Over a hundred design fairs and festivals are taking place around the world. We now have more “designweeks" than there are weeks in a year. The omnipresent branding activities that come along resemble an annoying commercial break while watching a good film. With all festivals growing in attendance, we must ask ourselves if that growth is a blessing or a curse?
The 'Queen of the Fairs' lives in Milan; the Salone del Mobile is the most influential design fair. With the most contributing designers, producers, exhibitions and press, the fair functions in the design world as the ‘New Year.’ Product introductions are calibrated to make their launch here, not making the date will lead to an entire year delay in the development of a design.
‘Salone di Marketing’
The fair, with the endless peripheral program, has broadened her appeal immensely, opening a door to the massive marketing and branding industry. Designers readily complain about the overload of commercial activities. Jasper Morrison speaks of "Salone di Marketing,” as he does more and more tiring press and public performances each year. It mimics the annoying commercial break while watching a good film, and as we all know, when there are to many commercial breaks in a film you end up not watching it all.
According to brand-theory, acceptance in design circles is the best start for a broader acceptance over time; hence more brands want to be associated with design. The connection to creativity and design very often has to be brutally forced; three new colors on a 50-year-old percolator being presented as ‘new designs.’ Some brands organize designer parties and extra curricular activities to standout in the scene. Another cunning way to connect with the design world is to give stuff away; copious amounts of drinks, brochures, and eatables are now being handed out at design fairs. As a result I recently sat in an unsolicited whiskey tasting during Design Indaba, in Cape Town. Or in Milan there is always somewhere to get free Gin from a brand that wants to be perceived as the ‘designer-gin.’
Meanwhile the city is literally trampled under foot by the design branding. The marketing efforts are fuelling a temporary gentrification process: areas of the city, that in the past exposed upcoming designers, have built a reputation for being a fashionable locality, and now have transformed into branding zones with many standardised brand-presentations. Displays by telecom providers, car manufacturers, and the food industry are materializing in places where a year before was an innovative design label. Serious curation is needed here to defend a sense of quality. The fair organisers would be advantageous to seek an anti-gentrification policy, as being used in cities like Berlin.