A virtual world
The talk of this year's Milan Furniture
Fair was neither a chair, an installation nor a party – but rather
a discussion on Twitter. The Milanuncut initiative also made a
Swedish launch feel particularly relevant.
What made the biggest impression on
you? The answer to what might be the most asked question during the
hectic week surrounding the Salone del Mobile in April was somewhat
unusual. For it wasn't a spectacular installation or new chair that
was discussed over lunch and dinner tables. Instead, the topic du
jour was the collective effort Milanuncut that began on Twitter a few
weeks prior to the fair. Producers, designers and journalists around
the world immediately started following the discussion. The man
behind the initiative was British architect and Form contributor
Kieran Long, who used Twitter to encourage his colleagues to ask more
questions – and demand greater transparency – on conditions in
the design industry, and then share their insights from interviews
and other conversations.
The questions primarily had to do with
the royalty system and how it affects what is produced, but also the
industry and its direction. Giulio Cappellini weighed in, as did Ilse
Crawford, who visited with Dezeen's founder Marcus Fairs to give her
take on the topic. According to Crawford, designers need to become
better at business and understand their own role in the economic
Yves Behar urged designers to consider
new business models, similar to his company, Fuseproject, which goes
in as part-owner of the partners they collaborate with. The interest
generated by the discussion demonstrates just how relevant these
questions are. Everything was then recounted on Twitter.
In light of the discussion, it was
interesting to see that a growing number of companies elected to
show only new items ready for production in 2011. From Established &
Sons – who removed prototype from their assortment – to
Studioilse and Blå Station.
“It's not to our benefit to show
things before they are ready. It takes too long before those who have
placed orders get their products, which in the worst case means they
grow tired of waiting,” says Mimi Lindau of Blå Station.
But there are also other problems
associated with showing prototypes. Not in the least when companies
such as Moroso have a system in place when only a few of the
furniture pieces they launch at every fair actually are actually put
into production. It fosters an uncomfortable climate for the
designers they work with. It also creates a virtual world filled with
images of furniture that doesn't actually exist – and never will.
Maybe someone should do survey: how many of the pieces of furniture
that are reported on in the press after a fair can you find in
stores? But considering Milanuncut's most central discussion –
royalties – Anders Landström's and Katja Petterson's new company
50/50 seems most relevant.
So far, the project is just in the
beginning phases, but the idea is just what the name indicates:
producers and designers should have equal shares of the profits.
Transparency is important. That both intentions and profits are clear
to everyone involved.
“I think that designers must expand
their networks and discuss the conditions with more people besides
other designers in order to have a greater understanding of how to
make changes,” says Landström.
In the Swedish Love Stories exhibition,
50/50 showed products by ceramist Mia E Göransson, among others, but
Inga Sempé, Jasper Morrison and Norwegian designer Daniel Rybakken
have also expressed interest in collaborating.
“Times are changing. When I was a
student, the professors advised us to keep our cool and prioritise
royalties as payment since it is profitable in the long run. They
still get cheques for things they made in the 1970s. Today there are
too many things in circulation. The royalty percentage you receive
per product is pretty small and the products might not be on the
market that long,” explains Landström.
Maybe we are moving towards a new time
where a new type of producer – and self-production – will
co-exist with traditional manufacturing?
At least according to Kristoffer
Sundin, who is in his last year at the University College of Arts,
Crafts and Design (Konstfack). He has his own company and has
launched A-B-C.se, a website where you can purchase the products he
has produced. He plans to expand the collection in the future.
“We are not as dependent on the fact
that a product should sell in large quantities, because the revenue
per product is greater than if you receive royalties from a
traditional producer. They don't have any interest in reaching out to
as many as possible, but with the help of technology, there are much
greater possibilities today,” Sundin says.
In the end, every newly started
furniture company has to have investors. Which in turn reflects the
economic climate and the countries in which they work. How appealing
is it really to invest in furniture manufacturers and is there any
money to be made? What are the margins today compared to 50 years go?
An important producer like Muuto wouldn't have become as big a player
as quickly if they hadn't received DKK 10 million ($2 million) from
the Danish state investment fund Vaekstfonden. The same applies to
Tom Dixon, who hardly would have achieved the same production and
distribution network if he weren't backed by Swedish investment fund
How successful 50/50 will be in meeting
its ambition remains to be seen. There is little doubt it will
involve a lot of hard work. Something of which Landström is well
“Designers don't need to go to more
lectures about design, colour and inspiration. We already know about
that. No, we need to learn how to survive.”
That quote has already been tweeted, of