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Rob Huisman pipes in on the rumoured tensions between the BNO and Premsela

"Making good medical equipment might not be as glamorous as Marcel Wanders,” he says, “but it is very important for humanity and culture."

By Gabrielle Kennedy /asdf 25-02-2009

BNO Director Rob Huisman calls all rumours about friction between the BNO and Premsela, Dutch Platform for Design and Fashion, nonsense.

Unlike Premsela, the BNO is a professional association with around 2 600 individual members and 200 design agencies together representing 8000 designers. It’s multidisciplinary and covers object, graphic, interior and industrial design making it one of the largest professional associations in Europe. The bulk of the budget comes from annual membership fees with some help offered for special projects by the government.

“We have many functions,” says Huisman, “but right now turning around the shocking statistic that despite having more designers than any other country, only 8% of Dutch design income comes from exports is an important focus.”

The root of the difference between the BNO and Premsela is that Premsela is funded through the Ministry of Culture with a corresponding purpose, to improve the cultural environment for design. “Whereas we are a trade organization,” Huisman says, “and so our focus is much more economic.”

Most recently there was some disagreement between Huisman and Premsela’s Director, Dingeman Kuilman, over the success of the Business of Design Week in Hong Kong. “We are obviously going to be really happy if the designers get work and make contacts,” says Huisman. “Kuilman’s priority was more on content … I think combined we probably need to do more to help to strengthen each other’s perspective.”

On the specifics of Kuilman’s words, Huisman says: “The government paid a lot of money for us to be there [in Hong Kong] so it’s not very smart to bite the hands that feed you.”

“For us it is really important that we showcase internationally the whole spectrum of Dutch design,” says Huisman. “Of course Droog is really important, but it is always the same names whereas the commercial side of design doesn't get nearly as much attention.”

Which for Huisman is a real pity. “Commercial Dutch design can contribute to exports and to quality of life,” he says. “Making good medical equipment might not be as glamorous as Marcel Wanders, but it is very important for humanity and culture … so what we want to do is emphasize both sides.”

A big part of the BNO’s job is matchmaking: “Matching designers with producers and commissioners,” says Huisman, but also publishing books, arranging exhibitions, working with the Dutch Design Awards, and providing legal advice and assistance to members. “We have a lawyer who can take phone calls and answer enquiries about company law and copyright so that designers know what to expect and how to handle things.”

The BNO also lobbies the government to help to improve the lot of Dutch designers. The most recent outcome of that is the DutchDFA, which is designed to help bring together both cultural and economic interests of Dutch design and architecture abroad.

With funding from the Ministries of economics, culture and foreign affairs as well as Premsela, NAI and other professional associations like the BNO, the DutchDFA exists to present a united front abroad with a focus on India, Germany and China.

The recent trip to Hong Kong was its first big international event. “150 designers came and I’d call it a success,” says Huisman. “Before the DutchDFA we were all doing our own things abroad. There was no cooperation. Rotterdam could be going to Shanghai and Amsterdam to Beijing. Now the idea is that internationally the Dutch creative industries can present themselves as one.”

Premsela itself is also the result of BNO lobbying. “For a long time we tried to convince the government that the Netherlands needed a design institute,” Huisman says. “Premsela is the result of that. I just regret that Premsela is only subsidized by the Ministry of Culture and not also by the Ministry of Economic Affairs … As far as I’m concerned, it’s a handicap for us and for them.

“You could say that BNO is for designers and Premsela is for design” he continues, “which means they can afford to be much broader.

Huisman refers to Premsela’s Dutch publication, Morf, as being very important. “Designers should read more,” he says. “Not just look at the pictures … they need to reflect more on the industry.”

In these tougher economic times, Huisman thinks there is an opportunity for designers to focus on their strengths and to think more about what works best for them. “This morning I heard that the BNA is expecting a very high fall in income for architects,” he says. “It’s dramatic, but building projects are almost non-existent at the moment.”

But for some disciplines like graphic and package design, Huisman feels more optimistic. “You are always going to need a corporate identity, a website and books” he says, “but maybe the industrial designers will fare more poorly through this. A new car is something you can wait for.”

The BNO has recently launched a section on their website to help members cope with these difficult times.

The BNO has also published its own impressions of the Business of Design Week in Hong Kong.

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