Milan Torre Velasca by Ingo Maurer and Alex Schmid

Torre Velasca lighting project by Ingo Maurer and Alex Schmid for Audi.

Milan 2016 – In the wake of a buzzy week that turned Milan upside down, Salone del Mobile furniture fair dispatched a press release pointing out the success (and figures) of 2016 edition. Over 372.000 visitors at the fair (+4%) from over 120 countries (67% of visitors were non-Italians). Business opportunities, placed orders and PRs… GREAT! BUT NOW? Six big question-marks without answer emerged… to make us reflect on what lies ahead.

RELATED STORY: Read more about Milan Design Week 2016 on ArchiPanic…

Salone del Mobile 2016

Salone del Mobile 2016 – courtesy of Salone del Mobile.

1. INTERNET OF THINGS – A digitalising attitude is shaping design world. Shape-shifting sofas and smart-lighting systems that allow to track clients shopping experience in stores, but also augmented reality bars and super-domotic kitchenware. Such evident WOW effect scares those who believe in traditional hand-making, crafts and an analogue way of living (more human they say).

Lift-Bit Carlo Ratti Associati at Triennale.

Lift-Bit shape-shifting high-tech sofa by Carlo Ratti Associati at La Triennale – Courtesy of Carlo Ratti Associati.

Indeed, this year there was an IoT countermovement, a sometime bitter sometime poetic response that came especially from students and makers. From a petting zoo that pushed us to touch farm animals we generally watch on YouTube, to the return of centenary routines of craftsmanship. Is the Internet of Things the real bogey-monster of design or we just do not know enough? Eventually, how will craft and digital converge?

Touch Base - Design Academy Eindhoven

“Touch Base” Exhibition by Design Academy Eindhoven – Ph. courtesy of Design Academy Eindhoven.

2. CHINESE DESIGN – Chinese established and emerging brands flocked to Milan showing collections of furniture developed by up-and-coming local designers and international professionals. The result was quite various, but it is a fact that a national design system is taking shape in the Far East… Along with a massive growing middle-class that is getting more and more into furniture.

Stellar Works Valet_Collection_01

Chinese brand Stellar Works launched Valet Collection by Rockwell – Courtesy of Stellar Works.

Wether you like or not, new Chinese design is not necessarily cheap or copied and it responds to a new way of living. A new market is blooming and Western brands hardly explored it as they were mostly aiming to reach the wealthier target. How will China rock the international design scenario?

ALAMAK! DESIGN IN ASIA @ La Triennale - Cabinet by Naihan Li.

ALAMAK! DESIGN IN ASIA exhibtion at La Triennale – Ph. Cabinet by Naihan Li.

3. MINI-MODULAR FURNITURE – Back to Europe and Western-like lifestyle. Young generations have a compact way of living. “Smaller flat, higher rents, lower income and little time” this means that an average couple living in 60 square meters with a mortgage won’t be able to afford any fancy couch or super-high-tech fully furnished kitchen.


ACE compact collection ny Normann Copenhaghen – Ph. Courtesy of Normann Copenhaghen.

That’s why many brands focused on down-sized furniture. Affordable prices without compromising the quality is possible… by creating new business models, proposing modular solutions, flat-pack products or online retail. Is shrunk furniture the new market for the future Western design target?

Henge Milan 2016

Henge booth at Salone del Mobile – Courtesy of Henge.

4. NEW LUXURY FRONTIERS – After the world crisis and in view of geopolitical revolutions luxury brands are standing up trying to embrace a broader horizon. From Iran to South America and Eastern Europe, while the consolidated poshest market from Shanghai to Dubai, Moscow and Miami are changing their taste. Are Nouveau Riches still what they used to be?

Boca do Lobo - Robin Mirror

Boca do Lobo: Robin Mirror – Courtesy of Boca do Lobo.

5. ONLINE RETAIL – Are flagship-stores, furniture shops and design malls a thing of the past? On line retail seems easier and cheaper as it shortens the distance between the brand and the end-user. If you add Social Media opportunities it might seem that you can sell almost door to door. But online retail isn’t easy to manage and it creates serious conflicts of interest with your traditional suppliers. On top of that, to be really successful it takes al lot of investments as well as digital-pr skills that haven’t been really explored much.


Stefano Giovannoni launched Qeeboo online brand – Photo courtesy of Qeeboo.

On the other side, all the design businesses on line came out of the screen to physically shake hand to people in Milan. When everybody wishes to grow big on line, how come those who are born online go off line? The question is: will online retail kill the furniture store as the video killed the radio star?

EBAY Lab at Milan 2016

EBAY Lab at Milan Design Week – Courtesy of EBAY.

6. MILAN AT ALL COSTS! Design editor Chiara Alessi and film-maker Fabio Petronilli led an investigative report for La Stampa on the costs and benefits of those who join Milan Design Week. The event brings into town about € 250 mln. Both companies with big budget and penniless designers have to deal with a lot of expenses including locations (ranging from 1.000 to 200.000 Euros), pr, but also eye-watering rents and logistics… In Milan it seems you can’t make it with less then 10.000 euros – Watch the video, in Italian.

Design week is the most important international event in town -the only one according to taxi drivers. Airports recorded +20% of traffic while hotel prices sky-rocket up to 1.200 € per night. In return you might get high-visibility, great PR contacts and massive amount of placed orders… Or nothing at all. Long story short: it makes you smell blood, but it might bleed you dry. Is joining Milan Design Week really worth it?

Answers will come in the next months.

Enrico Zilli – ArchiPanic editor in chief

Seletti: Design Parade

Seletti: Design Parade – Courtesy of Seletti.