a second day at northmodern

Again it was the diversity that impressed me.

Yesterday I wanted to look at everything to get an overall view and today I went back to see the work of a selection of designers, retailers and manufacturers.

My guess would be that for many customers - the man in the street - or to be more precise the man or woman walking into a store - searching for something for their home - a furniture shop is a furniture shop is a furniture shop and what varies is the price or what they see is an overall style that they like or one that they don't. They don't understand the design process and don't understand the various ways that the manufacturing and supply chain works. And maybe they don't have to.

To the customer - or to most customers - or until recently - until the recession and the internet brought radical changes - the sequence is simple. Something is designed - it's made - and it's sold - and they've bought it - because they like it or need it.

Of course for the designer the reality of the sequence is so much more complicated. Here at the fair were young designers with a single design prototype they want to bring into production somehow and that may be sold through a single retailer or could be marketed through the internet; there were designers here with a single product but well down the line with finding the right manufacturer, designing packaging, getting out advertising and pushing hard at the doors of retail outlets. There are independent design stores that have a carefully curated collection to offer their customers - so they will go for a specific style of design or specific designers who produce what they want to sell. Several retailers have taken the next step by commissioning designers to design things they want to sell and they think their customers want so in those cases the product is often produced in partnership ... the retailer helping the designer modify the design for the target market of the store. There are major retail stores who commission nothing but maintain a well-deserved reputation by using their expertise to select the right items to sell, usually from a number of major manufacturers, who in turn may or may not have in-house designers, but the retailer knows the makers and knows their customers, so act, essentially, as an enabler, the middle man, the traditional merchant, and then there are the major design stores, companies who have carefully honed a style, their USP, and commission designers to produce exclusive furniture or household items that add to their catalogue of pieces that are in their company's recognisable style - the design shop as a clear brand who are taking on board some of the methods of marketing of the fashion industry.

There were a few product designers at northmodern who have the confidence and the drive to design what they feel passionate about without a specific commission; there were some designers who work to an individual commission, designing a one-off for one client and there were even more specialised and tightly focused designers - so Ole Palsby Design are producing and marketing a design that is Denmark's design heritage - or at least a very famous part of it - or I met and talked to the colour designer for the paint manufacturer Flügger who is also their product designer.

I'm sure that very few of the buying public would think that there could even be such a thing as a colour designer because, to return to my earlier supposition, for the average customer - standing in a design store - a colour is a colour is surely, they would think, just a colour and that doesn't need a designer.

Anyone with a stand at northmodern - so anyone who works professionally as a designer or as a retailer within the design world - would say that all this is a given - and it's inane to spell it out. But in fact how many of the customers - the people who ultimately buy the pieces here - understand those subtle and some not-so-subtle differences? Is it actually easier that they don't understand those differences? Would it make them more informed buyers if they understood more or thought more about the why and the how and the who of what they are buying? Or would it simply make the job of getting them to buy good design even more difficult?

An initial selection of my photographs from northmodern:



POCK'IT - a design project in smoked oak by Aviaaja Ezekiassen from the School of Architecture in Aarhus 


desk and stationery boxes by Christoffer Jørgensen of Manufakture

steel and leather chair from Jasper Overgaard and Christian Dyrman


sofa and wine glasses by Maarten Baptist - buhtiq 31 


the Form range of chairs, stools and tables by Simon Legald for normann copenhagen


Titanium range of cutlery from OLE PALSBY DESIGN


Stilhistorisk Farvekort - the historic colour range from Flügger