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A Design Show for the Ages

IDS Vancouver show director Jody Phillips talks about this year’s hybrid format, what the world should know about Canadian design, and the most important lesson she’s learned in 2020 (so far).

By Shawn Williams

IDS Vancouver 2020 Marie Khouri

Live Micro Event: The Creative Process with Marie Khouri. Photographed by Ema Peter.

Usually at this time of year, GRAY, and hundreds of other brands, move into the Vancouver Convention Centre for the largest interior design show on North America’s west coast.

IDS Vancouver, an annual event produced by Informa Connect, typically attracts more than 38,000 visitors over the span of four days. The city buzzes with designers, makers, and artists who have come from all over Canada and the United States. There isn’t an open hotel room to be found, it’s always a long wait for tables at restaurants, and don’t even get me started on the cabs. This year, as the show runs from October 1–8 amid a pandemic, international travel bans, civil unrest—and all that is 2020—it’s a completely different scene. GRAY is a longstanding IDS media partner, and we will be sad not to be in attendance this year. 

As someone who is passionate about our design community, I wanted to know how things were going to play out now that social distancing is mandatory and gatherings are limited. Show director Jody Phillips and I discuss how she and her team reimagined this year’s fair and why it is worth your time, no matter where you are in the world. 

Interview edited for length and clarity.


IDS Jody - woman in jean shirt standing in doorway

Hi Jody, we’re so thrilled that IDS Vancouver 2020 is on! Right out of the gate my first question is: how did you do it? Within mere months of opening, you were faced with restrictions on travel and event sizes due to the pandemic. How did you pivot the concept of the show so quickly?

Last November, we arduously developed the nature and science theme, ‘Natural Wonder.’ In mid-March, [when it became apparent that we should be thinking about a backup plan] we felt the theme was still really relevant and would be a great umbrella for programming that could be reformatted for both digital and micro live audience events. Our team began scheming a new, hybrid version of the fair that would support the industry and potentially even bring new, different audiences from farther afield. So in May, when our provincial health officer announced that there would be no gatherings over 50 people allowed for the foreseeable future, we just had to flip the switch on to the version we had been quietly building for months. 

“It was crucial that IDS be largely free to attend and very affordable to exhibit. Our parent company was in a position to allow us, regardless of cost, to simply support the industry that has invested in and trusted us for so long.”

How did this go over with your sponsors, was it hard to get them onboard with the new format?

Brands both medium and big have marketing they need to do, pandemic or not. Some brands realized right away what an opportunity this was for them and aligned with us quite quickly. We attracted other forward-thinking brands in the Spring when we started to create content that rallied around our diverse design community. They’ve all been amazing allies through all of this and have helped us deliver relevant programming.

What’s new or different this year?

It's all different this year. New is good and we were game to switch it up. We swapped the Vancouver Convention Centre this year for a digital show floor and expanded the show run to a full week. We’ve always hand-picked a smattering of live events around town, this year we’re including even more with 20 venues playing host to everything from home tours to experiential installations to exhibitions. Further, all of our talks can be attended from the comfort of your own home. We have 20 affordable, accredited talks, and free access to the digital show floor where you can preview over 60 different brands’ collections, connect with them one-on-one, and check out new product launches, too. 

IDS Vancouver 2020 sponsor Volvo, XC40 Recharge P8 AWD in Glacier Silver against modern pink background

IDS Vancouver 2020 sponsor Volvo, featuring the XC40 Recharge P8 AWD in Glacier Silver.

Speaking of talks, I appreciate the diversity in the lineup. You’re presenting globally recognized names alongside local game-changers. This is what we do at GRAY. We love it but it can take time to get it just right. Tell us something about your process. 

This is one of my most favorite things about this job. A lot, if not all, of these talks have themes that the speaker and I tease out together, sometimes over months and even years! I am honored and thrilled to have engaging, pertinent conversations with thought leaders who have similar and sometimes opposing viewpoints. I always learn and grow from them and my hope is that our community will too.

I love it. And so glad that the talks are happening online so everyone can catch them. The in-person events are another story. Travel and capacity restrictions mean attendance will be limited. What are we going to miss, what are you most excited about?

So many cool collabs and installations this year. Alpenglow Projects out of Jeff Martin’s brand new showroom is going to be fantastic. A curated installation with some exciting names in industrial design including the wonderful Bari Ziperstein, Jaclyn Martinez, New Format Studio, Brendan Ravenhill, and Lambert et Fils. There’s Omar Gandhi’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ window at Inform Interiors, presented by Herman Miller—a tribute to the course he taught of the same name at Yale’s School of Architecture—brought to life by artist Nathalee Paolinelli and florist Twig Twisted. The list goes on but one last to mention here is Wonderment, what dreams are made of, an experiential tour through a multi-sensory experience created by designers Studio Block and Laura Melling, presented by Green Theory! Phew. For a full list check out IDS’ schedule online.

IDS Vancouver 2020 WONDERMENT by Studio Block + LM Studio, material and product samples

Live Micro Event: WONDERMENT by Studio Block + LM Studio.

What about exhibitors, what’s the best way to see new products and to get a sense of new design trends?

Register to attend the digital fair. We have over 80 exhibitors taking part from the West Coast, back east, Europe, and even Malaysia. It’s free and is the place to be (from the comfort of your own office or couch) from October 1st to the 8th. You can interact with brands and individual designers, ask questions, set up appointments, and meet up with colleagues.

So how is IDS 360° different from the exhibitor platform? 

IDS 360° is a series that we developed nationally with our sister fair in Toronto. It was in the early days of the pandemic and we all got together to see what we could do with our large, coast-to-coast platform to support small brands, interesting firms, and individual designers. Volvo took notice early on and wanted to align and further help amplify the series. It’s been a great team effort and a valuable IDS initiative.

IDS Vancouver 2020 Livingspace Home Tour. Modern interior design, wood slated ceiling, Bocci pendant lighting, dining table, sofa, view of Pacific Northwest trees

Live Micro Event: Livingspace founder Ross Bonetti will open up his brand new West Coast modern home, designed by Vancouver-based BattersbyHowat Architects, for a public tour.

In the seven years that you’ve been the show director, we’ve watched IDS evolve into something beyond a showcase. We’ve come to expect meaningful dialog and inspiration about design's important role in creating a better future, both through the speakers you bring to the show and the brands and makers that you invite to sponsor and exhibit. Given current events and a new format, how will design thinking play into this year's show?

To quote Ian Rolston who will be kicking off our programing on October 1 with his talk ‘Rebirth, The Death of Design,’ “The design industry has the opportunity to reimagine our industry as it should be. This is the great reset.” I am feeling optimistic and empowered by the role that I—and the design community at large—can play. It’s IDS’ responsibility and complete honor to investigate and present diverse speakers and content, particularly this year, with topics ranging from design thinking and the climate crisis, accessibility, diversity, and consumption.

“If we’ve learned one thing this year it’s that we should strip back and reflect. We have been given the opportunity to rebuild something useful and thoughtful and that has arguably come from doing more with less.”

What are you most proud of?

The IDS team of scrappy design-loving ladies. Like everyone, this year with the global pandemic, an overdue reckoning of racial injustice, and the climate crisis-induced fires that are burning up our coast, our focus and energy has been tested. I am proud of our small team’s agility and appetite to jump in with both feet for the design community we love.

2 photos Inspiration for window at Inform Interiors Spring setting with trees, grass and snow with building on the hill, presented by Herman Miller.

Inspiration for Omar Gandhi’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ window at Inform Interiors, presented by Herman Miller.

You’ve traveled the world to a variety of major design fairs over the years. In your opinion, what sets apart the design coming out of western Canada? What do you want the world to know about this region?

Greenpeace was founded in Vancouver in the early 1970s. IDS Vancou­ver believes the region’s design community has an obligation as environmental stewards, creative problem solvers, and forward thinkers in all the projects and products we design, produce and promote. Furthermore—and I’ve given this so much reflection—if you practice design in the Pacific Northwest you have a relationship with nature like few other design regions. You don’t choose to practice design in the region because these cities (Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland) are affordable, with ample studio space and established fabrication and manufacturing industries. This may not apply to everyone, but chances are, you practice in this region because you have an affinity for the landscape and arguably, you are therefore beholden to and responsible for it. This is unique and this is what we bring to the world. 

IDS Vancouver 2020 HFA Custom Art in marbled blues and gold

HFA Custom Art.

One last question: to the business leaders reading this conversation, what's the one thing you learned this year that may be useful to others? 

2020 has been a year to reassess. Trend forecaster Li Edelkoort is hopefully right that “a better world could emerge from the current upheaval.” If we’ve learned one thing this year it’s that we should strip back and reflect. We have been given the opportunity to rebuild something useful and thoughtful and that has arguably come from doing more with less.

Thank you, Jody, and team of scrappy, design-loving ladies, for powering through some unprecedented circumstances to bring another delightful, meaningful design fair to life. 

DATES: October 1–8, 2020


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