Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Guerrilla Truck Show in pictures

2 weeks ago Morlen Sinoway Atelier held his annual Guerrilla Truck Show in Chicago’s West Loop. The Truck Show is the local  maker showcase that goes on in the shadow of Neocon that we compared to New York’s Wanted Design earlier this month. This year’s event was bigger and badder than ever, attracting more Neocon visitors and Chicagoans than before. Check out some of our pictures from the night:


The line of trucks started forming around 3:30


We filled the truck with the R2 Coffee Table, ISA Chair, and something coming soon 🙂


The traffic was consistently heavy from 5:30-9:30. Great attendance and interest and no time to rest


We asked the visitors to give us their feedback on products we’re considering developing. Thanks to all who participated!


Designer Adele Cuartelon stopped by to hang out and get some shots with her ISA Chair 


The end of the night came really fast. We didn’t even have a chance to see the other 60 incredible trucks

The Guerrilla Truck Show exceeded our expectations once again. It is by far the best design event in Chicago and it’s unfortunate that we have to wait an entire year for the next one. If you missed it, don’t make the same mistake in 2014.


Even Virgil recommends it

Special thank you to Global A+D for supporting DIFFA and sponsoring our truck.

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Unbranded Designs goes to its first NEOCON


Last week in Chicago was NEOCON, which to anyone working in the Merchandise Mart, is the 3 days of the year when you have to take the stairs to your office. For the other 40-50K people that descend upon the Mart, it’s the premier contract furniture show. Companies and individuals from all over the country – and world – visit Chicago for between 1 day and 1 week to showcase new products, see what others have launched, network, and party. Officially, NEOCON goes from Monday-Wednesday but the parties begin as early as the previous Saturday and by Wednesday some of the floors resemble bare wastelands (though wastelands with lovely booths and wonderful products).

This year we had our first presence at NEOCON in the form of a 10×10 booth on the 8th floor. It was quite the experience for a number of reasons but we’ve yet to determine if it’s an experience we’ll relive next year. Here are some of observations from showing at our first NEOCON:

Neocon2 Neocon3

10×10 is not very big but we used it all

Underwhelming traffic: We have no basis for determining whether the traffic was light or not but we heard from several people on the 8th floor and elsewhere that traffic was lighter than it had been in the past. This is completely anecdotal and not at all confirmed by any official numbers.

The traffic decrease is not equally felt by everyone though, especially if you visited the showrooms on 3, 10, and 11. It’s almost unbearable walking these floors during the midday hours as you’re avoiding thousands of people in every direction. It’s still worth walking them since they house the major furnishing companies.

The rest of the exhibitors did not share that experience. Our traffic on 8 was up-and-down throughout the three days and extremely light on Wednesday. No matter when though, it was a very tiny fraction of the traffic visiting to the 3 floors mentioned above. For most NEOCON-goers, the 8th floor is the after-thought that you quickly stroll after you’ve had your fill with 3, 10, and 11. It becomes difficult to draw attention which is why each booth must stand out, be different, and catch people’s eyes.

Was this the right setting for us? If there was one definitive thing about us, it was that we were different from any other exhibitor. No one else was displaying the array of products nor were they presenting an innovative company concept as we were. In addition, our booth design was quite different than others and anchored by the R2 Coffee Table to catch eyes.

The products we showed may not have fit the basic contract mold (how many desk chair options does one need) but we still met individuals who work in hospitality, residential settings, and unique office spaces that could provide value.

Will we be there next year? Yes. In one form or another Unbranded Designs will be at NEOCON 2014. Though we won’t be able to measure the success of 2013 for some time (in orders, contracts, or new designers) it was important for us to be present. Outside of the sales connections we’ve made, we introduced ourselves industry, networked with manufacturers, dealers, and potential partners. As long as NEOCON exists, representatives from all parts and regions of the industry will descend upon Chicago and we’ll be there to greet them. See you next year!

P.S. I have a newfound respect for people that work tradeshows, conferences, and fairs. I discovered a new level of exhaustion that hundred hour work weeks and sports training camps could never compete with.

NY Design Week in Review (Part 4), An encouraging design trend

Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of our review of NY Design Week.

When someone hears “flat-packed furniture”, why are people immediately turned off? Consumers can point to the big box retailers that have utilized it to great success for decades. They could also think to the poor quality and self-assembly that comes with it.

It’s not difficult to understand why designers are as turned off by flat-packing. If you’re a designer, why would you want to spend a significant amount of time creating a design that ultimately lacks the quality to last? And why would you put your name on a low-quality piece? It would only hurt your personal brand.

When we started out, we met a number of people who were adamant about this position and understandably so, but that hasn’t consistently been the case recently, especially at ICFF. More and more, designers are embracing the flat-packing and for a number of great reasons:

  1. Production efficiency: Designers are beginning to understand the production benefits that come with flat-packed products and are beginning to embrace those processes. This includes building good processes, managing inventory, and leveraging advanced technologies. Just having a better understanding improves how designers can interface with manufacturers or utilize their own facilities to maximize output and efficiency.
  2. National and global customers: Logistics is a problem that has not yet been solved for furniture. Even the big boys won’t deliver to every ZIP code in the country. How many customers can afford to pay hundreds of dollars in shipping in addition to the cost of your products? Flat-packing allows you to go from a white-glove service to UPS or Fedex. How many more customers could you reach if you could easily ship your products?
  3. More interesting design challenge: Designing a high-quality product to be flat-packed is an even greater challenge than just designing a great piece of furniture. Not only does it have to be well-designed when put together, it has to be broken down and easy to assemble.  Hitting all these goals in one design is a major achievement that many designers are beginning to strive for.

photo (6)

Even this is sent in a flat pack!

We’re very encouraged by this trend given that Unbranded Designs is a web-based company and we hope to reach customers in different regions. In no way are we proclaiming that we are a flat-pack company but we fully understand the complexities in trying to reach customers everywhere. In fact none of our current designs could even be packed in the ways we discussed with designers at ICFF. We’re just glad to see that there’s a large contingent of talented designers that are embracing this mentality to create amazing products and you should too!

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NY Design Week in Review (Part 3), Why designers attend

Part 1 and Part 2 of our review of NY Design Week.

Since this was our first trip to ICFF, we had a number of questions regarding the event including price, timing, trade vs. non-trade, etc. As we were hastily registering for the event, waiting for a credit card screen or some explanation, we had marked down Unbranded Designs as a retailer. We’re a retailer from the basis we sell furniture to consumers, but we think of ourselves as so much more. We consider ourselves a tech company since we’re exclusively web-based. We are a design company due to our community of designers. We could even be considered a manufacturer because we manage a supply chain and source components of our designs from different vendors, sometimes completing assembly. And yes, we’re definitely an e-commerce retailer.

In this instance it was in our benefit to select retailer because it afforded us the opportunity to have several engaging conversations with designers. The main things we learned about the designers we spoke with at ICFF and Wanted Design echoed what designers struggle with here in Chicago and everywhere else. These designers were all looking for partners to 1) manufacture their products and/or 2) carry their products for sale. These designers exhibited the skills to design magnificent pieces and also had the resources to transport their products to New York City, yet they still needed a major partner to bring their designs to the next level.

Coming to ICFF, we weren’t sure what to expect. We knew based on our early research that this was a problem affecting the furniture design community but perhaps the luster of ICFF had made us assume these designers were vastly different. If they were showing at ICFF, surely they’d have the resources to accelerate their designs.

In reality the designers at ICFF face the issues that all designers face. Marketing, sales, manufacturing, and funding impact need to be done well by everyone. After this trip, we’re even more encouraged by our business model, how we can help designers, the amount of amazing designs we saw, and the number of designers that were interested in getting involved with our company. We welcome all of the designers from ICFF, Wanted Design, and anyone else to sign-up and showcase your work. We’d love to work with you!

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NY Design Week in Review (Part 2): Wanted Design: ICFF:: Guerrilla Truck Show: NEOCON

Part 1 of our review of NY Design Week

In our last post we discussed our inaugural trip to New York City’s Design Week and how amazed we were by the designs and designers throughout the city. The Cliffnotes version: mark your calendar and visit New York a year from now for Design Week.

Since you’ve just agreed to go – and I’m sure you booked your flight – you need to know where to go. The major draw is the International Contemporary Furniture Fair. You could easily spend a few days walking around the gigantic facility, admiring the work and meeting designers, but if you go just to visit ICFF you’ll miss the rest of work sprinkled throughout the city. Luckily there are a few hubs that you can check out in Brooklyn, NOHO, SOHO, and at Wanted Design.

We didn’t get a chance to visit the different neighborhoods but we did spend an afternoon at Wanted Design. Looking back, if we were forced to choose between spending a few hours at ICFF or Wanted Design, it would be a tough decision. Wanted Design is much smaller, but it’s a curated show of talented designers from all over the world and held in a great space. Designers came from Sweden, Chicago, Puerto Rico, Brooklyn, and dozens of other places.

The Wanted Design show, now in its third year has built as much excitement as ICFF. Its opening night party brought a line outside a thousand people long – which seems big, even for New York. People that live and breathe design in NY, who have grown “meh” towards ICFF make sure to walk the Wanted Design halls.

This show reminded me of the Guerrilla Truck Show in Chicago. 8 years ago Morlen Sinoway founded the Guerrilla Truck Show as an alternative to NEOCON for local designers. It has since grown to be a block party, attracting designers from all over the Midwest and visitors from NEOCON and throughout Chicago. The Guerrilla Truck Show now owns Tuesday night during NEOCON and draws more and more interest each year.

There are a few key differences, obviously. Wanted Design is a curated event and brings designers from all over the world. The Guerrilla Truck Show is a one-night event/party. Wanted Design is as much an educational event as a show, with contributors providing classes spanning a number of topics.

Ok, so they’re not the same. What they share though is that they’re incredible, must-see events that have sprouted out of the shadows of major shows in their respective cities. Each is gaining more and more steam with every year and becoming a more important part of the destination for visitors. So when you visit New York next year or Chicago in the coming weeks, make sure to visit these events. They may soon become your priority.

Unbranded Designs will be at the Guerrilla Truck Show on June, 11th. Make sure to stop by and say hello!

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