Design needs to lure you in and take you to a place where you think wow where am I? The problem is, it too often doesn't.
For his “Comfort and Disillusion” programme at Onomatopee, Freek Lomme has selected designers like Willem Claassen, heyheyhey, Yasser Ballemans, Erwin Thomasse and Lucas Maassen. Most recently he presented Nacho Carbonell.
The point of this series is to inject a deeper understanding into what our comfort zone is. It also seeks to explore at what point this zone can change, which is more or less about cultural awareness and development.
“I’d say what connects the designers we have presented is that they each play with expected parameters in different ways,” says Lomme.
Which is exactly what a good designer is supposed to do. Lure us in and subvert the experience into something different, or at least to bring a user some awareness.
“Added to that, at least with Carbonell, there is always something poetic at play,” adds Lomme.
I think what both troubles and fascinates Lomme is what has come to be considered the natural experience economy. That Carbonell’s work breaks with this is what attracted Lomme to him in the first place.
But no single designer will ever capture the exact note the thinkers and critics state as the ultimate design goal. Carbonell’s work is exclusive and can only ever be dealt with in limited editions – a toxic word in some critical circles. A stroll through his new grand studio at Section C in Eindhoven reveals a process more akin to industrial art then design.
Carbonell even made design headlines when Brad Pitt brought his entire collection at last year’s Design Basel.
Lomme sees it differently: “Maybe his work possesses a cynical comment,” he says. “Perhaps he is making a statement … I am interested in such statements and what might lie beneath them.”
Carbonell is what Lomme terms an “hedonistic ecologist” and even goes so far to wonder out loud if the work is a fairytale-take on the nature versus nurture debate.
“You can argue non-stop about the validity of it all,” Lomme says, “and of course his work is still playing with experiences, but I see it as something totally different to what everyone else is doing in Eindhoven and more akin to something Anish Kapoor would do. There are similar technical aspects and recognizable visual imagery.”
Kapoor brings to his work the most critical comment on experience. Similarly Carbonell is not the type of designer who focuses on producing tactile design to enable an experience.
“You have to keep asking, ‘Does it enrich our culture in anyway?” Lomme points out. “If it doesn’t, then it is just being consumed like a fashion victim consumes a latest trend. And that has no point.”
Whether one agrees with Lomme or not, his broader idea of cultural enrichment is the challenge for the next generation of designers and responding to this challenge will determine the next big names. “Not ones who fall into the trap of producing experiences or tactile stuff that does not have much to say,” Lomme says.
Lome ends our chat by pointing out that experience design is not all bad. “Of course not,” he says. “Designers just need to be more aware of the limitations, and think more about how their work should be making our lives richer.”
Onomatopee's publication on Carbonell can be ordered here: "What is (still) Natural in an Experience Economy?"
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