Dave Pinter: 5 Ways To Create A Better Design Fair

While celebrating its 25th anniversary, ICFF needs a new strategic plan and more efficient use of technology.

2013 is a big year for design in New York City. It is the debut year of the citywide promotion initiative NYCxDESIGN. It is also the 25th anniversary of the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF), which is arguably the premiere design trade show held in the United States. Over the years it has morphed from a furniture-focused show serving the interior design trade to a broader survey of contemporary products and materials for interior spaces.

The mission of the show is a ‘platform for global design, [that] maps the newest frontier of what’s best and what’s next’. Every year there are interesting design stories to be found, ironically though the design of the show itself fails to make discovering these stories easy. More than any previous year, the organization of ICFF felt stuck in the past and in no way adapting to the time and attention taxed lives of those attending.

The core audience for ICFF are still designers and architects looking for resources for projects. Retailers and manufacturers also attend looking to order new products or take a prototype into production. This year in particular there were other noticeable groups circulating the show floor, families and curious people wandering down from one of the other concurrent fairs like Surtex. The buzz of Design Week seemed to be seeping into Javits from all directions. The audience at the show is evolving and with more outside exposure over the coming years, this trend looks to continue. One path to meet this growth of interest in design is for ICFF to become more consumer friendly. Here’s a few ways we think that could happen.

Intuitive Navigation Created With Categories

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Visiting the show this year and looking for what innovative products were available for the bathroom required a long journey. The above map shows the location of some of the companies exhibiting bath products and we’ve highlighted the extremes in distance spans.

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Taking a page from grocery store layout, a consolidated presentation of bath products means visitors won’t miss seeing anything and if they are only interested in the bath category, they know where to go.

Good Way-Finding Is Key To A Happy Experience

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No one likes to feel lost, so the graphic design execution and way-finding placement is very important. This year, visitors were faced with aisle after aisle of beige carpet and little in the way of directional signage at eye level. It became quickly difficult to know where you were going and were you have been. Nothing of visual substance correlated to the paper map available to visitors.

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Opportunity Exists For A Feature Rich Mobile App

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A mobile app could really transform the show experience. Not only could it assist in navigation but also send alerts for onsite events. Several exhibitors mentioned visitors stopping by and saying they would return to have a chat and another look, but few ever did. This is mostly due to visitors forgetting where booths were located. A ‘remind me’ feature on the app could serve as a way to fix this.

Present A Curated Design Trends Area

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An obvious way to get visitors quickly up to date with what’s new and what to look for. The IMM Cologne show PSFK visited a couple years back did an excellent job of this and it served as a great resource for time starved show goers.

Showcasing Design Tools And Process Adds Depth To The Event

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The past couple of years, makers and fabricators have been a consistent part of ICFF. We’ll publish a review on what was displayed for 2013, but the revived commitment to manufacturing in the Unites States needs the support of the design community. A design process pavilion might be a way to foster a stronger relationship.

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In addition, companies like Adobe (Photoshop, Illustrator), Wacom, Dassault Systems (SolidWorks), Trimble (Sketchup), Autodesk (Autocad) and many others who supply widely used digital design software have never exhibited. For these companies, you won’t likely find a greater concentration of working designers attending an event at any other time of the year in the US. It could be a golden opportunity to introduce new products, host seminars and demos, and conduct training classes. Their presence also completes the design circle from idea development to fabrication to real product.

To us, that is a formula to sustain another 25 years of exhibiting design innovation.

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