Fear and loathing on the road to Las Vegas

What should have been a celebration of UK design at this year’s Comdex show in Las Vegas is in danger of becoming a divided effort. Beverley Cohen checks out the facts and figures

What should have been two UK stands promoting British design at the world’s largest trade fair is degenerating into two rival camps. The British Design Initiative has hit out at the cost and quality of fellow traveller and organiser the Design Business Association’s offer (see Letters, page 9). So what exactly will consultancies get from each organiser and at what price?

Comdex claims to be the world’s largest trade show, focusing on information technology, and will be held in Las Vegas from 13 to 17 November.

In February, Alex Pratt, export promoter for the Department of Trade and Industry, persuaded the Government to book a stand at Comdex for British designers to export their wares (DW 3 February), working in tandem with the Design Business Association. The DTI’s North America Now initiative inspired the British Design Initiative to follow suit, according to its managing director, Maxine Horn (see News, p3).

But conflict has arisen from the BDI’s decision to take part. Originally Pratt wanted the BDI and DBA to work together, but now says this idea “was not fruitful”.

The BDI has taken issue over comments from new DBA chairman Jonathan Sands (DW 4 August) about the desire to exclude non-DBA members from DBA activities.

Horn wonders if the DBA will get a full take-up if it limits this kind of trip to members only and Alex Pratt has said he would be “very disappointed if the DBA

didn’t offer this opportunity to non-members”.

DBA chief executive Ian Rowland-Hill says the DBA trip to Comdex is open to non-members.

But Andrew Brian, managing director of Level Six Design, criticises the DBA offer as “most

confusing – it’s just not clear whether it’s restricted to members or not”. Brian has chosen to go with the BDI. The DBA so far refuses to name consultancies taking up its offer.

The small size of the DBA’s stand in comparison with the BDI’s has also generated criticism. “Designers going with the DBA would get more space if they went by themselves. How can they say anything about British design if their products aren’t there?” says Horn.

Consultancies can go under their own steam but the cost of renting a space starts from 8000. According to Pratt, any consultancy which wanted to go would be eligible for a DTI subsidy of 3000 towards renting the stand. Both the DBA and BDI have received this subsidy, plus travel and “mission” grants for each consultancy participating.

The BDI stand is being designed by the participating consultancies and is planned in the form of a multimedia exhibition.

In real terms the costs of the BDI trip will be increased because consultancies will need to take multimedia equipment over to Las Vegas at their own expense. There will also be the added cost of designing the stand, estimated by the BDI to be no more than 200 per consultancy.

But Rowland-Hill is gratified that the BDI is taking a separate stand. “I don’t think it does us any harm; the more the merrier. Each stand will promote design in it’s own way. We’re all ambassadors of British design.”

The DBA will announce names of participants in a month’s time. Will UK design present an uncomfortably divided front at this prestigious event, or will the two stands, with their contrasting approaches, both come romping home with good results?

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