01 Jun 2013
Intelligent Design: EW seeks design tips from Michela O'Connor Abrams, director of Los Angeles' exhibition Dwell on Design
Culturally, modern design has an impact on every industry. So what can we in the exhibition industry learn from the design industry? And more importantly, what can
we learn from the design of a show dedicated to design?
Dwell Media is a 12-year old design media company based in San Francisco.
Among its many products, is the leading Los Angeles exhibition Dwell on Design, the fastgrowing exhibition that caps off the week-long event Dwell Design Week.
The career of Dwell Design president and CEO, Michela O’Connor Abrams, is rooted in hi-tech media, not architecture. She was formerly COO of Softbank Forums, the world’s largest Internet and Java conference and event company, producing education-rich, interactive technology forums that included conferences, expositions, websites and university-level technical courses. From here her
Intelligent design EW seeks design tips from Michela O’Connor Abrams, director of Los Angeles’ exhibition Dwell on Design route into exhibition management is a familiar one; making the transition from publishing to live events. Dwell on Design is conceived as a meeting place for people interested not only in home and interior design, but in all disciplines of design.
The result is that it attracts both the hard core of design professionals and budding amateurs, or simply people with a passing interest in design. The result is that Dwell has to put together an event that successfully caters for both. Its
community is split 50/50 between trade and consumer. The question it faced was: How to bring them both together? The expo became an experimental model in event design, starting out as a place where designers from all disciplines could pool their talent and share projects. On 21-23 June 2013 it opens it doors for an eighth time at
the Los Angeles Convention Center, as America’s largest design event.
“We had to suspend our disbelief that Dwell on Design was really going to make such an impact,” says O’Connor Abrams. “But before long we found unimagined ways of engaging people, through social media among other things.”
The advent of Dwell Design Week three years ago saw the show headline a festival of events in LA from the beach to the city, culminating in the Dwell on Design exhibition. “The goal was to make sure we’re supporting the whole design community – in a similar way to [Media 10’s] 100% Design event in the UK,”
says O’Connor Abrams.
The event decided to partner with schools to capture new talent. “As an attendee, the experience is to generate ideas first,” she says. The event’s audience is brought together in Dwell’s magazines and published content. The company’s provenance in publishing is evident on the show floor, where education and content sessions are core to the activity; you can even get certification for industry standards.
This is a particularly welcome addition at the opening of the show. The first day is trade only, featuring 200 speakers across the show space and, importantly for both the trade and consumer elements, one third of the content they have access to is accredited by industry bodies and associations. Los Angeles has a reputation for progressive thinking, and design is one area where the city has developed a reputation for the companies it hosts. The show wouldn’t work without their input directing the content.
The growth inside Dwell on Design’s halls is also evolving. Today the event is built around ‘pavilions of interest and inspiration’, rather than what Michela calls on-the-grid linear aisles, which she calls “decidedly unimagined”. “I believe it’s critically important that show producers stay back from whatever they’re producing, in order to see what needs to be done,” she says. “You need to do it right the first time, come out of the gate the first time and really get it.”
Don’t Dwell on the social calendar
The network of related industries makes for a strong social calendar during the exhibition, and O’Connor Abrams believes these events are created autonomously by the various shared interest groups that are attending the event. “People don’t need to employ people to organise these events in this way any more. You even have associations joining hands, rather than running competing events,” she says. “I
feel so fortunate that the American Society of Interior Design has come on board.”
She believes organisers no longer need to take responsibility for the social calendar happening away from the show floor any more. It’s in other people’s interests to use the platform you provide with the show. “If the brand is strong, put people at the centre; they will tell you where to go.”
O’Connor Abrams opens this year’s Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum in Washington DC.
Michela O’Connor Abrams believes the conference element of a show, while often integral, mustn’t detract from the visitors’ experience of a show. “Our conference would be a US$1,000 a person if we took it outside of the event,” she says.
“We hope it’s a core reason people attend. But some architectural shows place their conference material in classrooms around the hall. “Most events I know put their content down dark hallways, away from the bustle of the event. It’s not good feeding them content if in doing so you take them away from the event.“ After all,
today they can always access the sessions they didn’t see.“You can get the content to them in different ways online. It’s antiquated to think shows should feed
visitors content in the conventional ways.”