Declines at Milan’s Furniture Fair Teaches Lessons About What’s Needed in Design

In case you missed it, this weekend Alice Rawsthorn was at the top of her game, writing this piece for the NY Times, “Furniture Designers are Shifting Focus.” She chooses the famous and just-kicked off Salone Internazionale del Mobile furniture fair in Milan as her launch point, and the real meat and potatoes of the piece, chronicling the big decline in both visitors and exhibitors at the annual event, down from its peak during those high-flying glory days just two years ago (remember all those design-as-art auctions back in 2008?). The question she asks (speaking for the public at large) is “Does the world need another chair?” And it’s a question the whole industry has been concerned with and Rawsthorn goes on to explain what they’re doing to combat the obvious answer of “No” with things like technology, sustainability, and getting smaller and less expensive:

The hitch is that “making things look good” has traditionally been the Milan fair’s forte, but designers are expected to deliver more these days. For furniture designers, that means: a) championing sustainability; b) inventing new ways to use digital technology; and c) producing objects that strike an emotional chord with the people who will use them. Some of the most promising projects on show in Milan this week will wrestle with those challenges.