Stick out from the crowd if you want recognition

It was a sober year for the Milan Furniture Fair, with most of the exhibitors in the main halls playing it tastefully safe. Range extensions were the order of the day, with the obligatory touch of pattern appearing on most stands. Imagine floral upholstery on an established Philippe Starck chair and you get the general drift.

All the more reason, therefore, for the younger designer-makers displaying their wares in the SaloneSatellite hall to shine with innovation and challenging ideas. Sadly, it wasn’t so and we were treated instead to a host of samey products – some blatant rip-offs of other people’s work – from supposedly bright sparks from across the globe. Anti-copyright theft lobbyist Acid would have had a field day there.

Nor was it any more encouraging at the Design London exposition, staged by Hidden Art in the fashionable Zona Tortona area of Milan. Here, a motley collection of exhibitors was lumped together in a way more befitting a church bazaar than an international design show, and though some companies attracted interest and even orders for their work, the general standard of presentation was disappointing.

Events such as the Milan fair should bring out creativity all round, but particularly in the newer design-led groups. Products in the SaloneSatellite and Design London are, after all, largely prototypes looking for a manufacturer and not finished designs for sale.

Some companies are well versed in the marketing value such opportunities afford – take crystal purveyor Swarovski, whose display of chandeliers commissioned from the likes of David Collins, Ron Arad and Matali Crasset was one of the highlights of Milan’s newly styled Design Week, or Arad’s own solo show with its digital backdrop. But, unfortunately, the message has yet to get through to the mass of exhibitors, who failed to meet the challenge.

Manufacturers are looking for great products, it’s true. But in Milan they are also looking for potential and personality – something they can harness and claim as their own. We all love spotting talent – why else are TV programmes such as Pop Idol such a success? But it’s hard to single it out when you’re faced with so many me-too products and ideas borrowed directly from, say, the truly innovative Dutch collective Droog. Do the offenders think we don’t notice the similarities?

A plea to young designers preparing for London’s 100% Design extravaganza or students planning final shows – please show something of yourselves and your original thinking and present the work in a creative way. You are more likely to make a name through originality than for your ability to copy what’s already there.

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