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“Thank God For the Crisis”

Design should be playing a role in creating and realizing the ideas that shape the post-crash world.  But is it? More debate, more criticism and more attention for the designers and ideas moving in this direction are needed.

By Gabrielle Kennedy /asdf 22-10-2009

Neither politics nor economics has been particularly kind to Dutch Design this year and consequently, a lot is riding on what’s offered during Eindhoven’s Dutch Design Week.

Critics and the industry need to see a new direction and one that takes into account the harsher realities of a post-crash, environmentally-sensitive future.

Gimmicky concepts, cute twists and that familiar and very Dutch wink wink play on expectations are no longer going to cut it.  Solid and visionary ideas that afford the design industry a key role in the evolving new world are what’s needed.

The week didn’t start well with some controversy and hushed disagreements over some of the Dutch Design Award winners, many of whom were not even an attempt at defining this new direction.

Across town, however, both Dutch and European design school graduates were proving that they have a firmer grip on what this industry needs to stay relevant.

Of course some students flail under the pressure to produce more research-based and ecologically sound products that integrate with current concerns and changing lifestyles.  Others rise to the challenge, not for producing work that shines for its conceptual greatness, but because it shows a consciousness of just how important change is.

At the two most prestigious graduate exhibitions, Design Academy Eindhoven Graduation Galleries and “Talent 2009” we heard Anne Mieke Eggenkamp (Chair of the Executive Board of Design Academy Eindhoven) and Li Edelkoort offer unanimous words on the subject.  Eggenkamp embraces the more bureaucratic language and Edelkoort shoots from heart, but their message was the same and bolder than anything we’ve heard before.

“This is a turning point,” says Eggenkamp during the opening of the Graduation Galleries.  “This economic and financial turmoil has had an enormous influence on design and as a consequence society is looking for new systems.”

In the crowd was Li Edelkoort.  Noticeably absent was recently departed school head, Alexander van Slobbe although Eggenkamp made a point of complimenting him for being a great designer with a successful brand, explaining that he simply could not combine his demanding position at the academy with his own design work.

Eggenkamp went on to stress that the academy, mirroring society, is in a state of metamorphosis.  “One result of this is the renewed importance of research, and of exploring new areas,” she said.  “And that can start with the question, ‘Am I asking the right question?’”

Tempering her enthusiasm was a warning to the graduates about the harsh realities of being a designer in the current climate.  “Enjoy this week of the exhibition,” she said, “because after this, we kick you out and you are on your own in the big world.”

Her overriding message was that ideas and processes have become more important than results, a perspective that was even more conspicuous over at Designhuis in “Talent 2009” – a show which is, according to its curator, the renowned trend researcher Li Edelkoort, wilder and better than last year.  

“Thank God for the crisis!” she exclaimed to a capacity wine-sipping crowd.  “I’ve seen a new energy in the world of design and noticed that the fields of art and design are mixing more than ever before.”

Over the next few weeks, will look in some detail at the best projects exhibited during both the Design Academy Eindhoven 2009 Graduation Galleries and “Talent 2009”.

Images: top page Li Edelkoort, this page Anne Mieke Eggenkamp

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