When Neuroscience Meets Design – An Interview with Mario Porro


After studying the emotional and subconscious responses of visitors navigating through the pavilions and booths in the previous edition, Salone del Mobile.Milano will be the first trade fair to use neuroscience to redesign its layout to optimise visitors’ experience. We speak to President Maria Porro, who’s leading the change as the fourth generation of her family’s business legacy, to understand what this means for the upcoming 2024 Salone del Mobile.Milano.

STORY BY Natasha Gan | PHOTOS BY Guido Stazzone & Delfino Sisto Legnani

Salone del Mobile.Milano is redesigning based on the human experience. How did the exhibitors respond to the new design layout?

The past edition of the Salone del Mobile.Milano was an international success; exhibitors were very pleased with it since it exceeded expectations. We, together with them, have learnt that it is indeed possible to redesign a huge event like the Salone in order to propel it into the future. Exhibitors had the opportunity to introduce themselves and make themselves known not just to their target groups but also to new interlocutors with whom they came into contact thanks to the new layout.

There is great curiosity from the exhibitors’ side towards neuroscience and its relation to the trade fair experience and relational engagements designed to foster quality events and contacts. The redesign of the upcoming edition started from this excitement and enthusiasm by listening to exhibiting companies along with visitors and stakeholders during field interviews or more specialised round tables to identify perceptions, desires and needs.

EuroCucina and the International Bathroom Exhibition will move to pavilions 2-4 and 6-10, which were originally occupied by furniture exhibitors. Are you anticipating any push-back?

The results of our encounters with the usual furniture tenants denote that these exhibitors understand Salone’s choices and new vision based on last year first successful step and the use of neurosciences for the first time at a trade fair.

They have full faith in our decision to design experiences that reflect real behaviours, creating new ways of using spaces and unprecedented emotional engagements through the set of disciplines that study the biological bases of the mind and behaviour, offering insights into complex social processes.

After the success of Euroluce, we have continued listening to our stakeholders, allowing us to gather the desires and ideas shared in work groups dedicated to the 2024 Biennials, with the participation of representatives from the world of bathrooms and kitchens.

We read your article about sustainability in December 2021. Could you comment on the progress you’ve made so far, and the achievement(s) you’re most proud of?

The trade fair achieved ISO 20121 sustainable events management certification in 2023. I’m very proud of it even though these days, sustainability is no longer a differentiating and competitive element, rather a condition without which there can be no chance of entering the market.

Salone is driving the “responsible” revolution of the trade fair world, taking a concrete, quantitative and far-ranging approach, and putting one of the most pivotal meanings
of the word – circularity and regeneration – into practice. The 2024 edition will reconfirm the “good practices” that saw the trade fair achieve ISO 20121 sustainable events management certification in 2023. We will source suppliers of recycled, recyclable or reusable materials for building the common parts and will flesh out the guidelines for sustainable installations issued to the exhibiting companies.

I’m proud of the fact that Salone has been an accelerator of virtuous environmental processes, deeply believing in creating sustainable and long-lasting value, through the management of trade fairs and exhibitions.

We learnt you had done a road trip to several countries in Europe and the U.S.. Can you please share which countries you are considering in Asia (besides China) for 2025 road show and why that specific country?

We went to Paris, London, Berlin and Copenhagen in Europe, and then Dallas, New York in January, and Las Vegas and Chicago in February. Aside from the Salone in Shanghai in November, we have not planned anything specific [for Asia].

There are countries like India, for example, that are very interested in Italian design and furniture. Indian trade operators last year gained the seventh position with more than 5,000 attendees, whilst Indian Press was at the 14th place. In fact, I have just been invited to an event organised in New Delhi in February.

How do you handle your activities as the President of Salone and as the Head of Marketing and Communication at your family company (Porro S.p.A)?

This is a good question, which sometimes I ask myself!

You need to be well organised and not let yourself be overwhelmed – at least mentally – by the amount of work, duties and responsibilities. Carpe diem is the perfect recipe, that is facing the days one by one, aware of your work and personal roles, trying to give the best of your abilities. I try to tackle my tasks with passion and creativity, but also with method and dedication – according to my professional ethic.

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