Sight Unseen Offsite goes online with a digital showcase of 60 designers and brands – explore new products, head into 3D rendered booths and escape in interior still-lifes
New York City’s annual design festival, NYCxDesign may officially be postponed until October, but for the online design magazine Sight Unseen, which has championed emerging design since it was established in 2009, the underlying uncertainty of present times propelled founders Jill Singer and Monica Khemsurov to press on with organising their annual showcase Sight Unseen Offsite, at its regularly scheduled time.
Launching this week, Sight Unseen Offsite’s very first digital design fair, which the duo have christened Offsite Online, showcases a varied selection of 60 designers and brands bringing new furniture and objects to the web-based exhibition.
‘We considered postponing the fair until the fall, but there’s still so much uncertainty about when we’ll be able to resume something close to normal life. Even if we are allowed to gather in groups in September or October, will we want to? It’s impossible to say,’ explains Khemsurov. ‘While we may have some version of a physical Offsite show in the fall, we knew we couldn’t count on that’.
The team had the designer’s position at the forefront of the decision too – ‘we also knew that we had a community of designers out there who were frustrated, confused, and maybe a little bit scared about how to operate under these circumstances — many of them had already put time, energy, and financial investment into their 2020 collections, and suddenly found themselves with no design fairs or stores through which to disseminate them,’ says Khemsurov.
She continues, ‘rather than back away and hibernate for a year, we wanted to help facilitate a solution. Taking our fair online — the next best thing to a physical show — was a way of rallying everyone together and trying to create a collective impact.’
Sight Unseen Offsite’s first digital design fair
The decision to move the physical fair online and harness the power of its global audience came swiftly, and the resulting showcase succinctly reflects the individuality, creativity and excitement that Sight Unseen’s curatorial eye is known for.
‘Part of the point of the digital show is that we weren’t going to let it affect the curation,’ says Khemsurov. ‘We really felt like it would only work if [it] had the same spirit as our physical show [which] is known for being tightly edited and a reflection of our aesthetic. We’ve heard over and over through the years that the reason people choose to show at Offsite is because they know they’ll be represented in the right context — next to peers they respect rather than thrown into the randomness of most bigger fairs. So we held the applicants for our digital show to the same standards that we would the physical one.’
Offsite Online debuts with its own dedicated page on the Sight Unseen website, where all the collections of participating designers can be viewed. The designer presentations take shape as a slideshow of images, accompanied by a written description about the collection and an audio clip from the designer talking through what inspired the concept and the thought processes behind their work.
3D render exhibition
As if putting on a design show during a global pandemic was not hard enough, the new emphasis of having compelling imagery also proved to be an additional challenge. Singer and Khemsurov countered this by inviting two of their favourite emerging digital artists, the London-based Charlotte Taylor and Stefano Giambello, who works in Montreal, to work with exhibitors to create 3D renders to bring a sense of physical space to the exhibition.
Several designers also created spatial renderings of their own choosing. With some resembling the set designs of exhibition booths and others emulating a still-life photo shoot in a simulated interior or landscape, this unique aspect of the show also empowers designers to present their works in a way that might not have been previously possible, even pre-pandemic.
Above all, Offsite Online is a showcase of actual products that all exist in the real world, in spite of its ephemeral quality. Despite organising a dynamic showcase, Khemsurov does not see a digital exhibition replacing a physical one anytime soon.
‘There’s just too much importance that comes out of that face-to-face interaction between exhibiting designers and the fairgoers that are visiting or discovering their work in real time,’ Khemsurov says. ‘I expect this fair to open peoples’ minds about the value of digital information in a realm like design, which is so physical