words Marcus Fairs
Stockholm in November isn’t a particularly appealing prospect, but the annual Future Design Days conference has a reputation as one of the best of its kind in the world, and this year they invited us along as international media partner.
The two-day event, which takes place at the fairly soulless Stockholm International Fairs conference centre on the edge of the city, attracts a crowd of around 2,000 designers, students and business folk.
The conference is organised by FutureLab, a communications agency based in Borås near Gothenburg, which launched the event in 2001 to convince potential clients on the importance of design. “We try to educate our customers that they should use design as a strategic tool in their businesses,” says FutureLab managing director Christian Alçencius. “We came up with this event idea: if we take the best-known designers in the world and put them on the same stage at the same time, maybe people would listen then.”
Is it working? “Better and better every year. But this is a long-term process. It takes time.” Alçencius admits that Stockholm may not have the critical mass to support such a large event in the long term, and is considering moving it to a larger city.
This year’s event featured a total of about 60 speakers from industrial design, new media, architecture, interiors, furniture and fashion who took to the main stage and the various breakout sessions. There was also an Expo section, akin to a mini trade fair.
Alçencius claims that speakers’ careers tend to boom after appearing at the event – at least in Scandinavian countries. With around 250 journalists attending – around 40% of them from outside Sweden – most delegates’ programmes are chock-full of interviews. “The Campana brothers were totally unknown in these countries before they spoke at Future Design Days,” says Alçencius. “Afterwards everyone loved them. Karim Rashid was like that too.”
Another unexpected benefit of speaking at a large conference – something most designers and architects don’t often get to do – is the chance to polish their presentation techniques.
“They learn how to address an audience; they really have to focus on their presentation skills. For example, the design manager at Mercedes-Benz told me this was the best course in her life. She said the experience was something she’d be able to use every day in her business.”
This, along with the generous hospitality, means that speakers may well get more out of the event than the audience.