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Design hi-story, Samantha Kane-Macdonald, INDEX exhibition director’s interview

Celebrating now its 28th anniversary on the Middle Eastern scene Index Exhibition still shows the energy to sustain an ever-changing creative environment that poses year-by-year new challenges to the commercial and cultural operators in the field. The main star of the region, it is now sided with emerging and growing initiatives that attempt to claim its primate. We are asking Samantha Kane-Macdonald, event director at INDEX to tell us what INDEX was, what it became and what is going to be in the future.

• Since how long are you leading INDEX? How did you see it changing its role within the Middle Eastern design scene from the beginning of your experience until now?

o When I first arrived in Dubai in 2005, there was no Burj Khalifa or Dubai Mall – Dubai Marina was only just being built and there really wasn’t much beyond the old Hard Rock Café.  Fast forward 13 years and its incredible to see how much has been achieved. I joined the INDEX team for the show in 2011, a critical time for INDEX because we were in the doldrums of the global economic crash.  As with everything else, we needed to rejuvenate the show and make it more reflective of the market.  A significant change was the introduction of sectors within the show (furniture, lighting, textiles, etc) and I think this really showed that the industry was maturing.  Architects and Designers were also becoming more selective and needed an event where they could source a wide range of products more efficiently. 

I became Director of the show in 2013, which was a very interesting year, as we were started to see the light at the end of the recession tunnel – which was further boosted by the announcement of Dubai winning the Expo 2020.  This changed everything.  Overnight, optimism in the region was restored – and presented the design and architecture community with endless opportunities, as hundreds of new developments were launched to prepare for the World Expo. Looking back, I feel that both INDEX and the industry have come a long way. We’ve achieved so much - iconic buildings, launching the Dubai Design and Fashion Council and creating Dubai Design District.  This city is so exciting because anything is possible, which is essential to the success and development of the creative industries.  It also keeps us aware, because we need to develop INDEX in line with the industry so that it is always current and on trend. 

• After 28 years INDEX is making the history of Middle Eastern design is it still possible to renovate the interest in an exhibition that is now sided with several other key players? How this could happen?

o Niche events are an indicator that Dubai and the industry has matured, this is a natural step in the development of the design industry in this region. INDEX is a homegrown Dubai brand that has been an essential part of the city’s design scene going global.  With a rich history of driving business, most manufacturers now operating in the region, found their distributors or launched their products - at INDEX. We’ve been bringing manufacturers and buyers together for almost 3 decades which has provided us with a loyal following. INDEX is a business and trading event for the design industry, we keep a constant dialogue with the design community to understand their needs.  We cater to the requirements of both the manufacturers and the buyers, architects and interior designers without bias – we reflect the ethos of the Dubai business landscape – we are open for business to all who wish to venture here.  We have also launched a second edition of INDEX in September 2018 as part of a long term strategy that includes the launch of Future Interiors Manufacturing, an event dedicated to furniture and interiors manufacturing.

• Since other design destinations and appointments are dotting Middle Eastern design map and agenda, how INDEX intents to establish a synergy with these new entities?

o We are in communication with each other and recognize that we all have the same goals – we want to highlight this region as a design destination.  INDEX has the official endorsement of the Dubai Design and Fashion Council and APID, the Association of Professional Interior Designers. At present we are not collaborating with any other entities, however we all have our own unique offering that compliments and supports the design industry.  INDEX responds to the needs of both the city and the design community, so if a more collaborative approach is required in the future, then we will be happy to join forces, especially for the sake of progression.   

• We are witnessing in recent years the establishment of new entities to support a design culture in the region. What do you think should be done in the next future to support and develop the resident design community and the local market?

o There are so many initiatives already in place to support and develop the local design community, to continue this progression and keep the momentum going, we need to all actively participate and support these initiatives.  We need to get involved, share experiences, contribute to programmes and support locally based industry associations.

• Since 2 years now, you introduced at INDEX themes that should enrich the visitor experience and express emerging trends in the field. Can we know how these themes are created and how they find their actual execution within the fair exhibits and activities?

o The show themes are created by conducting research with architects and designers, visiting international design festivals and of course sifting through hundreds of websites.  The theme is based on what is trending in the market and how we interpret that trend, so that it’s relevant for the design community here.  Our themes are brought to life in many different ways – visually in our advertising campaign, creatively on our show website and of course through activations. For instance this year our theme is ‘Design for Expression’ and for our media launch, we selected 11 design firms in the UAE, presented them with a blank canvas and asked them to fill the canvas with a visual representation of their agency; a work of art that expressed each firm’s individuality and design ethos. The end result was a gallery event that exhibited the finished pieces, all of which were absolutely incredible. They will be on display at INDEX, so everyone can have an opportunity to view them.  We also have live artists and interactive installations that all touch on expression and design, including our Design Talks seminar series, which will explore the theme from different viewpoints.

• We see the presence of Ventura Projects as fresh air for the show attracting new kind of visitors and establishing a new course for your strategy. Could you please tell us about the reason for such an important initiative and what are you aiming at?

o We are delighted to be hosting the region’s first Ventura Dubai at INDEX, and thrilled to welcome such an exciting element to the show. As INDEX is first and foremost a trade event, that is open to all relevant companies, it’s vital that we have a design centric feature that will attract, engage and inspire architects, designers, interiors professionals and design enthusiasts at the show.  Ventura Dubai will see 40 static displays from independent European designers and 3 interactive and live features.  As the region’s most established and largest design event, we need to ensure we provide fresh, new and interesting content.  Having seen Ventura in Milan, we believe that this event will also raise INDEX’s status to new heights internationally.

• What are the top priorities that INDEX is considering for the next future and where is it going to head the design market?

o There are many design events around the world, so first and foremost we want to present a unique offering that mirrors the cultural diversity of the region, uniting local influences with international style. INDEX’s aim is to be an industry platform that the Middle East design community can look to for business prospecting, market & industry news and future trends.  INDEX is the ultimate sourcing platform for buyers – we offer over a thousand interiors products from more than 50 countries, we plan to expand on this to offer designers access to brand new product lines from around the globe.  We are also committed to supporting young designers, start-ups and local artisans, and will be rolling out exciting programmes for these important industry segments.

• We are sure that such a grand event needs an outstanding crew to make it happen and perform well over the years. This is your chance to highlight their contribution.

o We have a big team of experienced and passionate individuals! It starts from the top – as our leader Tony Crinion, Design Portfolio Director has years of experience working on international design shows and has also managed a successful furniture manufacturing company in the UK.  Melissa O’Gorman has been the Senior Project Manager for many years now, her energy keeps the team motivated, and clients respect her knowledge of the industry in this region.  The Marketing and PR team keep us updated on industry trends and are super heroes when it comes to social media and marketing campaigns. The sales team lead by Esha Elawadhi and Burcin Tas are all experts in their sectors, from Art to Textiles, Lighting and Furniture.  Without their commitment to excellence, I really don’t know where we would be!

Ivan Parati

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