesting and ‘arguably my favourite activation for years’ he stumbled upon – a sketching masterclass by Narinder Sagoo from Foster + Partners hosted at the Solus showroom.

The discussion turned to a wider set of views on what makes a great design event and how attendees ensure they don’t miss important experiences and opportunities. Everyone around the table considered navigating locations and timings in advance critical. There was general agreement that dedicated apps with locations and alerts are the hallmarks of the best design event experience, particularly at city-based shows with multi-location talk stages, such as CDW.

Siddharth Peters relies on event websites. He praised this year’s CDW website listings, which enabled him to pre-plan and prepare; “I want an interactive experience to sense the core of the experience: to see and smell the event. I want it to draw me in and, once there, be educated about the product and the talks.”

Milan remains the ‘don’t miss’ event in everyone’s diary. “Milan is the sun around which all other design events revolve”, said William. ‘It is the largest, the most significant event, which means it can be overwhelming in scale.’ In comparison, William asked how important city activations, such as the London Design Festival, Dubai Design Week, and 3daysofdesign (Copenhagen), were for promoting cities and enhancing reputation.

Lee commented, “I also see Milan as the epicentre for design, and put it above all others. I didn’t go this year and felt that was a mistake.” For Pallavi, Milan Design Week is more important for learning, which in turn helps her advise clients, “Milan is about conversations between fashion and design, between craft and design. It’s unique.” Siddharth suggested a hierarchy of events for different sectors rather than the cities themselves: “There are layers to navigate globally in the design world. Milan is predominantly residential and hospitality. I would prefer to look to CDW or Neocon for workplace design.” 

There was general agreement the traditional trade fair format has reduced in importance, with a shift away from big events in exhibition centres. The design industry is now looking for new formats, such as Milan’s Alcova, which is now a popular destination during Milan Design Week (despite the two-hour train ride to reach it and return to the city centre this year). “For me, Alcova was worth the effort to get there,” says Pallavi. “Everything I saw was beautiful and still stays with me.”

“I am not a huge fan of big trade shows; they are uncomfortable, often difficult to get to, so I would always much prefer somewhere to drop in and out over a few days, but the trade shows have an efficiency,” says Lee. 

“Manufacturers are becoming more effective in offering factory tours alongside design events, which is hugely advantageous for our time efficiency”, commented Timi. Pallavi also supported that view, particularly if a brand can align factory visits with a trade fair, making it easier to justify time away from the office. 

As the round table drew to a close, William asked, “What is the point of all of this? Manufacturers promote their products and services and collect data, but for the practitioners, what are the most important aspects to take away from CDW or any other design events you go to?”

“For me, it’s all about products, relationships and trends – and feeding our learnings back to our team”, said Lee. “For me, education is key – learning about projects, the process behind products, and, of course, the talks are key reasons I attend,” said Pallavi. Timi focused on face-to-face meetings; “The exchange of information is so valuable, alongside the visual inspiration I get in a new environment.”

“Gathering content is automatic for me,” says Siddharth. “But the relationships, the shaking hands, the discussions – be it with manufacturers or designers, that learning, knowing what’s coming next and who will be players in the market. That’s what makes a design event worthwhile for me.”

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Date added:

3 June, 2024

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