Business & Design: New York Design Week 2013

Craftsmanship, Social Media, & Accepting Instability

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If you live in or were visiting New York City during Mayor Bloomberg’s first NYC Design Week last week you were likely barraged with visual stimulus in much the same way I was.  I saw new collections at countless showrooms and furnishing galleries, I attended the D&D Building‘s Spring Market event (a freshman effort deftly organized by the building’s new Director of Marketing Kate Jerde) and spent an afternoon at the annual International Contemporary Furniture Fair.  And while I am always interested in the product, I like to comb through the philosophy of the weeks offerings to get a pulse on the business of the design industry.

I’ve made three observations I’d like to share.

craftsmanshipFirst, the movement toward craftsmanship – which has been in the air for a few years – is gaining serious momentum.  It was underlined by Pierre Frey in a panel discussion held in his family’s namesake showroom. Together with Juan Pablo Molyneux, Maureen Footer, and Douglas Hutton, Frey ferreted out the belief that  fine French furniture from the last six centuries can by-and-large be seen as the genesis of contemporary design – and that superlative craftsmanship is why such furnishings endure.

I’m inclined to agree.

The panel also discussed the American fascination with upward mobility responsible for the pervasive decline in craftsmanship  on this continent – who would want to be a silversmith if they could be a doctor?  That trend (at least for this humble observer) may be reversing itself as companies like Richard Wrightman Design, Grow House Grow, Chapas TextilesHellman-Chang and Stephen Antonson – who are all local manufacturers – make the idea of mastering a discipline of the decorative arts in America sexy again.  Oh then there’s the fact that they all produce fabulous product.

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My second observation from the week’s events may seem elementary to great veteran design bloggers like Patrick Hamilton of Ask Patrick and Stacey Bewkes of Quintessence, but I’m going to make it for those of you who came late to the social media table like I did.  You need to engage on social media to advance your brand.

I’ve observed that there are only four social media platforms that are relevant at this moment in time – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.  Now I’m not suggesting you should completely ignore Google+ (the media marketing guru’s at Copyblogger certainly don’t want you to), or any other platform for that matter, but from what I’ve read and observed, these are the four key platforms to have a presence on.

If you are still on the fence about SM, consider this: only 4 companies that I visited last week did not have a Facebook page, and only 7 were not on Twitter.  Considering I interacted with at least one hundred companies, the numbers speak for themselves.  Here’s a great bit of insider information, there’s a website called Social Media Examiner, which is an AMAZING roadmap for anyone attempting to make sense of, or understand how to implement social media into their marketing plan.

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House of CardsAnd finally I observed the continued and pervasive feeling of insecurity about the future of the design industry, which makes sense. The April unemployment figure held steady at 7.5%, with 165,000 new jobs added. Consumer spending is up 10% in the first quarter of 2013 as compared to the first quarter of 2009 when the country was reeling from the economic crisis.  But housing market indicators are far less optimistic, with several leading indicators reported on CNN Money last month pointing to serious instability.

When you add in the impact of the internet, pricing transparency, and global access, things do indeed seem unstable.

I began thinking about a chapter in Seth Godin’s book ‘Tribes’ in which he explains that stability is an illusion.  He suggests that none of the established tenets of business are relevant today, which he illustrates by explaining how been in business since 1908′ is actually a liability in today’s business atmosphere.  The general population perceives a century old firm as antiquated and irrelevant.  The idea of accepting instability as the norm was also driven home by Dakota Jackson in an interactive talk he gave last week in his showroom.  He is espousing radical change in his company – most clearly illustrated by restructuring his manufacturing facilities in the interest of empowering the laborers who run them.

On a personal level, I do my best thinking and make my best decisions when I’m uncomfortable – sort of mirrors the concept that we only learn from our mistakes.  I’m embracing the instability of economics as they impact the design industry in the hope that, like other times of fiscal distress in my life, things will turn out better than I could have imagined.

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Written by CJ Dellatore

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