These days, it's no longer enough for a restaurant to offer good food, a caf to serve quality coffee, or a clothing store to sell top fashions. Any entrepreneur seriously interested in luring customers has to invest in interior design. The interior is the "face" of an establishment: it often expresses the spirit of the place and creates the ambience that attracts the right clientele. This is especially true for bars, since people don't go to bars merely to drink but to meet people, escape their home surroundings and enter a new world. "When you enter a bar, you go through an experience," says Yoav Zucker, co-owner of Saluna Lounge Bar in Jaffa. "It involves the design of a place, quality of people, staff, music and atmosphere. Design is one of the crucial elements." The bar's interior designers, the Tel Aviv-based company Roth-Tevet, took home the newly established Ot HaItzuv interior design award for their work on Saluna. The Design 2006 exhibition, now on at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds through December 10, promises to show off the best of Israeli design and attest to Israel's growth and sophistication in the field. There are an estimated 4,000-4,500 interior designers in Israel, both those who studied formally and informally. Israel has more than 10 design and architecture schools, both publicly and privately owned. Trade magazines and lifestyle channels circulate dialogue about design and increase the profession's allure. Giora Urian, who literally wrote the book on Israeli design, has been a key figure in developing the design scene in Israel. His publishing house, Urian, published the first comprehensive book on Israeli design entitled From the Israel Museum to the Carmel Market. "I saw that there was no documentation in Israel of what people are doing in architecture and design, and this is something that every country has," says Urian, whose many design projects are motivated by his vision of a bustling and competitive Israeli design market. Last year, Urian developed the Ot HaItzuv award for the fields of interior and industrial design. Judges include prominent practitioners and academics such as Prof. Arthur Goldreich, Prof. Ron Nabarro, Gila Shakin, Reuven Givati, Haim Dotan, Buky Schwartz, Prof. Arie Sivan, Heidi Arad, Sergio Lerman, Dov Alon, Ilan Pivco, and Yehoshua Kastiel. "It always bothered me that there are prizes for theater and advertising but nothing for design" he says. The award competition drew in 800 submissions for interior design and 600 submissions for industrial design. A lavish ceremony took place on Thursday at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds, where the award-winning works are on display in a 350-square meter exhibit. According to Arie Sivan, chair of the Interior Design Department at the College of Management and Academic Studies, the design profession began to flourish in the 1990s. From the founding of the state until the 1970s, there may have been investments in d cor of a home or business, but there was no significant interior design that created a harmonious blend of textiles, lighting, and furniture. It was national institutions or institutions representing Israel that invested in the best architects and interior architects. "In the 1990s there was a revolution, and interior design became vox populi on all levels." Sivan boasts that all his graduates find work in interior design and in related fields such as events design, exhibition design and fair booth design, as well as installation art and art design for film and TV. The only two schools in Israel offering academic degrees in interior design are the College of Management and Academic Studies, and the Holon Academic Institute of Technology. Most aspiring designers enhance their local training by encountering European, American and Japanese trends. As a result, Israeli designers become good improvisers, leading to no particular Israeli style or trend, except perhaps eclecticism. "In terms of identifying pure Israel style - I don't think it really exists or if it's relevant," says Heidi Arad, an architect/interior designer and a founding faculty member of the interior design department at the College of Management and Academic Studies. Alex Meitlis, a total designer, sees Israel's lack of any specific aesthetic tradition as an advantage. "In terms of design, Israel offers much more than other places. People are open to different formats and styles." Sivan notes that "One of the things that stand out is the recognition of the power of plastics, which is developing strongly. What was once a material looked down upon is becoming more widely used because it has a lot of possibilities." He gives credit for the increased prestige of plastic to Philippe Stark, the French designer whose work has echoes all over the world. He had replaced more prestigious materials with plastics, making its use much more acceptable, even in high society. Sivan also cites the phenomenon of "Ikeaism"- a term adapted from the Scandinavian mega furniture design chain - as a major influence in contemporary design. Ikeaism is characterized by three elements: classic country style, which uses solid shapes; green style, which uses natural materials in simple ways; and hi-tech style, which mixes metals with plastic and glass. However, Urian notices an opposite trend in cafes, bars and restaurants. "Because of the intifada and the Twin Towers tragedy, people are looking for warmth and feeling of a place that's familiar so that they feel safe and protected. The hi-tech, minimal feel with steel and glass has been replaced by warm colors, a lot of wood, and retro furniture. New places try to look old and used, as if they've been around for years." IKEA has been instrumental in bridging the gap between the popularity of interior design in offices, restaurants and bars, and its popularity in the average home. "IKEA has created a revolution in the demand for home design also among less wealthy Israelis," says Urian. Designer imitations have also penetrated the Israeli market. Urian points out that in the south of Tel Aviv, many furniture stores imitate high-end designer furniture sold at stores such as Habitat at Tollman's for NIS 15,000, and sell them for NIS 500. Urian is hoping to circulate and increase demand for original Israeli design both locally and internationally by developing a designers' quarter in Jaffa. A mixture of renovation and construction will turn a backwater Jaffa neighborhood on Rehov Yefet into a design village and tourist center. Roughly the size of Neveh Tzedek, the envisaged quarter will feature more than 100 shops and galleries, as well as residential complexes, a park and ample parking. Currently, 16 pioneering designers have already opened shops in the quarter. "I want Israelis to know that there are very talented designers in their midst so that they don't have to go abroad and the local design market will thrive," says Urian. Industrial design, which is intricately related to commerce, has become increasingly important in Israel for economic rather than aesthetic reasons. Industrial design is generally defined as product design for mass production. Unlike artistic or small-scale product design, functionality is an important feature of industrial design. Lately, however, industrial design has become a form of fashion design for products, especially in the field of electronics. "The life-cycle of products has been shortened dramatically, from the design and technological point of view," says Ron Nabarro, founder of the graduate department of Industrial Design at the Technion, and chief visionary officer of Senior-Touch, a company that designs products for the elderly. "If you buy an MP3 player today, it's old in three months. The designers are called in to manifest the new technological qualities in a look that give the user the feeling that 'I have something state-of-the-art.'" For example, he cites that when he designed for Tadiran many years ago, the life-cycle of a telephone was seven years. Especially in hi-tech, packaging can be just as much a strategic marketing feature as the product itself. That is why Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor is trying to encourage Israeli companies to become more design savvy, offering companies a 75% subsidy toward private tutorials in industrial design by leaders in the field. "For the past two years, the ministry has recognized the importance of industrial design as a lever for economic development," says Yael Versano Barzily, deputy director, Finance Administration, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor. Industrial design has become such a hot topic that there are now two award schemes. In 2004, the ministry developed its own award for industrial design, which drew 272 submissions. Winners of the competition will also be on display at Design 2006. In what Urian considers a misuse of government power, the ministry has sought to limit the display of Ot HaItzuv industrial design award winners. "If they really worked for the sake of the designers and not for the sake of their ego, they would have helped us, not limited us," says Urian. "You want to do something good for the country, and this is what you get." Versano Barzily denied knowledge of the affair and welcomes the efforts of Ot HaItzuv. "Anyone who is doing anything to increase awareness is great," she says.