With less than a week to go before the start of Milan design week, Dezeen editor Amy Frearson predicts the big trends that will emerge, including innovation in recycled plastic and the return of retro.
As the biggest event in the design calendar, Milan design week takes over the Italian city for one week every year. The 2018 edition, which takes place from 17 to 22 April, will see hundreds of designers and brands showcase their latest projects, both at the Salone del Mobile furniture fair and elsewhere.
We've already picked out a selection of the best exhibitions and installations to see, including a decked-out American diner and a garden featuring all four seasons.
But we've also identified a number of trends we're expecting to spot. These include the influence of Africa and afrofuturism, vegan-friendly materials and products that combine technology with health and wellbeing.
Several of these touch on the themes laid out in the Salone del Mobile's recently published manifesto – the first of its kind since the launch of the fair in 1961. It called for the design industry to champion innovation and sustainability at this year's event.
Here are our top seven trend predictions for 2018:
NEW USES OF RECYCLED PLASTIC
With the environmental impact of waste plastic now a major global concern, many designers have started exploring the potential for recycling this material, and have come with an array of imaginative solutions. We expect to see a wide variety of these on show all over Milan.
At new venue Ventura Future, Japanese designer Kodai Iwamoto will showcase vases made using a technique he calls plastic blowing (pictured), while Dutch company Trashplast will present an innovative new material made from recycled polyethylene plastic.
The Mutant Matter show will also showcase the potential for plastic reuse, with speculative visions of the future by Shahar Livne (top image) and Theophile Blandet.
It's not unusual for furniture designers and brands to reference the past in their collections, but 2018 looks set to be the year that retro designs take centre stage.
Ahead of Milan, Dutch entrepreneur and former Moooi co-founder Casper Vissers has just launched a new design brand called Revised, evoking styles from the early 20th century.
Similarly the new collection from London brand Sé (pictured), set to be unveiled at Rossana Orlandi in Milan, reinforces the company's aim to "reclaim the glamour and quality of 20th-century furniture".
Warm Nordic – a new brand set up to give "a second chance" to designs that were once popular in Nordic countries but less well known elsewhere – will present designs from the 1950s and 1960s, along with new products designed specifically to complement them.
Meanwhile, Gufram is unveiling a collection of carpets and furniture that take their cues from 1970s disco.
Veganism is on the rise all over the world, so it was only a matter of time before this started to affect the design industry.
Following the launch of the Vegan Homeware Awards last year, Israeli designer Erez Nevi Pana plans to delve further into what is possible in design without cruelty to animals. He plans to reveal the results in an exhibition in the 5Vie district.
In a preview event for the new Established & Sons furniture collection (pictured), design director Sebastian Wrong revealed that the brand will only be showing designs that are ready to order in Milan. He claimed that customers easily now lose interest in products they can't buy right away.
"The days of showing an idea in Milan and then putting it into production a year, or sometimes even longer, afterwards is just not affordable anymore," he told Dezeen.
"You just haven't got that luxury of time," he said. "The market moves so fast – as soon as you present an idea, you have to run with it, get it out there and start trading on it."
Others following suit include Lee Broom's eponymous company, which revealed that 2018 will be the first year it offers Milan visitors the chance to buy its new products right away.
AFRICA AND AFROFUTURISM
Africa's burgeoning creative scene has been recently put in the spotlight, thanks to the popularity of Marvel movie Black Panther and its afrofuturist aesthetic.
This will be highlighted in an exhibition at Salone Satellite, titled Africa/Latin America: Rising Design – Design Emergente. Curated by Franco-Moroccan designer Hicham Lahlou, the Africa section will feature 18 emerging designers from across the continent.
The influence of Africa is likely to also feature in brand collections. For instance, Walter Knoll's Milan launch is a series of rugs based on African landscapes, and the Waxman Brothers are presenting an accessories collection made with African-inspired textiles.
TECHNOLOGY PROMOTES WELLBEING
Tech brands will be making a big impression at this year's design week, with Google making its Milan debut, and both Panasonic and Dassault Systèmes planning big events. A key topic for all three of these companies is how digital devices can become part of a healthy lifestyle.
Google is working with trend forecaster Li Edelkoort on an exhibition investigating how electronic devices of the future could become more tactile.
Dassault Systèmes has enlisted Kengo Kuma, Superflux and Studio Roosegaarde to create an installation showing how the built environment can prevent air pollution. Similarly, Panasonic's show, called Air Interventions, will explore how electronic products can promote wellbeing.
DESIGN AND THEATRE
Drama, music and performance look set to make a big comeback in Milan this year. Lighting brand Lasvit is hosting an exhibition called Monster Cabaret, set to be filled with weird and wonderful creations, while architecture studio Stanton Williams is building a pavilion dedicated to dance.
Meanwhile a group of Dutch designers is transforming the historical Museo Diocesano into what they describe as "a bar and show combined into one full experience and fun happening", and Studiopepe is creating an exclusive members club in a secret location.