Dialogue by Rikke Andersen

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As a former contractor and manufacturer’s representative now sitting on the consultant’s side of the table, I have been asked by many industry friends about the change.

I am often asked how it may alter my approach to former colleagues among the contractors and fit-out companies, as well as the many manufactures that I once represented. Not one but several industry contacts have made comments like: ‘Ah, now you are with a consultant, you’ll no longer talk to guys like us’. To be honest, a couple of the comments were much harsher than that.

Truth is, there is frustration on both sides, and rightly so. We are no good at communicating with each other within our own industry; we are no good at defining requirements, searching for common references, learning together, networking and even sharing critique, praise and sources.

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I would love for that to change. There are many good attempts out there, by groups like APID and others, but it is still, in my opinion, not enough.

I wonder why it is so difficult to get that dialogue going between different industry players. Specifically, I wonder at the lack of participation in industry related events. At industry networking events, in the main the participants are suppliers and manufacturers, with very few architects and designers to be seen.

So where do architects and designers get their information on new products from? Well, unfortunately, if you ask many of the suppliers, they would probably argue that they don’t. Hence references to the frequent use of the ‘copy and paste’ function in this part of the world.

This may also be part of the reason why clients during the previous boom started to look outside the Middle East when assigning projects.

Manufacturers and dealers complain that it is difficult to get designers in the Middle East out of their offices and to showrooms, exhibitions, product presentations and seminars.

Manufacturers and exhibition organisers invest significantly in informing design professionals and providing interesting speakers at their events.

Many of the major brands within FF&E have tried to organise product launches in dealer showrooms, at hotels, and at the hotel and office exhibitions, but how many designers actually showed up? Very few.

Did these same brands then try again two years later when they had another product to launch? No, they didn’t. The result the first time was often so depressing and with so little tangible commercial benefit that the Middle East as a place for product launches and innovative seminars has been written off by many of the bigger brands.

Many, myself included, have been complaining about the standard of industry trade shows in the region, compared to the European shows, for example. The buzz when walking through Zona Tortona in Milan during Salone di Mobile cannot be recreated in the UAE, but the rumours of a festival of design or ‘a total design week’ possibly coming to Dubai this year are comforting.

However, the success of such initiatives requires that architects and designers actually show up. Maybe it is time for us all, wherever we are in the industry hierarchy, to look at our own efforts. The consultants, the contractors, the supplier reps, the event organisers and, yes, even the clients.

We need to get out there, communicate, visit each other, learn, teach, experience, and be open to input from our industry peers. As good a tool as the internet is, you cannot get all your inspiration, or your clients, from the web.

I still do not know why it is so difficult to get designers to participate in these events, specifically as the same kinds of events in other parts of the world are so popular.

The quality of events is often cited as a reason, and yes I do admit that many are not up to international standards, but guys, it has been getting better, so please give it another chance. To the event organisers, be it for networking, product launches, design festivals or exhibitions, try to get the clients of the architects and designers to participate – that ought to get results.

To my new consultant colleagues: there is a world out there, and you are invited to participate in it, taste it, smell it, enjoy it, and ultimately be inspired by it.

About Rikke Andersen Rikke Andersen is the manager of AK Design’s newly established Abu Dhabi branch. Rikke has spent a total of 15 years in the region, and previously spent 10 years with Gemaco Interiors. For further information, visit www.akdesign.com.

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