With the inaugural FRONT event just days away, we caught up with Indesign Media CEO and founder Raj Nandan to discuss the evolving design ecosystem, the changing commercial design and development landscape, and why now is the perfect time for FRONT.

Give us the elevator pitch for FRONT: what is the event, and how did the idea come into being?

I looked at a lot of international models as to how people are communicating brand and product to market. Having done Saturday in Design for over a decade in Australia, we facilitated many relationships with so many companies in an environment that was relaxed and showroom-based.

Over that period of time, technology kicked in and people became time poor: the traditional exhibition environment became redundant in the sense that it forced you into the equation of creating a story and competing to appear as a big brand when that doesn’t need to occur anymore.

“FRONT is really the reassessment and demystifying of going to market with your brand and your product; the event is about creating an environment where you can tell your story really easily.”

The format of FRONT brings together different brands with something to say – the common denominator is innovation and design. The traditional exhibition model is: “How many square metres do you want? We’re going to fire like a shotgun into the market and hope people turn up, and you’re not going to know who you’re talking to until people walk past your stand.” That’s so legacy; we’ve turned that model on its head.

It’s interesting that you’ve touched on this idea that FRONT wants to know “who you want to talk to”: relationship building is clearly a big part of the event. As someone who has been in the design industry for nearly two decades, how have you seen commercial relationships – the commercial ecosystem – evolve over time?

Having created a number of things that have facilitated relationships, I’ve seen people mature and watched small companies evolve into large companies. It’s a scientific fact that everything evolves and that things tend to have a cycle, and we’re seeing this with the design ecosystem and the decision making process.

FRONT address the ecosystem that architects and designers have to work in, which includes commercial real estate, the people who facilitate and act as a catalyst within the space area, and ultimately the end user, who is now more vocal and has more knowledge than ever before about what they want their environments to achieve. We’re seeing a holistic ecosystem of decision-making where there are several levels of input at the same time rather than blind, silo-based channels.

What do you think is driving the breakdown of these silos? Earlier you mentioned technology – can you please expand on that?

Technology has facilitated this breakdown, but the real drive is that knowledge is shared more readily these days. If you have something intelligent you’ve now got so many different ways of expressing it or sharing it that are accessible to a wider range of people. Before, people only knew about their own industries: architects only knew about architecture and designers only knew about design.

Today, architects and designers also know about property or end users because they’ve got access to their information; on the other hand, real estate guys who were never interested in design are interested now because they’ve got access to different information as their silo has expanded.

End users are also more interested in architecture, design, and the role that it serves in shaping their environment. All of the silos that have historically been relatively independent are merging more and more and supporting each other so that the people who eventually populate the spaces are more considered from the beginning.

“Today, architects and designers also know about property or end users because they’ve got access to their information; on the other hand, real estate guys who were never interested in design are interested now because they’ve got access to different information as their silo has expanded.”

What specific features can visitors expect to find at FRONT that they won’t find at any other trade event?

Foremost is our focus on caring about who you actually meet before the event and nurturing the relationship building process. The level of care and involvement that we’re investing into helping people tell their story is remarkable.

Our presentation pods are about driving the conversation toward stories about innovation, rather than chest beating – ultimately designers choose products on the basis of the what and why  behind them, and want to know that what is provided by suppliers can stand the test of time.

The FRONT model works by facilitating conversation and discussion and encouraging this approach of, “Let’s sit down and you can show me what you’ve got.” Half the solution is knowing what the problem is, and the other half is sitting down and working out what to do with it and where to go from there.

Where did that component come from and what does it hope to achieve?

 The FRONT Design Forum is designed to balance the exhibition aspect and ensure that we’re delivering a rich, knowledge-deep event. We’ve spent over six months researching and identifying the key topics that need to be addressed within the design space and have found the thought leaders who are able to give us insight into their thinking and how they are resolving these issues. We want people to turn up for the discussion and consider all the possible solutions and look at them in different ways.

FRONT is about having active participants from both a knowledge point of view and participant point of view. We’re asking exhibitors to tell their story through the frame of innovation and ideas rather than as “We’re a design brand with a big reputation and that’s why we’re more expensive and you have to buy us.” That’s an old currency that doesn’t stack up anymore. That was the analogue model.

Having said that, what do you see as the new model? What do you hope to see next in terms of commercial design in our region?

It would be really exciting to see the region respected more on a global scale. There is a long list of products that have been developed in our region and have since become global, and we need to create an environment that sustains that innovation.

Here, we attack hospitality from so many different angles: we don’t just take the Mediterranean approach or the UK approach or the Indian approach. Our bars, hospitality, and hotels are cross-cultural in their design and that’s now recognised as a currency in itself.

Because of this, the reality is that we don’t need to build big stands or all the bells and whistles: we just need a good, authentic story. Indesign’s history and strong background as a media company means that telling stories that captivate people is in our DNA.

We’re translating that into an event in a really simple, carefully orchestrated format that is universal in its design and designed to be completely engaging and highly targeted.

Ready to tell your story and take your place at the front of tomorrow’s commercial industry? Don’t miss out: register for FRONT today.