Visitors to the May Design Series, with exhibition design by Ab Rogers, were presented with a visually distinctive, highly navigable interior landscape
There’s a new show in town – although the May Design Series is really an amalgamation of two established events from the London design calendar with some added extras. Global events company, UBM, brought together kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms (kbb LDN); architectural, retail and commercial lighting (The ARC Show); cutting-edge design for contract and retail (DX), and high-end interior products (INTERIORS LDN) under one roof at the ExCeL exhibition centre to provide a one-stop shop for architects, interior designers and specifiers looking to source new products at the culmination of Europe’s busy trade fair circuit. “People’s workloads are constantly increasing and budgets are being squeezed, so creating a show that brings together everything this demographic needs in a single destination helps to ease both of these issues,” explains Andy Vaughan, brand director at UBM.
The Conversation Series, which included a presentation by the ever-loquacious Karim Rashid, was just one of the means of adding value to the fair-visitor experience
The event summarised what has taken place so far this year at the international fairs in Paris, Stockholm, Cologne and Milan, and presented the latest products in an environment designed to encourage enjoyment, entertainment and networking. The organisers invited designer Ab Rogers to oversee the creative vision for the exhibition space, and he responded by producing a dynamic environment based on the idea of the fair as a city. A punchy palette of purple, orange, yellow and grey was used to clearly distinguish the four districts and the activity areas. “We brought in a city planner to help us with the plan; we punctuated the show with generous activities – bars, breakout spaces and lecture theatres,” says Rogers. “The bars have been designed by RCA students (Rogers heads the Interior Design programme at the RCA) – as any inspiring city should be designed by more than one person.” These bar areas included a sinuous Champagne bar combining soft seating with hard surfaces for eating, drinking or working, and a more industrial-looking coffee bar situated beneath a raised platform that provided a vantage point over the surrounding stands.
The expansive Champagne Bar at The May Design Series, casting bar and tables in one continuous form, designed by students from London's Royal College of Art
Andrew Vaughan, fair organiser UBM's brand director, announces the winners of the kbb LDN Innovation Awards
At the entrance to the exhibition, an open area containing colourful casual seating was flanked by four oversized crates in which an edited selection of products from Europe’s major international events was presented. Curated by leading industry figures, they acted as insightful capsules for anyone interested in the latest trends from across the continent. “We were lucky in that, with the help of each of the editors commissioned to curate a crate, we could look back on the products launched throughout the year and hand-pick the ones that stood out the most,” says DX web editor Ola Bednarczuk, who oversaw the installation. Architonic brought together a selection of the best products from IMM Cologne, including lighting by Note Design Studio, furniture from Thonet, and innovative three-dimensional quilted fabrics by Creation Baumann.
With Architonic as curator of the Cologne container, the DX FREIGHT installation presented selected products from each of the world's leading design fairs
Bjørn Jørund Blikstad's wall-mounted 'Imeuble CI' storage system for By Corporation, presented in the DX FREIGHT installation's Stockholm container
Beyond the DX FREIGHT installation, the main exhibition space was separated into four clearly demarcated districts. This made for a straightforward and cohesive browsing experience, enabling visitors to focus on a specific sector and allowing exhibitors to interact with their peers. Big brands monopolised the prime sites, but a restriction on the maximum stand size helped maintain an intimate community feel, as well as limiting exhibitors’ costs. Overall, the careful editing of exhibitors meant the hall still felt spacious and relaxed, compared to the overwhelming repetition prevalent in so many fairs. “At a lot of trade shows you get 20 companies showing the same table at a different price point and that model is not what specifiers need,” Andy Vaughan points out. “We talked to architectural practices, interior designers and specifiers and asked them what they wanted to see. It’s all been built around the visitors.”
Products by B.lux (top) and ERCO (above), shown in the The ARC Show section of the fair
Various measures were implemented to improve networking opportunities at the event, including a late-night opening with live performances and Karim Rashid showcasing his DJ-ing skills. “I strongly believe that the more people you meet, the more opportunities you encounter, so letting people mingle in a relaxed environment is an important part of any trade fair,” adds Vaughan. The show was supported by the Society of British Interior Designers (SBID), whose president and founder, Angela Brady, reiterated the importance of such an event for instigating professional relationships. “Everybody who attends the show is a professional, and it’s often forgotten that these people are all in the business of making and selling products to generate profit. Although it’s about presenting design and manufacturing, the show is also marketing itself as a business destination, and that’s very powerful.”
Ligne Roset (top) and PP Möbler (above): just two of the premium-segment brands that made an appearance at the May Design Series
Exhibitors at May Design Series ranged from premium kitchen and bathroom brands such as Roca and Baumatic, to architectural lighting suppliers like ERCO, and small scale manufacturers including Invisible City, James UK, and students from London Metropolitan University. Ian Ashley, director at British furniture brand Hitch Mylius, was impressed with the overall design and finish of the show, “down to the way the carpet is laid”, and explained that it was drawing a different crowd to some of the other events they participate in. “We’ve met lots of property developers and retailers, which is a bit different to the architects and designers we see at other shows and who already know what we do.”
Respected manufacturer Thonet demonstrates the May Design Series' commitment to the presentation of quality products, drawn from an international array of premium-segment brands
An impressive programme of seminars across the entire three-day event introduced innovative ideas from the world of interior design and beyond – as far as a research station in the Antarctic (Hugh Broughton Architects) and conceptual dwellings on Mars (Tomas Rousek of A-ETC). The highlight was an enthusiastic monologue from the effervescent Karim Rashid, who encouraged designers to employ digital technologies to break free from derivative and antiquated paradigms, and to create a “kinetic, evolving, four-dimensional world focused on human experience.”
For a first attempt, the May Design Series got plenty of things right: well-edited exhibitors, a strong visual identity, an excellent seminar programme, and a deliberate effort to improve the show experience resulted in a lively atmosphere that promoted interaction and engagement between exhibitors, visitors, speakers and organisers. The four districts were united by a common focus on quality and innovation, while the Ab Rogers-designed spaces and way finding contributed to a high standard of aesthetic and functional consistency. Overall, the event combined the well-ordered, intelligible feel of a showroom with the buzz and professionalism of a trade fair, and could well be another date to add to the diary.
Leading brands Poggenpohl (top) and Dallmer (above) chose the May Design Series to show their products to an engaged fair-going public
to the Architonic photo tour of the May Design Series – Part 1: The ARC Show & DX
to the Architonic photo tour of the May Design Series – Part 2: INT LDN
to the Architonic photo tour of the May Design Series – Part 3: INT LDN