Looking Backwards and Forwards
Transitions are always hard to define, but looking at the last few years of graduate design shows it is clear that "Dutch design" (if there is even any such thing) has really cut the apron strings and is steadily transitioning into a new era.
Pundits are no longer interested in the humour and irony of the 90s. It was known as “conceptual design” but what that even means remains unclear. Many of the biggest names in Dutch design admit to some confusion.
“I think a conceptual designer thinks a lot about ideas,” says Pieke Bergmans, “but I like to make objects with a function and that is very different.”
“I used to call myself a conceptual designer,” says Jo Meesters, “but now it is different. I am now looking for solutions, experimenting with materials. Is that conceptual design? I don’t know.”
Today what’s wanted and needed are substantial designs that at least indicate a connection to the broader issues and problems playing on people's minds. I say indicate because in the nascent stages of this new era that is really all you can hope for.
Most Dutch designers today are talking about better use of existing materials and addressing global problems – both environmental and social - using a design mentality. Design is a broader and deeper field, less a comment on the world and more a social engagement with it.
“I do think that 90s Dutch design evolved as a type of comment on the growing wealth and prosperity of the Western world,” says Piet Hein Eek. “It was a sort of joke to stick a bulb on a wall and say that it can be a lamp too.”
But the 90s and the follow up noughties produced no real global icons or names. “There is no Eames or Le Corbusier,” Eek adds.
And then the world changed on September 11 2001. Wealth evaporated and by the end of the decade the financial crisis meant that people wanted real hard-hitting solutions.
“And that is really all that motivates me,” Eek says.
Scarcity of resources lies at the heart of trying to balance the desire to produce and consume while facing facts about the diminishing natural resources and environmental degradation.
“I think design needs to be so much more about using less energy and optimizing resources,” Eek continues.
As for design education Dutch academies like the Design Academy Eindhoven are striking an impressive balance. “I really think they mix creating good stories, which is the guts of the whole Dutch conceptual design thing, with strong and convincing presentations, which is also design," says Eek They strike just the right mix.”
Because a good story these days just won’t cut it. It’s nice but it has to translate into reliable products that last.
The above is an extract from an article about the future of Dutch design to be published in the Dutch Design Week magazine.
Images: "Light Blub" by Pieke Bergmans, vessels made from waste paper pulp by Jo Meesters, scrapwood sideboard by Piet Hein Eek.
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